For this authoritative English-language edition, D. J. Enright has revised the late Terence Kilmartin’s acclaimed reworking of C. K. Scott Moncrieff’s translation to take into account the new definitive French editions of Á la recherché du temps perdu (the final volume of these new editions was published by the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade in 1989).
About the Author
Date of Birth:July 10, 1871
Date of Death:November 18, 1922
Place of Birth:Auteuil, near Paris, France
Place of Death:Paris, France
Read an Excerpt
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. The first sounds from the street had told me, according to whether they came to my ears deadened and distorted by the moisture of the atmosphere or quivering like arrows in the resonant, empty expanses of a spacious, frosty, pure morning; as soon as I heard the rumble of the first tramcar, I could tell whether it was sodden with rain or setting forth into the blue. And perhaps these sounds had themselves been forestalled by some swifter and more pervasive emanation which, stealing into my sleep, diffused in it a melancholy that announced snow or else (through a certain intermittent little person) burst into so many hymns to the glory of the sun that, having first of all begun to smile in my sleep, having prepared my eyes, behind their shut lids, to be dazzled, I would awake finally to clarion peals of music. It was, in fact, principally from my bedroom that I took in the life of the outer world during this period. I know that Bloch reported that, when he called to see me in the evenings, he could hear the sound of conversation; as my mother was at Combray and he never found anybody in my room, he concluded that I was talking to myself. When, much later, he learned that Albertine had been staying with me at the time, and realised that I had concealed her presence from everybody, he declared that he saw at last the reason why, during that phase of my life, I had always refused to go out of doors. He was wrong. His mistake was, however, perfectly excusable, for reality, even though it is necessary, is not always foreseeable as a whole. People who learn some correct detail about another person’s life at once draw conclusions from it which are not accurate, and see in the newly discovered fact an explanation of things that have no connexion with it whatsoever.
When I reflect now that, on our return from Balbec, Albertine had come to live in Paris under the same roof as myself, that she had abandoned the idea of going on a cruise, that she was installed in a bedroom within twenty paces of my own, at the end of the corridor, in my father’s tapestried study, and that late every night, before leaving me, she used to slide her tongue between my lips like a portion of daily bread, a nourishing food that had the almost sacred character of all flesh upon which the sufferings that we have endured on its account have come in time to confer a sort of spiritual grace, what I at once call to mind in comparison is not the night that Captain de Borodino allowed me to spend in barracks, a favour which cured what was after all only a passing distemper, but the night on which my father sent Mamma to sleep in the little bed beside mine. So true is it that life when it chooses to deliver us once more from sufferings that seemed inescapable, does so in different, at times diametrically opposed conditions, so much so that it seems almost sacrilegious to note the identical nature of the consolations vouchsafed!
When Albertine had heard from Françoise that, in the darkness of my still curtained room, I was not asleep, she had no qualms about disturbing me as she washed herself in her bathroom. Then, frequently, instead of waiting until later in the day, I would go to my own bathroom, which adjoined hers and was a very agreeable place. Time was when a stage manager would spend hundreds of thousands of francs to begem with real emeralds the throne upon which a great actress would play the part of an empress. The Russian ballet has taught us that simple lighting effects, trained upon the right spot, will beget jewels as gorgeous and more varied. This decoration, already more ethereal, is not so pleasing, however, as that which, at eight o’clock in the morning, the sun substitutes for what we were accustomed to see when we did not rise before noon. The windows of our respective bathrooms, so that their occupants might not be visible from without, were not smooth and transparent but crinkled with an artificial and old-fashioned hoar-frost. All of a sudden, the sun would colour this muslin glass, gild it, and, gently disclosing in my person an earlier young man whom habit had long concealed, would intoxicate me with memories, as though I were in the heart of the country amidst golden foliage in which even a bird was not lacking. For I could hear Albertine ceaselessly humming:
Is but folly,
And he who heeds it is a fool.
I was too fond of her not to be able to spare a smile for her bad taste in music. This song had, as it happened, during the past summer, delighted Mme Bontemps, who presently heard people say that it was silly, with the result that, instead of asking Albertine to sing it when she had company, she would substitute:
A song of farewell rises from troubled springs,
which in its turn became “an old jingle of Massenet’s the child is always dinning into our ears.”
A cloud passed, blotting out the sun; I saw the prudish, leafy screen of glass grow dim and revert to a grey monochrome.
The partition that divided our two dressing-rooms (Albertine’s, identical with my own, was a bathroom which Mamma, who had another at the opposite end of the flat, had never used for fear of disturbing my rest) was so thin that we could talk to each other as we washed in double privacy, 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.
On other mornings, I would remain in bed, drowsing for as long as I chose, for orders had been given that no one was to enter my room until I had rung the bell, an act which, owing to the awkward position in which the electric push had been hung above my bed, took such a time that often, tired of feeling for it and glad to be left alone, I would lie back for some moments and almost fall asleep again. It was not that I was wholly indifferent to Albertine’s presence in the house. Her separation from her girlfriends had succeeded in sparing my heart any fresh anguish. It kept it in a state of repose, in a semi-immobility which would help it to recover. But this calm which my mistress procured for me was an assuagement of suffering rather than a joy. Not that it did not enable me to taste many joys from which the intensity of my anguish had debarred me, but, far from my owing them to Albertine, who in any case I no longer found very pretty and with whom I was bored, with whom I was indeed clearly conscious that I was not in love, I tasted these joys on the contrary when Albertine was not with me. And so, to begin the morning, I did not send for her at once, especially if it was a fine day. For some moments, knowing that he would make me happier than Albertine, I remained closeted with the little person inside me, the melodious psalmist of the rising sun, of whom I have already spoken. Of the different persons who compose our personality, it is not the most obvious that are the most essential. In myself, when ill health has succeeded in uprooting them one after another, there will still remain two or three endowed with a hardier constitution than the rest, notably a certain philosopher who is happy only when he has discovered between two works of art, between two sensations, a common element. But I have sometimes wondered whether the last of all might not be this little mannikin, very similar to another whom the optician at Combray used to set up in his shop window to forecast the weather, and who, doffing his hood when the sun shone, would put it on again if it was going to rain. I know how selfish this little mannikin is; I may be suffering from an attack of breathlessness which only the coming of rain would assuage, but he pays no heed, and, at the first drops so impatiently awaited, all his gaiety forgotten, he sullenly pulls down his hood. Conversely, I dare say that in my last agony, when all my other “selves” are dead, if a ray of sunshine steals into the room while I am drawing my last breath, the little barometric mannikin will feel a great relief, and will throw back his hood to sing: “Ah, fine weather at last!”
I would ring for Françoise. I would open the Figaro. I would scan its columns and ascertain that it did not contain an article, or so-called article, which I had sent to the editor, and which was no more than a slightly revised version of the page that had recently come to light, written long ago in Dr Percepied’s carriage, as I gazed at the spires of Martinville. Then I would read Mamma’s letter. She found it odd, if not shocking, that a girl should be living alone with me. On the first day, at the moment of leaving Balbec, when she saw how wretched I was and was worried about leaving me by myself, my mother had perhaps been glad when she heard that Albertine was travelling with us and saw that, side by side with our own boxes (those boxes among which I had spent the night in tears in the hotel at Balbec) Albertine’s too—narrow and black, having for me the appearance of coffins, and as to which I did not know whether they would bring life or death to our house—had been loaded on to the “twister.” But I had never even asked myself the question, being all overjoyed, in the radiant morning, after the fear of having to remain at Balbec, that I was taking Albertine with me.