Monday, January 01, 2007

Generalized Impressions

I have so many thoughts swirling around about In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower that I'm not sure where to start. I'm sure there will be more than one post, so perhaps I will just begin with general impressions.

I loved the first part of the book, "At Madame Swann's." The luscious detail of dress, the dinner and tea parties, I could picture it all in my mind. I felt bad for our young narrator when his love for Gilberte didn't work out, but I also understood Gilberte and why she was annoyed with him. Marcel showing up all the time unannounced and her mother making her give up plans in order to stay with him. That would make me mad too. Marcel's first love is one of a rather clinging sort that sometimes eerily paralleled Swann's for Odette.

Part two has so many layers, so many beautiful moments. Themes that stand out for me are love, habit, art, and beauty. The descriptions I liked best in this section were when Proust is describing the dining room at the Hotel and at Rivebelle. He twice describes the room as an aquarium and the diners as fish, fist at Balbec (pg 260) with the working classes pressed against the windows looking in at the "strange fish and mollusks." Then later at Rivebelle he describes the ladies taking tea in the narrow, glassed gallery (pg 394), "the place looked like a tank of a creel that a fisherman has filled with his shiny catch, some of the fish being half out of the water, their sheen glistening and changing under glossy lights."

I also loved the description of his first dinner at Rivebelle with Saint Loup when the dining room becomes a solar system, the tables heavenly bodies exerting a sort of gravitational pull on other tables as they all kept looking at each other, and "the incessant revolutions" of the wait staff who moved "in a higher realm." And I laughed at this:
Like a pair of witches, sitting behind a great floral decoration, two ghastly cashiers, endlessly busy with their arithmetic, seemed engage in astrological calculations of the upheavals that might on occasion disrupt life in this planetary system, designed in accordance with the science of the Middle Ages.
Again in part two the narrator falls in love. This time it is with the gang of girls and more specifically with Albertine. The whole bedroom scene when Marcel thinks Albertine has invited him to her room because she wants to have sex with him because that's what all girls really want is both funny and dismaying. But Albertine has a good head on her shoulders and a strong bell rope so Marcel didn't even get a kiss. As baffled as Marcel is about why Albertine won't even let him kiss her, Albertine is almost as equally astonished about how he could not understand why she wouldn't. Maybe they could use a copy of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.

I had a hard time following how old Marcel is supposed to be through the whole book. Sometimes he seems like he could be twelve, playing with Gilberte, following the directions of his Grandmother. At other times he is walking out with a cane, dapper as any gentleman, or attending Odette's visiting time and he seems he must be at least 20. I tried not to think about it too much, but sometimes it was disconcerting.

There's my first impression. More specifics in a day or two.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good question about the narrator's age -- it does seem to shift throughout the narrative. I found the book very beautiful too!

4:56 PM  
Blogger Quillhill said...

I've had the same difficulty discerning his age. To what degree do we question the veracity of the narrative as it is filtered through the viewpoint of the narrator as adult?

8:39 AM  

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