Home > 1920, 20th Century, Classics, French Literature, Literary Errands, Painting, Proust, Marcel > I finished reading La Prisonnière, eventually

I finished reading La Prisonnière, eventually

February 1, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

La Prisonnière by Marcel Proust. 1929 English title: The Captive

I ended my previous post about The Captive with the following paragraph:

Chapter 2 is entitled: Les Verdurin se brouillent avec M. de Charlus. (The Verdurins quarrel with M. de Charlus). Relief. He’s socializing again and we’ll get some fresh air.

Well, socializing doesn’t last long, so relief was short-lived. Sure, Marcel describes with shining details how M. de Charlus organized a music evening in the honour of Morel at the Verdurins’ and how he managed to mortally vex Madame Verdurin. The man invited the high society to his party at her place and never introduced her to his elite crowd. (Mme de Guermantes, Princesse de Guermantes…) She felt so humiliated by his behaviour that she decided to guillotine him from her Salon and cut him off Morel at the same time. The description of her way of trapping him and going for the kill is masterly crafted. It reminded me of the worst sharks in the politics of big corporations. But that part didn’t last long enough.

The rest of the volume is still devoted to Marcel’s unhealthy behaviour and twisted relationship with Albertine. His games lead them to break-up, which isn’t a spoiler since the next volume is called Albertine disparue (Albertine Gone). He’s obsessed by a question: is Albertine a lesbian? Is she acquainted with lesbians? While he casually speaks about M. de Charlus sexual orientation and his relationship with Morel, he is truly horrified by the idea that Albertine could be a lesbian. Most of what he calls love holds by his imagined mission to save Albertine from lesbian encounters. Speak of a knight in shining armor and what a sick basis for a relationship. Personally, I don’t understand why he makes such a difference between gays and lesbians. Knowing that Proust was a homosexual, being so against lesbians is as odd to me as black men being racist. When you’re yourself the target of racism or homophobia, how can you behave the same way toward other people? That question lingers in my head and I can’t grasp why the Narrator is so shocked by the idea of lesbian relationships.

The book also echoed strangely with the current parliamentary session in France. You’re probably not aware of this, but our députés are currently discussing a law that will legalize marriage for homosexuals. We have had pretty nasty comments and demonstrations from conservative and catholic militants. A pro-law député received a threat in the form of a mail full of excrement. This still happens in 2013. It was just a loud reminder that the door to the worse is always ajar and that contemptible behaviours just wait for an opportunity to spring free. While I listened to the news with consternation and followed a bit of the debates between French bloggers on Twitter, I couldn’t help wondering “Which side would Marcel Proust take these days?” If I read La Prisonnière very literally, I wouldn’t be too optimistic and think he would be against this law. But then, I can’t forget that it was written in the 1920s and that if he were alive now, his thinking would have kept up with his time. The man who supported Dreyfus from the start wouldn’t stick with the stinking conservatives right now, would he?

Expo_ProustAnd with this my minds leaps to my latest Proustian moment, when I attended the exhibition Du côté de chez Swann. Jacques-Emile Blanche. Un Salon à la Belle Epoque. For a glimpse at the exhibition, click here. Jacques-Emile Blanche is the painter who did Proust’s portrait you can see on the exhibition poster. This is probably the most famous portrait of this literary genius. They said at the exhibition that he loved this painting and moved it around with him every place he lived. Jacques-Emile Blanche is a social painter of the time. He is well introduced in the fashionable artistic salons of his time. His father was Maupassant’s physician and himself was a close friend to Proust. Well, they weren’t on speaking terms for 15 years because of the Dreyfus Affair. (Proust was Dreyfusard and Blanche anti-Dreyfusard). Blanche also painted Marguerite Saint-Marceaux, who became Madame Verdurin, Méry Laurent, who inspired Odette de Crécy (and Nana by Zola), Robert de Montesquiou who inspired M. de Charlus. There were also paintings of the Halévy family who are partly portrayed in the Guermantes and paintings of the Baignères who also inspired the Swanns. So the Swanns are made up with Charles Haas, Méry Laurent and the Baignères. I enjoyed the visit very much. Blanche was always a socialite and later befriended with Cocteau and Gide. I have a book entitled La vie élégante by Anne Martin-Fugier that retraces the history of salons from 1815 to the Belle Epoque. It’s on the TBR, I may read it after I finish Is That a Fish in Your Ear? which is a bit challenging to read in English for a French with no academic background in the field of translation, language and other related theories.

