The Captive – Volume 5 of In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

“Let us leave pretty women to men with no imagination.” – Marcel Proust, The Captive 

the captive - proust

So – Albertine is now being held captive by the young Marcel in his parents’ apartment in Paris. Yes, that’s right. Captive. So afraid is he that she will enjoy the delights of all the lesbians he is in no doubt are lurking around every corner of her past and her present, that he will not let the girl out of his sight. He only wants her now, or loves her, because he found out, at the point of getting rid of her, that she knew an “infamous lesbian” of his childhood memories, and this sparked the dreaded jealousy, which poor old Marcel cannot distinguish form love; indeed, he would argue, and does argue, that the pain of one is identical to the pain of the other: love is a sickness, jealousy is both its symptom and its cause. It is only through withholding our affection and attention that we can cause love to germinate. We do not, Proust argues, love what we can have, but what has been denied to us. A sought after woman, failing to arrive, cancelling at the last minute, or spurning our advances, is ever more sought after and so more likely to spark love, than one who is obliging, available, and smiling willingly at all junctures, and thereby less sought after, and ultimately, unloved.

However, all is not lost: the novel is full of beautiful prose:

“The fine weather that night made a leap forwards as the mercury in the thermometer darts upward. In the early-rising mornings of spring that followed, I could hear the tram-cars moving, through a cloud of perfumes, in an air with which the prevailing warmth became more and more blended until it reached the solidification and density of noon. When the unctuous air had succeeded in varnishing with it and isolating in it the scent of the wash-stand, the scent of the wardrobe, the scent of the sofa, simply by the sharpness with which, vertical and erect, they stood out in adjacent but distinct slices, in a pearly chiaroscuro which added a softer glaze to the shimmer of the curtains and the blue satin armchairs, I saw myself, not by a mere caprice of my imagination, but because it was physically possible, following in some new quarter of the suburbs, like that in which Bloch’s house at Balbec was situated, the streets blinded by the sun, and finding in them not the dull butchers’ shops and the white freestone facings, but the country dining-room which I could reach in no time, and the scents that I would find there on my arrival, that of the bowl of cherries and apricots, the scent of cider, that of gruyere cheese, held in suspense in the luminous congelation of shadow which they delicately vein like the heart of an agate, while the knife-rests of prismatic glass scatter rainbows athwart the room or paint the waxcloth here and there with peacock-eyes.”


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