Translations from Proust

by Jonathan Wallace

The following selections from A la recherche du temps perdu are presented with three agendas in mind. They illustrate some of the ideas from my associated essay, were selected for the beauty of the prose in the original, and establish that I am an unbearable show-off.

All references are to the eight volume Gallimard Folio paperback edition, which is copyright 1954.

Du cote du chez Swann, p. 18

Every day in Combray, late in the afternoon, long before the moment when I had to get into bed and remain, without sleeping, far from my mother and my grandmother, my bedroom again became the fixed, painful point of my preoccupations. They had hit on the good idea, to distract me on those evenings when they thought I was too unhappy, of giving me a magic lantern which, while awaiting dinnertime, they placed over my lamp; and, after the fashion of the first architects and glassmakers of the gothic era, it substituted for the wall's opacity impalpable plays of color, supernatural colorful apparitions, which depicted legends like a momentary and vacillating stained glass window. But my sadness only increased, because the simple change in the lighting was enough to destroy the familiarity of my room, as a result of which, even without the torture of having to go to sleep, it became unbearable to me. Now I no longer recognized my surroundings, and I was uncomfortable, as if in a hotel room or a chalet where I had just arrived for the first time by train.

Accompanied by the staccato hoofbeats of his horse, Golo, driven by his horrible plan, came out of the little triangular dark green forest which broke the line of the hillside, and proceeded joltingly towards the castle of the unfortunate Genevieve de Brabant. The castle was cut off by a curved line which was nothing other than the edge of one of the glass ovals set in the frame which one slid into the lantern's slots. This was a wall of the castle, and in front of it was a landscape in which Genevieve daydreamed, wearing a blue belt. The castle and the landscape were yellow, and I did not have to see them to know their color, because even before they were projected by the lens, the golden sound of the name Brabant had evidently shown them to me. Golo stopped for a moment to listen sadly to the nonsense read loudly by my great-aunt, which he seemed to understand perfectly, adapting his attitude, with a docility which did not exclude a certain majesty, to the indications of the text; then he departed at the same staccato pace. And nothing could stop his slow horseback ride. If I moved the lantern, I could see Golo's horse which continued to advance across the window curtains, bulging at their folds and descending into their depressions. Golo's body itself, of a material as supernatural as that of his mount, arranged itself around every physical obstacle, every interfering object it encountered, by adopting it as a skeleton and internalizing it, even the doorknob, to which his pale face and red robe adapted themselves and floated over it invincibly, always noble and melancholy, showing no stress as a result of the transformation of his bones.

Du cote du chez Swann p. 201

Sometimes, at the water's edge surrounded by woods, we found a house of the type known as a "maison de plaisance", isolated, lost, and which saw nothing of the world but the river which washed its feet. A young woman whose pensive face and elegant veils were not of this countryside and who had doubtless come here, according to the popular expression, to "bury herself", to experience the bitter pleasure to know that her name, the name principally of the man whose heart she had not been able to keep, was unknown, was visible framed in the window which did not permit her to see further than the boat tied up by the door. She raised her distracted eyes, hearing behind the trees of the riverbank the voices of passersby of whom, before she had even seen their faces, she could be sure they had never known, nor would ever know, the unfaithful man, that nothing in their past bore his trace, that nothing in their future would have the opportunity to receive it. One sensed that, in her renunciation, she had voluntarily left the places where she could at least see her loved one, for others which had never known him. And I watched her, returning from a walk on a path where she knew he would not pass by, remove from her resigned hands her long uselessly graceful gloves.

Du cote du chez Swann, p. 354

Because as soon as Swann could think of her without horror, and again could see the kindness in her smile, and the desire to take her away from everyone else was no longer added by jealousy to his love for her, his love again became principally a taste for the sensations which Odette's body brought him, for the pleasure he had in admiring like a spectacle, or investigating like a phenomenon, the breaking-forth of one of her expressions, the formation of one of her smiles, the transmission of an intonation in her voice. And this pleasure different from all others had finished by creating in him a need for her which only she could fulfill by her presence or by her letters, almost as objective, almost as artistic, as perverse, as another need which characterized this new period of Swann's life where the dryness, the depression of the prior years had been replaced by a sort of spiritual over-flow, without his really knowing to what he owed this unhoped-for enrichment of his internal life, any more than a person of delicate health knows, who suddenly becomes strong, puts on weight, and seems for a while to be heading for a complete cure: this other need, which also grew outside the real world, was to listen to, and to know, music.

