More in The Captive

December 28th, 2009

Despite that early beauty, this book is shaping up to be sort of squirm-inducing: at the center of The Captive, even more than in previous volumes, is the narrator’s jealousy. It isn’t absolute—or, at least, he says it isn’t—but it’s consuming. It’s the in-between-ness that’s the problem, the hazy awareness, the knowing-but-not-knowing: “I should not have been jealous if she had enjoyed her pleasures in my vicinity, with my encouragement, completely under my surveillance, thereby relieving me of any fear of mendacity,” the narrator says, “nor should I have been jealous if she had moved to a place so unfamiliar and remote that I could not imagine, had no possibility of knowing, and no temptation to know, her manner of life” (pp 29-30). But since neither is the case, things aren’t pretty: “Our engagement was assuming the aspect of a criminal trial, and gave her the timorousness of a guilty party. Now she changed the conversation whenever it turned on people, men or women, who were not of mature years” (p 68). Meanwhile, the narrator’s going to visit the Duchesse de Guermantes and asking her about her clothes, so he can have copies made for Albertine, and asking Andrée to report back to him on their outings together, and generally being controlling and unpleasant. I’m only about seventy pages into the book now, and am starting to wonder whether the next 500-ish pages might be slow going. I’m also wondering whether there’ll be more of Charlus and Morel and Jupien and his niece in this book: there’s already been one funny (but also of course squirm-inducing) bit where Charlus throws a fit because Jupien’s niece uses the expression “I’ll stand you tea,” which Charlus finds horribly vulgar, though of course the whole thing is really about him being controlling/exercising power/reassuring himself that he can exercise power.

(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)

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