C.G. Fewston's Reviews > Within a Budding Grove

Within a Budding Grove by Marcel Proust
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it was amazing

Within a Budding Grove has often been translated (with a more provocative title) as In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (“in Flower” meaning figuratively: a period of time for a young girl who is a virgin and maturing; also, conversely, see: “Deflower”: often meaning to take a young girl’s virginity). Within a Budding Grove is a more applicable title because the “young girls” in the alternative title don’t show up until page 504 in Part Two (thereby remaining the focus of the rest of the novel), and the “budding grove” of the newer title further implies and includes Gilberte Swann and Mme Swann and their home in Part One as much as it does the “Fairy Wood” in Part Two.

In coming to terms with what the young writer-Narrator feels is impressed upon him by the terms “attraction” and “love,” he must first better understand what is meant, and what he deeply feels to be true, when one thinks of “beauty.” In his attempt, “Art” in the forms of theatre, literature, music, and painting is analyzed and reflected upon throughout the novel, and by doing so he sets upon the ending scenes in Part Two where he meets a band of young girls (p 504) and the attraction he feels for Albertine as she waits for him in bed at the end of the book; at first he is incapable of differentiating between the girls to recognize them as individuals, but as he gets to know each of the girls he starts to assess physical characteristics and personality traits which assist him in reaching an impression of what a person means by the terms and notions of “beautiful,” “attractive,” “desire,” “seductive,” “provocative,” and “appealing.”

In Part One, the Narrator attends a play with his Grandmother to see Berma in Phèdre (p 21) for a second time (the first time being in Swann’s Way, Vol. I) and contemplates “beauty” through “works of art” (note: the use of “coasts” hints at Part Two when the Narrator visits the coast at Balbec and where he meets the band of girls):

“The recollection that I was to be taken to see Berma alone distracted me from my grief. But just as I wished to see storms only on those coasts where they raged with most violence, so I should not have cared to see the great actress except in one of those classic parts in which Swann had told me that she touched the sublime. For when it is in the hope of making a priceless discovery that we desire to receive certain impressions from nature or from works of art, we have qualms lest our soul imbibe inferior impressions which might lead us to form a false estimate of the value of Beauty” (p 14).

This “false estimate” remerges by the end of the novel in the coastal city of Balbec where the Narrator struggles between his attraction and love for Albertine and Andrée.

Shortly after the play, however, the Narrator continues to contemplate the themes in literature and the books by his idol Bergotte (which first appeared in Swann’s Way, Vol. I) and who is supposedly based on the French novelist Anatole France (1844-1924), through the dialogue of M de Norpois, a diplomat and friend to the Narrator’s father, while attending dinner one night:

“His books fail at the foundation, or rather they have no foundation at all. At a time like the present, when the ever-increasing complexity of life leaves one scarcely a moment for reading, when the map of Europe has undergone radical alterations and is on the eve, perhaps, of undergoing others more drastic still, when so many new and threatening problems are arising on every side, you will allow me to suggest that one is entitled to ask that a writer should be something more than a clever fellow who lulls us into forgetting, amid otiose and byzantine discussions of the merits of pure form, that we may be overwhelmed at any moment by a double tide of barbarians, those from without and those from within our borders. I am aware that this is to blaspheme against the sacrosanct school of what these gentlemen term ‘Art for Art’s sake,’ but at this period of history there are tasks more urgent than the manipulation of words in a harmonious manner. I don’t deny that Bergotte’s manner can be quite seductive at times, but taken as a whole, it is all very precious, very thin, and altogether lacking in virility” (p 61).

“Virility,” or the idea thereof, also remerges a few pages later when the Narrator “wrestles” with Gilberte and he feels as though “a few drops of sweat wrung from” his body (p 90) and also by the end of the book when the Narrator meets Albertine in the hotel room in Balbec (p 699).