A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleur, p. 156

But talent, even great talent, comes less from intellectual elements and social refinements superior to others', than from the ability to transform and transpose them. To heat a liquid with an electric lamp, it is unnecessary to have the brightest lamp possible, but one whose current can stop producing light, be redirected and produce heat instead of light. To wander through the air, it is unnecessary to have the most powerful automobile, but an automobile which, instead of continuing to run across the ground, breaks free of the earthbound line it is following and is capable of converting into an ascending force its horizontal speed. In the same way, those who produce the most appealing work are not those who live in the most delicate milieu, who have the most brilliant conversation, or the most extensive culture, but those who have had the strength, suddenly ceasing to live for themselves, to turn their personality into a mirror, as a result of which their life, as mediocre as it may otherwise be in a worldly and even in an intellectual sense, reflects itself, their genius consisting of the reflective power of the mirror and not of the intrinsic quality of the spectacle reflected in it.

A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleur, p. 355

I saw the trees depart waving their arms desperately, seeming to say to me: That which you do not learn from us today, you will never know. If you let us fall back to the bottom of this path from which we tried to climb up to you, an entire part of yourself which we were bringing you will fall forever into nothingness. In effect, if later I recovered the type of pleasure and discomfort that I had just felt one more time, and if one night--too late, but forever--I attached myself to it, of the trees themselves, in exchange, I never knew what they were trying to bring me nor where I had seen them. And when, the carriage having proceeded a different way, I turned my back on them and could no longer see them, while Mme. de Villeparisis asked why I had a dreamy expression, I was as sad as if I had just lost a friend, had died myself, dug up a corpse or failed to recognize a god.

Le cote de Guermantes I p. 110

Poets claim that we can recover for a moment what we were long ago in returning to a certain house or garden where we lived when we were young. These are very dangerous pilgrimages, at the end of which you can count as many disappointments as successes. Places fixed in space, but inhabitants of different years, are best visited within ourselves. To a certain extent, a deep exhaustion after a good evening can help us accomplish this. Aiding us to descend into the most subterranean galleries of sleep, where no reflection of the night before, no glimmer of memory lights the interior monologue, even if it never ceases, such sleeps turn over the soil and the subsoil of our bodies and help us recover, there where our muscles plunge and twist their ramifications and breathe the new life, the garden where we were children. There is no need of a voyage to see it again, one has to descend to locate it. That which the earth has covered, is no longer upon it, but below; an excursion is not enough to visit a dead city, but digging is necessary. We will see just how much certain fugitive, fortuitous impressions lead us more successfully towards the past, with a finer precision, a lighter flight, more immaterial, more vertiginous, more infallible, more immortal, than these organic dislocations.

Sodome et Gomorrhe, p. 155

Hearing her excuses, which indicated she would not come, I felt that in addition to the desire to see her silky-complexioned face again which had already at Balbec directed every one of my days towards the moment when, by the mauve sea of September, I would be in her pink, flowery presence, a very different factor sadly tended to present itself. I had learned at Combray, with regard to my mother, the terrible need for another person, to the point that I wanted to die if she sent Francoise to say that she couldn't come up. This attempt by my old feelings to merge into a single element with the other more recent ones, which themselves had for their voluptuous object the colored surface, the pink flesh-tint of a beach-flower, this effort frequently resulted only in creating (in the chemical sense) a new material, which could only last for several moments. That evening at least, and for a long while after, the two elements stayed separate. But already, as a result of the last words she said to me on the telephone, I had begun to understand that Albertine's life was situated (not materially, of course) at such a distance from mine that it would always require exhausting explorations to lay hands on her, but, in addition, that her life was organized like defensive earthworks in the countryside, and, for greater security, of the type which later on came to be known as "camouflaged". Albertine, for that matter, was, at a higher level of society, the type of person to whom the concierge promises your porter to deliver your letter when she returns---until the moment you realize that the person you met outdoors and to whom you allowed yourself to write, is, precisely, the concierge. She does in fact live in the building she pointed out to you, but in the concierge's apartment (and the building, is for that matter a whore-house of which she is the madam). An existence in five or six twists, the result being that, when you want to meet the woman, or know something about her, your shot hits too far to the right, or the left, or in front, or behind, and you can remain completely ignorant for months and years to come. Concerning Albertine, I sensed that I would never know anything, that I would never succeed in sorting out the tangled multiplicity of real details and lies. And that it would always be like this until the end, unless I locked her up in prison (but people escape). That night, my convictions caused anxiety to shoot through me, in which I felt a vibration like an anticipation of long suffering.