Return to Equinoxes, Issue 2 : Automne/Hiver 2003-2004
Article ©2004, Kathryn Chenoweth
Translator's essay: « Traduire Proust »
Thus what I had believed was nothing to me was quite simply my whole life! How unaware of ourselves we are. My suffering had to be stopped immediately; tender towards myself like my mother towards my dying grandmother, I told myself, with that same willingness people have not to let the one they love suffer: "Be patient for a moment, a remedy will be found, rest easy, they won't let you suffer that way. None of that matters, because I'm going to have her come back right away. I'll have to figure out how, but in any case she will be here tonight. Therefore no point in worrying."
The more improbable the feigning hypothesis became, the more necessary it was to me, and it gained in strength what it lost in likelihood. When you see yourself on the edge of an abyss and it seems God has abandoned you, you no longer hesitate to expect a miracle from him. [Begin Mauriac addition] I recognize that in all of that I was the most apathetic, though the most painful, of policemen. But her flight had not restored the qualities that having others watch over her had taken away. I thought about only one thing, assigning this search to someone else; this someone was Saint-Loup, who consented. So many days of anxiety handed over to another gave me joy and excited me, sure of success, my hands gone dry again as they had been, no longer moist with that sweat Françoise had produced by saying, "Mademoiselle Albertine is gone." Besides, it wasn't just that. It will be recalled that, when I resolved to live with Albertine, to marry her even, it was to keep her, to know what she was doing, to prevent her from resuming her habits with Mademoiselle Vinteuil. It had been in the atrocious splitting of her disclosure in Balbec, when she said to me - like something quite natural, and which I managed, even though it was the greatest pain I had ever felt in my life, to seem like I thought was quite natural - the thing that in my worst hypotheses I would never have dared imagine (it's amazing how jealousy, which spends its time dreaming up what is false, has such little imagination when it comes to what is true). This love, born surely of a need to prevent Albertine from doing wrong, this love had retained in what followed the trace of its origin. Being with her mattered little to me, so long as I could keep "the creature of flight" from going here or there. In order to keep her from doing so, I left it up to the eyes and company of those who went with her, and as long as they gave me a good, reassuring little report in the evening, my worries dissolved into good humor.
My conviction was that Albertine was not with her aunt, but rather hidden in the pastry-cook's home where we had been to eat shortly before her departure. I went back to the pastry-cook's, flattered her with the promises of an affection which I indeed felt for her at this time when she could do so much for me, and I asked her to allow me to visit the rest of her house. She consented. But it was under repair, and I had to wait while everything was put in order, and there was plenty of time for my love to change rooms as I came in. In one, she told me, there was a sick little girl she had adopted. I insisted on seeing it. "No, you'll wake her up." In the end, she let me go in, and kissed her on the forehead without waking her. It was not Albertine. But, across the way, I saw a room with closed curtains which they wouldn't open for me because they didn't have the key; I begged, offered to send for a locksmith. It was in vain, and I remained convinced that behind those curtains was Albertine.
And yet, "love," "to be loved," their letters are perhaps translations all the same, as unsatisfactory as it may be to go from one to the other, of the same reality, since the letter only seems unsatisfactory to us when we read it, but we sweat blood and tears if it does not arrive, and it is sufficient to calm our anguish, if not to fill with its little black signs our desire, sensing that there is only the equivalence of a spoken word, a smile, a kiss, and not these things themselves. [Begin Mauriac addition] Moreover, each time I reread the letter, I found it other. Recalling it to be disappointing, I was struck by enchanting words that had not seemed that way before. And after that reading, the confident memory I'd had disappeared when I read it again. Thus everything is tinted differently depending on whether it is lit by the dawn, the flame of the hearth, the violet shade of the storm, or the countless tarnished crystals of the rain shower.
These words "on the bank of the Vivonne," added something more excruciating to my despair. For, that she would have told me in the little tram that she was friends with Mademoiselle Vinteuil, and that the place where she was since she had left me and where she died would neighbor Montjouvain, this coincidence could not be chance; lightning flashed between this Montjouvain spoken of in the train and this Vivonne unwittingly confessed in the telegram from Madame Bontemps. And so it was the evening when I went to the Verdurins', the evening when I told her I wanted to leave her, that she had lied to me!