Marguerite Saint-Marceaux painting by Jacques Emile Blanche

Marguerite Saint-Marceaux painted by Jacques Emile Blanche

Robert de Montesquiou painted by Jacques Emile Blanche

Robert de Montesquiou painted by Jacques Emile Blanche

But back to Proust. I can’t say I’m looking forward to reading Albertine disparue because I know it’s a difficult volume too. The reward is really in Le Temps retrouvé which is an absolute masterpiece. I guess I’ll have to soldier on and think about this wonderful last volume.

  1. February 1, 2013 at 9:30 pm | #1

    Nice review, Emma! I didn’t know that you are reading Proust this year! Congratulations on finishing volume 5! Good going :) It was interesting to know about the gay marriage law being proposed in the French parliament. It is difficult to believe that the conservatives are against it. I never thought that there would be French conservatives – because for me France has always been the land of the liberals. ‘La vie élégante’ by Anne Martin-Fugier sounds like an interesting book. Hope you enjoy reading it. Will look forward to hearing your thoughts on it. Thanks for posting those pictures. They are really nice.

    • February 2, 2013 at 7:27 pm | #2

      Actually, I’ve been reading Proust for two years, on and off, savouring the books. (well not this one) It’s a slow process for me.

      France has a strong Catholic tradition, you know. It’s called “La fille aînée de l’Eglise”. There aren’t so many people in churches these days but they still have loud opinionated associations. They’re far from representing the whole Catholic community but they are VERY loud and pop their heads any time that their vision of decency is supposedly attacked.

      • February 2, 2013 at 9:04 pm | #3

        Glad to know that you are reading Proust slowly and savouring each of his books. Thanks for telling me about the Catholic tradition in France. It was quite interesting to know about that. Hope the conservatives listen to reason and become more liberal.

  2. February 1, 2013 at 10:38 pm | #4

    Unhealthy, twisted, you’re tempting me with Proust again.

    • February 2, 2013 at 7:34 pm | #5

      As I see it, you like your unhealthy-and-twisted nasty, not agonized whining.
      Because that’s what the narrator’s been doing: behaving like a girl teenager analyzing her latest crush’s every word. He sounded like high school lunch hour. OK, I’m exaggerating a bit but he got on my nerves. Not every sentence hides a lie or an ulterior motive. How can you base a relationship on such assumptions? It can only go right into a wall.

      That said, not reading Proust is a huge miss in you reading career. :-) It could be a hit.

  3. February 2, 2013 at 10:08 am | #6

    Soldier on…that’s the spirit.:)
    Germany seems much more liberal, I think same sex marriages have been allowed for a long time now and there wasn’t even a fuss at all but then they did have a homosexual candiadate running for chancellor. I have no clue about other countries though, not even Switzerland. I would suppose seeing as the Nordic countries tend to be more liberal, they probably allow it.

    • February 2, 2013 at 7:40 pm | #7

      Well, that could be a logo for you Literature and War readalong, no? :-)

      I never heard a comment about Delanoe being gay; I don’t think it’s a big issue anymore. The Germans have a very low birth rate. French conservatives are concerned about happens after the wedding, ie children.
      Here are the countries where it is possible.

      • February 3, 2013 at 2:43 pm | #8

        It would be quite the motto for the readalong. :)
        Interesting list. I was right, most Scandinavian countries allow it but so do Spain and Portugal bit not the UK.
        I suppose adopting is not automatically allowed? Or does that go hand in hand? I’m really clueless.

