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In Search Of Lost Time, Vol 5: The Captive & The Fugitive: Captive and the Fugitive Vol 5 (Vintage Classics) Paperback – 5 Dec 1996
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"Oh if I could write like that!" (Virginia Woolf)
"One of the cornerstones of the Western literary canon" (The Times)
"Proust sinks deepest in readers because the book is so exhaustively analytical, so ceaselessly truthful... The experience of reading [the book] becomes, in itself, an unforgettable thing" (Independent)
"The way he replicates the workings of the mind changed the art of novel-writing forever...his style is extraordinary, enveloping, captivating" (Guardian)
"There are many who swear the experience has permanently enriched their lives" (Daily Mail)
The definitive translation of the greatest French novel of the twentieth centurySee all Product description
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Albertine is both the “captive” and the “fugitive.” Far, far from Marcel’s first glimpse of her, along the beach at Balbec, in Volume 2, the “Budding Grove.” The unnamed narrator is finally actually named. Typical of Proust, in the conditional at first, before he ventures into the declarative. They have left the “Gomorrah” that is Balbec, and Albertine is living in Marcel’s home in Paris, but with a separate bedroom, which does little to mute the “tut-tutting.” The servant, Francoise, strongly disapproves. Marcel is obsessively jealous of Albertine, particularly concerned that she might be having relations with other women. He has her watched constantly. Marcel is considering marrying her, but recognizes he does not love her. His desire is enflamed only when he thinks he is losing her; if she declares her devotion to him, he loses interest. Hundreds of pages on this sad equivocation about human relations that Leonard Cohen summed up far more succinctly in his song, “Chelsea Hotel”: “…I never once heard you say, I need you, I don’t need you, I need you, I don’t need you, and all of that jivin’ around.”
Endless subordinate clauses are the signature Proust style, easily recognized by any reader who makes it through volume 5. There is at least a 100-pages on the “pecking order” for one event at the salon of Mme. Verdurin, including her underhanded efforts to split Charlie Morel from M. de Charles. Aside from the machinations of the “gratin” of French society, and his relationship with Albertine, there are also ruminations on a variety of other subjects, such as the nature of sleep, the labors of street vendors, and the yellow wall in Vermeer’s “View of Delft.” Proust mixes propriety, with Albertine’s slang “me faire casser,” which the translator leaves in French…hum… no doubt in the spirit of “if you will excuse my French.”
It is famously “Proust’s world,” which is a bit unmoored from historical accuracy. Woven throughout this work is the Dreyfus Affair, surely long finished when folks are flying in airplanes. Bergotte dies, and he serves as the model for Anatole France, who died in 1924, two years after Proust did. Surely the biggest omission is World War I, of which there is nary a hint – surely that event penetrated even the most cloistered of the salons of society ladies!
If the reader begins to think that Proust’s observations are suitable for only the time and place of the Third Republic, he provides such up-to-date, “plus ca change” truths as: “But society’s finished, there are no longer any rules, any proprieties, in conversation any more than in dress. Ah, my dear fellow, it’s the end of the world. Everyone has become so malicious. People vie with one another in speaking ill of their fellows. It’s appalling!”
And he balances the above cited slang of Albertine with a much more delicious description of that most beautiful of rituals: “I could see Albertine now, seated at her pianola, pink-faced beneath her dark hair; I could feel against my lips, which she would try to part, her tongue, her maternal, incomestible, nutritious, hallowed tongue, whose secret dewy flame, even when she merely ran it over the surface of my neck or my stomach, gave to those caresses of hers, superficial but somehow imparted by the inside of her flesh, externalized like a piece of material reversed to show its lining, as it were the mysterious sweetness of a penetration.”
And then there was the 12 km drive back to the former farmhouse of a French peasant which had been built so that the larger farm animals would sleep in the house so that the peasant’s family could benefit from their warmth. Like WW I, something else omitted from “Proust’s world,” yet he still deserves the full 5-stars just for that one description of the most beautiful of rituals, with that meaningful and delightful adverb, “merely.”
Although it does seem as though most of this work takes part in the head of our narrator, some of the themes would be very at home in a modern novel. For, in these volumes, we find that Albertine has been persuaded to move into our narrator’s home. There are vague promises of marriage, a lot of angst from poor mama and a fair amount of sneering contempt from the faithful Francoise.
You would imagine, after all the plotting and planning and manoeuvring involved to finally establish Albertine at his home, our narrator would be enjoying finally having her there. However, we readers have not come this far to imagine that to be the case. It is not long before he is attempting to control her every movement, delve into every possible behaviour of her past and use, frankly, every trick in the book to try to convince himself that she is not to be trusted; while veering wildly between utter devotion and totally despair.
In a sense, it is almost pointless to talk about what happens within the pages of these books. The joy is in inhabiting this world and of realising how much insight Proust had into the lives and hearts of his characters – both good and bad. I am about to embark on the last volume with both a sense of achievement and a sense of loss.
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