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NA320312 - PROUST, M.: Remembrance of Things Past, Vol. 5: Captive (The): Part II (Abridged)

Marcel Proust

Marcel Proust

The Captive, Part II


Marcel, accompanied by the pedantic Brichot, attends a musical evening

at the Verdurins. Marcel has decided to keep his visit secret from Albertine, because a previously unpublished work by Vinteuil is to be played, and he has heard that the composer’s daughter Mlle. Vinteuil and her friend are to be present. Marcel knows them to be a lesbian couple, and the revelation by Albertine of her long-standing friendship with them has confirmed his suspicions regarding Albertine’s sexual proclivities. He is determined to keep Albertine from having any contact with the two women.


In the event, Mlle. Vinteuil and her friend fail to appear. The music is a revelation to Marcel, and he is astonished to learn that it has been patiently pieced together from Vinteuil’s notes after his death by the one person capable of doing so, his daughter’s friend. Thus the person who caused Vinteuil the greatest anguish during his lifetime has done him the greatest service after his death. Marcel realizes that even the sadistic scene he witnessed many years earlier, in which Vinteuil’s daughter and her friend desecrated the composer’s photograph, was born out of their love and respect for him, which in the end triumphed over their perversity.


The concert at the Verdurins house has been arranged by the Baron de Charlus in order to promote the career of his protégé, the violinist Charles Morel. Over time, Charlus has ceased to worry about hiding his homosexuality; he openly flirts with the Verdurins footman, and proudly displays his intimacy with Morel, the star performer of the evening. Due to his position in the aristocratic circle of the Faubourg St. Germain he has managed to attract members of the highest society for the occasion. But Charlus has already offended Mme. Verdurin by his high-handed manner in dictating to her whom she may and may not invite, and his offense is further compounded when he fails to introduce her to the grand friends who come up to greet him.

Furious, she decides to punish Charlus by destroying his relationship with Morel. She tells the violinist that the nature of his friendship with Charlus is public knowledge and is ruining his career. Morel is taken in by her story, and decides that his best course of action is to repudiate Charlus publicly. When he does so, Marcel is amazed to see Charlus, the scourge of countless others who have dared to attack him, unable to respond. He is so devastated by the unexpected turn of events that he is rendered quite speechless. But before Mme. Verdurin has time to enjoy his discomfiture to the full, the Queen of Naples, who has overheard the scene, intervenes to rescue Charlus. Whatever she thinks of the Baron, he is ‘one of her own’, and we witness the nobility protecting the aristocracy from an attack by the bourgeoisie.


But despite the Verdurins perfidy and heartlessness (we have earlier seen Mme. Verdurin boasting that she felt nothing on learning of the death of her friend the Princess Sherbatoff), the author is not satisfied to leave us with such a simplistic picture. He follows this scene with an account of how the Verdurins, on hearing that Saniette, the habitual object of their public displays of cruelty, has ruined himself through gambling, instantly plan a means of rescuing him financially. Time and again in the novel we are taken by surprise as Proust shows us yet another example of the complexity of human nature. It is as if, knowing the impulse for both good and evil, which lie within his own personality, Proust invests his characters with similarly opposing natures, warning us that people are never quite what they seem.


On returning home, Marcel admits to Albertine that he has been to the Verdurins. She becomes incensed when he attempts to draw her out on the subject of Mlle. Vinteuil and her friend. Marcel’s pretence of knowing more about Albertine than he actually does leads to her revealing several lies he had never suspected, and admitting to a closer acquaintance with certain women of doubtful reputation than he had hitherto guessed. When he accuses Albertine of having relations with Andrée, she becomes furious and it is all he can do to calm her. Eventually they are reconciled, but from this time on, in a poignant reminder of his childhood experience with his mother, Albertine refuses to grant him his goodnight kiss.


In an attempt to win back Albertine’s affection, Marcel plies her with gifts, ordering magnificent Fortuny dresses, and taking her for trips by automobile. On one outing they witness an aeroplane flying high in the sky, a metaphor for the freedom for which Albertine yearns. Marcel is torn between boredom with Albertine’s presence, and fear of her absence. He longs to travel to Venice or to meet other women, but the thought of her indulging her desire for other women terrifies him. One morning he awakes to be informed by Françoise that Albertine has taken her luggage and left; the Captive has flown.


Proust’s novel is, of course, autobiographical. Despite his denials, the narrative broadly follows the story of his own life, given that events are altered and transposed and characters are often the amalgam of several different real-life people. But although the events of Proust’s life form the basis of the novel’s narrative, they are no more than the structure around which he builds his astonishingly imaginative and original edifice; the facts are no more important than the bricks used to build a cathedral, and real life for Proust is merely the raw material of artistic creation.


That said, Proust was an intriguing and extraordinary figure, and has been the subject of much biographical speculation. Although he was a very private person who spent much of his life alone, he was a prolific letter writer, and we learn a great deal about him from the vast correspondence, which has gradually surfaced over the years since his death. Despite being a chronic invalid, Proust was outgoing and gregarious when he felt well, and in his youth could be extremely social. The accounts of his friends paint a picture of an exceptionally witty and amusing companion, capable of great acts of kindness and generosity.


Whether he may or may not have loved women, it seems certain that his sexual relationships were predominantly with men, and that in the novel he transformed his homosexual relationships into heterosexual ones, and his male lovers into women.


It is likely that there were several originals of Albertine, although the most important one seems to have been his chauffeur Alfred Agostinelli, who Proust described as ‘a young man whom I loved probably more than all my friends’. There were probably several captives as well, young men hired as ‘secretaries’, who lived in Proust’s apartment and occupied the room next to his. Certainly the great tragedy of his emotional life – that he was only able to love what he could not have – was implicit in his relationships with young, basically heterosexual men. His love for Albertine is conditional on her unavailability. As long as he fears she might escape from him, Marcel cannot part with her. Once he feels he possesses her, he becomes bored and wishes to escape himself. Proust has described this dilemma with such vivid insight that there can be little doubt that The Captive was wrought out of the author’s own deep and painful personal experience.


Marcel Proust


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


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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