Proust, again: The Captive

September 29th, 2009

After a several-month break from Proust, I’ve started reading The Captive and am reading slowly,—even more slowly than I usually read Proust, now that I am bicycling to work a few days a week and therefore don’t have 35 minutes of reading-on-the-train time built in at the start and end of my day. I will probably post as I read, to remember things better.

I love how this volume starts, the first sentence and those that follow, the mood they set: “At daybreak, my face still turned to the wall, and before I had seen above the big window-curtains what shade of colour the first streaks of light assumed, I could already tell what the weather was like. (p 1)” There’s the rhythm of Proust, right away; I also like how it starts the book with a concern with perception, a concern with sense-impressions. The narrator goes on to elaborate, and it’s pleasing because it’s such a familiar sensation: those moments between sleep and waking when you’re sure it’s snowed overnight, though you couldn’t yet articulate how you know, or when you’re just awake and hear traffic passing on a wet road and know it must be raining. The first page feels wintry: you sense the cold outside air and the warmth of a bed piled with blankets, the cocoon of a Paris house, a Paris bedroom.

“It was, in fact, principally from my bedroom that I took in the life of the outer world during this period,” the narrator says, later on the first page, and he describes his domestic routines in such a satisfying way that it almost seems appealing: he lingers in bed, he reads the newspaper, he washes in his little bathroom while Albertine, who’s staying with him, washes in her adjoining one, and they talk, “carrying on a conversation that was interrupted only by the sound of the water, in that intimacy which is so often permitted in hotels by the smallness and proximity of the rooms but which, in private houses in Paris, is so rare” (p 4). Not that everything is easy with the two of them: he’s bored of her, and yet at the same time intensely jealous, worried that she’s out seducing the world.

(All page numbers are from the Modern Library paperback edition of The Captive & The Fugitive by Marcel Proust, translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, revised by D.J. Enright)

One Response to “Proust, again: The Captive

  1. letters and sodas: booknotes » Blog Archive » Returning to The Captive Says:

    […] just about a three-month-long break, I’ve picked up The Captive again. I’m in Georgia on vacation right now, which means […]

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