The Narrator furthers and deepens the understanding of these recurring themes (as well as how “memory” affects these notions of beauty and love, etc.) while contemplating music (specifically Vinteuil’s sonata, which also first appeared in Swann’s Way, Vol. I):

“It was on one of those days that she [Mme Swann] happened to play for me the passage in Vinteuil’s sonata that contained the little phrase of which [Charles] Swann had been so fond… Probably what is wanting, the first time, is not comprehension but memory…

“Hence the melancholy inseparable from one’s knowledge of such works, as of everything that takes place in time. When the least obvious beauties of Vinteuil’s sonata were revealed to me, already, borne by the force of habit beyond the grasp of my sensibility, those that I had from the first distinguished and preferred in it were beginning to escape, to elude me. Since I was able to enjoy everything that this sonata had to give me only in a succession of hearings, I never possessed it in its entirety: it was like life itself. But, less disappointing than life, great works of art do not begin by giving us the best of themselves…

“The reason why a work of genius is not easily admired from the first is that the man who has created it is extraordinary, that few other men resemble him. It is his work itself that, by fertilising the rare minds capable of understanding it, will make them increase and multiply. It was Beethoven’s quartets themselves (the Twelfth, Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth) that devoted half a century to forming, fashioning and enlarging the audience for Beethoven’s quartets, thus marking, like every great work of art, an advance if not in the quality of artists at least in the community of minds, largely composed today of what was not to be found when the work first appeared, that is to say of persons capable of appreciating it. What is called posterity is the posterity of the work of art… And so it is essential that the artist (and this is what Vinteuil had done), if he wishes his work to be free to follow its own course, should launch it, there where there is sufficient depth, boldly into the distant future” (pgs 139-143).

Thus, by the time the reader gets to the penultimate scene by novel’s end, the reader has a better (if not clearer) understanding of the immediacy and the importance of what the young Narrator is experiencing and feeling (regarding the themes discussed above) when he enters the hotel room of Albertine Simonet and finds her alone in bed:

“I found Albertine in bed. Leaving her throat bare, her white nightdress altered the proportions of her face, which, flushed by being in bed or by her cold or by dinner, seemed pinker; I thought of the colours I had had beside me a few hours earlier on the front, the savour of which I was now at last to taste; her cheek was traversed by one of those long, dark, curling tresses which, to please me, she had undone altogether. She looked at me and smiled. Beyond her, through the window, the valley lay bright beneath the moon. The sight of Albertine’s bare throat, of those flushed cheeks, had so intoxicated me (that is to say had so shifted the reality of the world for me away from nature into the torrent of my sensations which I could scarcely contain), that it had destroyed the equilibrium between the immense and indestructible life which circulated in my being and the life of the universe, so puny in comparison. The sea, which was visible through the window as well as the valley, the swelling breasts of the first of the Maineville cliffs, the sky in which the moon had not yet climbed to the zenith—all this seemed less than a featherweight on my eyeballs, which between their lids I could feel dilated, resistant, ready to bear far greater burdens, all the mountains of the world, upon their fragile surface…

“I bent over Albertine to kiss her. Death might have struck me down in that moment and it would have seemed to me trivial, or rather an impossible thing, for life was not outside me but in me; I should have smiled pityingly had a philosopher then expressed the idea that some day, even some distant day, I should have to die, that the eternal forces of nature would survive me, the forces of that nature beneath whose godlike feet I was no more than a grain of dust; that, after me, there would still remain those rounded, swelling cliffs, that sea, that moonlight and that sky! How could it have been possible; how could the world have lasted longer than myself, since I was not lost in its vastness, since it was the world that was enclosed in me, in me whom it fell far short of filling, in me who, feeling that there was room to store so many other treasures, flung sky and sea and cliffs contemptuously into a corner” (pgs 699-701).

Now the reader has to ask: How much of the novel Within a Budding Grove is real? Imagined? Legend?

Now on to Proust’s Volume III, The Guermantes Way, Books I & II (1920 & 1921).
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Reading Progress

December 25, 2017 – Started Reading
December 25, 2017 – Shelved
February 3, 2018 –
page 111
February 6, 2018 –
page 188
February 9, 2018 –
page 234
February 18, 2018 –
page 333
March 2, 2018 –
page 354
March 2, 2018 –
page 488
March 7, 2018 –
page 555
March 12, 2018 –
page 610
March 14, 2018 –
page 749
March 14, 2018 – Finished Reading

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