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NA321112 - PROUST, M.: Remembrance of Things Past, Vol. 6: Fugitive (The) (Abridged)
(The Sweet Cheat Gone)
The Fugitive opens with Marcel astonished at the intensity of his mental agony following Albertine’s sudden departure, “How little we know ourselves”, he observes, having never dreamed how desperately he depended on Albertine for his peace of mind and happiness.
Unlike more conventional novels, Remembrance of Things Past does not depend on its narrative to ensure the continuation the reader’s interest. Events themselves are less compelling than the poetic descriptions and philosophical observations to which they give rise. That said, The Fugitive contains one of the most unexpected and shocking occurrences in the novel; the death of Albertine. But even here, the accident itself happens offstage in the manner of a Greek tragedy, and it is the author’s penetrating observations on the process of grief and mourning, which result from that event, that provide the major content of the book.
From the moment Françoise announces “Mademoiselle Albertine has gone!” we follow the development of the Narrators’ emotional states; his initial shock, his astonishment at the power of his feelings, the realization of how much he has depended on Albertine’s presence and how he has avoided acknowledging the signs of her unhappiness and frustration. He lets us see his attempts at self-deception, the ‘double-think’ that enables him to bear his pain. And at each stage that pain becomes more unbearable: first when he realizes Albertine has gone, next when he accepts that she may not come back, and finally when he knows that death has prevented her from returning ever again. And even when she is dead his jealousy persists, and he continues to torture himself by seeking to discover explicit details of her sexual adventures.
Proust’s deep understanding of the human soul and his ability to describe his own thoughts and feelings with unparalleled truthfulness and courage enable us recognize the universality of his experience. He analyzes his inner world with the insight of a psychologist, and it is his ability to speak without equivocation, to show himself at his most vulnerable, which touches us so deeply.
But despite Proust’s literary honesty, the social climate in which he lived forced certain restrictions on him. Society demanded that any life style, especially homosexuality, which deviated from what was considered acceptable, had to be discreet and hidden from view. The fate of Oscar Wilde loomed as a warning to those who ignored the rules. Proust was not one to flout society; on the contrary, in his youth he had made strenuous efforts to be accepted in the right circles. It was not until after the death his mother that he was able to indulge his homosexual tendencies, although even then he was never able to live openly as a homosexual.
Proust remarked that as a writer one could say anything providing one does not say ‘I’, and although Remembrance of Things Past is written in the first person, Proust contrived to remain incognito. He denied publicly that the Narrator was intended to be himself (he writes of “the ‘I’ who is not ‘I’”, although at one point he teasingly suggests we call the Narrator ‘Marcel’), and the Narrator’s two great loves, Albertine and Gilberte, are women, although their originals have been identified as male. The device of attributing homosexuality to other characters enabled him to discuss the subject freely without implicating himself.
Proust repudiated accusations by his friends that he had portrayed them, insisting that each character is based not on one, but on many originals, but it is clear that some characters are modeled more closely than others on a single person. It is generally accepted that the main original of Albertine, by sexual transposition, was a young Monegasque, Alfred Agostinelli, who worked initially as Proust’s chauffeur and later as his secretary.
Although over time there were several young men engaged by Proust in the capacity of secretary, who lived in his apartment and became ‘Captives’ as a result of his possessive nature, it was Agostinelli whose tragic death in a plane crash was so closely echoed in Albertine’s riding accident, and resulted in the deep grief Proust describes so movingly.
In correspondence Proust referred to Agostinelli as “an extraordinary being” and “a young man whom I loved probably more than all my friends” and added, “I don’t know how I can endure such grief.” Proust used the events of his life more directly than many authors as raw material for his work, and it was Agostinelli’s death, which was to inspire him to create out of his suffering the enduring monument, which is The Fugitive.
Marcel Proust was born on July 10, 1871. His father, a distinguished professor of medicine, was from a Catholic family, while his mother was Jewish.
Although intent on becoming a writer from an early age, Proust was riddled with self-doubt. During his twenties he co-founded a short-lived review, Le Banquet, contributed to La Revue Blanche and had his first book published, a collection of articles and essays entitled Les Plaisirs et les Jours.
He became an enthusiastic admirer of the work of Ruskin and translated his Bible of Amiens and Sesame and Lilies into French. A novel, Jean Santeuil, which was the precursor of Remembrance of Things Past, was eventually abandoned and only published long after his death, in 1954.
For much of his youth he led the life of a man of fashion, frequenting fashionable Paris drawing rooms and literary salons, and these formed the background for a number of his stories and sketches, and subsequently of Remembrance of Things Past.
The death of his adored mother in 1905 resulted in a nervous collapse and aggravated his chronic asthma and insomnia. But despite his grief and the sense of loss from which he never recovered, his mother’s death freed him with regard to his homosexual emotional life and allowed him to address homosexuality in his writing, albeit in a manner which treated such experiences as happenings to others rather than to himself.
In 1907 he moved into an apartment in the Boulevard Haussmann where, in the bedroom which he had lined with cork to keep out noise, he embarked upon his great work A la Recherche du Temps Perdu (Remembrance of Things Past).
This long cycle of autobiographical novels was published in eight sections: Du Côté de Chez Swann (Swann’s Way) in 1913; A L’Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleur (Within A Budding Grove) in 1918; Le Côté de Guermantes I (The Guermantes Way I) in 1920; Le Côté de Guermantes II and Sodome et Gomorrhe (Cities of the Plain I) in 1921; Sodome et Gomorrhe II in 1922; La Prisonnière (The Captive) in 1923; Albertine Disparue (The Sweet Cheat Gone) in 1925; Le Temps Retrouvé (Time Regained) in 1927.
Proust was obliged to publish Swann’s Way at his own expense, and even after it had appeared, he had trouble finding a publisher for the next volume, A L’ Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleur. However, when it appeared in 1918 it received considerable acclaim, and was awarded the Prix Goncourt the following year.
By the time Proust died on November 18, 1922, the first four parts of the cycle had been published, leaving the others to appear posthumously. The English translations by C.K. Scott Moncrieff, from which this abridged audiobook version has been prepared, were published between 1922 and 1930.
In Remembrance of Things Past, the minuteness of Proust’s observation, the depth of his psychological understanding and the vividness of his descriptive powers have combined to create one of the most poetic and magical works in all literature.
Notes by Neville Jason
Neville Jason trained at RADA where he was awarded the Diction Prize by Sir John Gielgud. He has worked with the English Stage Co., the Old Vic Company and the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as in films and musicals. Jason has appeared in popular television serials such as Maigret, Emergency Ward 10 and Dr. Who, as well as playing classical roles such as Orestes and Horatio. Formally a member of the BBC Radio Drama Co., he can be frequently heard on radio. Jason’s passion for Remembrance of Things Past comes alive in his adaptation and reading of the series, for which he has received worldwide praise.
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