Mann again

Buddenbrooks is one of my favorite novels, one of the great novels about young people and family. I found a nice copy of The Magic Mountain (translated by John E. Woods) and bought it and find it just as moving, funny, insightful, and essential as Buddenbrooks.

Proust is on pause once again.

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Forster break

On a Proust break and picked up my favorite Forster novel The Longest Journey, one of the great novels about young people. It’s the Forster book few Forster fans have read, and yet to me it remains his great achievement, a great small tale of a young man’s life and times as an undergraduate and then set free from school. Rickie Elliott is a vibrant character, a sharp, club-footed, and cautious young man who is entranced by philosophy and art and aims to have a go as a writer. He’s in love with Agnes, who is engaged to Gerald, but Gerald dies in a soccer match and Rickie steps in (and up). Here’s blunt Forster informing us of Gerald’s death (Chapter 5):

Gerald died that afternoon. He was broken up in the football match. Rickie and Mr. Pembroke were on the ground when the accident took place. It was no good torturing him by a drive to the hospital, and he was merely carried to the little pavilion and laid upon the floor. A doctor came, and so did a clergyman, but it seemed better to leave him for the last few minutes with Agnes, who had ridden down on her bicycle.

Chapter 9 is epistolary and worth a read. Note how Forster voices the differing youthful intelligence. Writing this good is not found in YA novels.

Proust notes — The Guermantes Way

The family has moved to a new apartment in Paris, the Guermantes Hotel. It’s a courtyard apt. with some trade at the ground floor. Francoise flirts with the waistcoat maker Jupien.

Good long section on the role of servants, and Francoise’s relationship to our narrator. He knows he’s a softie and needs their support.

Narrator visits Saint Loup at his barracks in Doncieres and has many thoughts on sleep and prostitutes and the lives of small town folk. Narrator has made an ass of himself trying to get Mme Guermantes to notice him in Paris, and asks Saint Loup (Mme Guermantes’s nephew) to help him get in good with her.

Proust notes — Seascape, with Frieze of Girls

This part contains my favorite bit of writing, and it concerns a group of young seaside girls, and one girl in particular, who takes a running jump over a seated old man, her foot brushing his cap.

The wife of an elderly banker, after hesitating between various possible exposures for her husband, had settled him on a folding chair, facing the ‘front,’ sheltered from wind and sun by the band-stand. Having seen him comfortably installed there, she had gone to buy a newspaper which she would read aloud to him, to distract him — one of her little absences which she never prolonged for more than five minutes, which seemed long enough to him but which she repeated at frequent intervals so that this old husband on whom she lavished an attention that she took care to conceal, should have the impression that he was still quite alive and like other people and was in no need of protection. The platform of the band-stand provided, above his head, a natural and tempting springboard, across which, without a moment’s hesitation, the eldest of the little band began to run; she jumped over the terrified old man, whose yachting cap was brushed by the nimble feet, to the great delight of the other girls, especially of a pair of green eyes in a ‘dashing’ face, which expressed, for that bold act, an admiration and a merriment in which I seemed to discern a trace of timidity, a shamefaced and blustering timidity which did not exist in the others. “Oh, the poor old man; he makes me sick; he looks half dead;” said a girl with a croaking voice, but with more sarcasm than sympathy. They walked on a little way, then stopped for a moment in the middle of the road, with no thought whether they were impeding the passage of other people, and held a council, a solid body of irregular shape, compact, unusual and shrill, like birds that gather on the ground at the moment of flight; then they resumed their leisurely stroll along the ‘front,’ against a background of sea.

 

Proust notes — Place-Names: The Place

Our narrator takes a train trip to the seaside town of Balbec. Lots of great travel insights and worries, as our young man is not fit for adventure:

Sunrise is a necessary concomitant of long railway journeys, just as are hard-boiled eggs, illustrated papers, packs of cards, rivers upon which boats strain but make no progress.

Our narrator is miserable at the seaside hotel, with only Mme Villeparisis to entertain him–the Mme is a pretend society type and a minor windbag–her theories on art are childish and her spontaneous quips are well rehearsed. Narrator makes interesting observations of people he is afraid to know, like the page boy who minds the outside of the hotel, and a fisher girl in a nearby town who doesn’t respond to his eagerness. Lots of deadpan comedy.

Robert de Saint-Loup arrives on the scene–he is nephew to Mme Villeparisis. Our narrator is taken by Saint-Loup as he now finally has a companion with whom he can discuss art and philosophy. Saint-Loup’s uncle, the Baron de Charlus, arrives, and he’s one hell of a dandy, bitter towards young men he desires and kind to old women he can’t help but flatter.

Proust notes — Madame Swann at Home

I

Starts with Swann as Odette’s husband, some time removed from Swann in Love chapter. Narrator is a theater buff, gets to see his favorite actress Berma in a production of Phedre.

Soon we meet de Norpois, a windbag with thoughts and theories about everything, including Bergotte, our narrator’s favorite author. de Norpois is a fan of Mme Swann, and intrigued that our young narrator knows Swann’s daughter Gilberte.

Gilberte throws some teenage tea parties and our narrator attends, fulfilling a partial desire he has to know the Swanns.

Narrator finally meets Bergotte at the Swanns for a party, and the chapter is endless and hilarious, as the narrator is embarrassed by the real Bergotte who does not match up to the image he created of Bergotte the artist.

The scene with Bergotte goes on for a long time and it is hilarious as Bergotte reveals himself to be a gasbag of high order, always ready with an insult or a strange word. The insults are many in this part, and the narrator’s relationship with Gilberte takes second bill to his insights into Odette.

Proust notes — Swann in Love

A new tone and setting (a decade before Combray chapter; narrator is a newborn), the salon of Mme. Verdurin, a bohemian setting of artists and slackers and wits. Dr Cottard a terrific gasbag, who has reset Mme. Verdurin’s dislocated jaw–she was injured by laughing too much. Swann is invited to the gathering by Mme. Crecy where he is sized up. Swann is making women left and right, and has established a scandalous reputation.

II

Lost of adjectives to describe Swann’s pursuit of Odette Crecy–exhilarating, stupid, exhausting, pathetic, immature, sensual. The good Dr and others know Odette’s history but Swann hasn’t figured out what she does when he’s not around. It’s clear that a reader is being set up for a big revelation, but the relationship between the new lovers is how one ought to remember first loves.

III

Painful to first watch Mme Verdurin turn against Swann, and then, in a jealous fit, to watch Swann come apart knowing the Verdurins don’t want him around anymore. His rage is pure jealousy, and yet he can’t see that Odette isn’t the girl for him. So much heartache.

IV

Finished the chapter and confused by its optimistic ending. One knows that things of course don’t end well for Swann, and yet one is relieved to know Swann himself can be honest with himself, can see and remark on his stupidity and absurd behavior with Odette.