        • February 4, 2013 at 11:30 pm | #9

          It’s already allowed to adopt for a single parent. For now, they can’t both have parental rights. So if something happens to the one who has them, the other doesn’t automatically get to take care of the child.

  4. Ludo
    February 2, 2013 at 6:28 pm | #10

    I do not know well the period nor Proust, but in history it happened that homosexuality among males was more easily accepted than among females. That’s how things went for a long time in the Roman Empire. It is daring to make comparisons, but probabily there are cultural reasons to explain Proust’s strong beliefs.

    • February 2, 2013 at 7:43 pm | #11

      Hello Ludo, thanks for visiting my blog and commenting.

      Your idea makes sense. The comparison is daring because it dates back to before Christianism. However, the cultural influence of Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece is real in Europe.

  5. February 7, 2013 at 12:14 am | #12

    Ah, you’ve been having the same debate in France. The same law just passed in Britain yesterday – how strange that they’re both at exactly the same time. Maybe Cameron wanted to be first! Here there have also been attacks from the Church, but not much abuse, at least in the mainstream. More pompous sermonising about undermining the sanctity of marriage – as if heterosexual people aren’t already doing enough to undermine it!

    Anyway, it is interesting about the acceptance in Proust of male homosexuality but not female. Unfortunately, such double-standards are rife, and not only in Proust’s day. Many things are acceptable for men but not for women. For example, a man who sleeps with lots of different women is admired, but a woman who sleeps with lots of different men is called some pretty horrible names. Things change, but slowly!

    • February 7, 2013 at 9:52 pm | #13

      I’ve heard about the law in Britain, I thought it was a strange coincidence too.

      I can only agree about your last comment about men and women.

  6. February 9, 2013 at 7:50 pm | #14

    I’m having to be careful reading these reviews now, given how much further ahead than me you are.

    Could the issue with lesbianism be one of control? Lesbians exist without the need for men, and therefore without the need for Marcel. Perhaps the existence of a world he cannot enter, control, is unbearable to him?

    • February 10, 2013 at 4:19 pm | #15

      You’re not reading Proust for the plot, are you? I have no spoiler filter system for my Proust entries because I think no one reads him for the plot. Knowing in advance what happens in the next volumes might even help you spot details you wouldn’t have otherwise.
      You’ll have time to catch up a bit before my next Proust posts. I don’t know when I’ll get to the next volume. I have three difficult books to read before, all in English and I think they’ll take some time.

      Interesting thought about control. It makes me think. I don’t think he wants to be in control in a sense of “control freak”. It’s more about being self-centred. You have an excellent point: it’s a world he cannot enter. So when Albertine is there, she doesn’t pay attention to him. Since he was adored by his grand-mother, that he’s the world to his mother and that his father doesn’t pay much attention to him, he needs his lover to be fully devoted to him. To him, love can only mean that he’s the centre of his lover’s world. That’s how he experienced love as a son and a grand-son. He can’t bear that she has a life outside of him (his jealousy extends to Andrée, Madame Verdurin)
      You know his point of view is totally biased. When you read a book with an unreliable narrator, you, as a reader, know the narrator is unreliable. You read between the lines and manage to have your own opinion on the events. You sort out things and know when the narrator exaggerates or not. Here, I’m totally at loss. I can’t tell you is Albertine is a truly lesbian or not. Only Henry James did the same to me. I’ll never know if Morris in Washington Square was sincere or not, if Sir Claude’s affection for Maisie is real or not.

      • February 11, 2013 at 1:46 am | #16

        No, there isn’t really a plot is there? I don’t worry too much about spoilers, but at the same time I want to discover the country myself. The result is that I do read all your reviews (and find them fascinating and insightful) but carefully in case there’s anything I might wish not to know (which of course by the time I realised that I’d already know – what can I say? I’m inconsistent).

        Three difficult books? Good luck! I do hope you’ve got something more friendly to put in between them.

        Nice thoughts on the reliability of his narration. The book is so personal the question almost becomes moot. It is his narration, it is reliable for him. Beyond that we cannot know. Interesting.

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