Lazy afternoon (apart from the rounders)


Over the bank holiday in the local park (King’s Heath) a sunny afternoon with half-a-dozen families, children, bikes and rounders games. With other distractions also reading a fabulous passage in which Marcel remembers going to see his uncle's mistress is introduced with a passage in which the nineteenth-century niceties of actress, mistresses and those in between are laid out beautifully:

Often, if the name of some actress were mentioned in conversation, I would hear Sarah Bernhardt, Berma, Bartet, Madeleine Brohan, Jeanne Samary; but I was interested in them all. Now my uncle knew many of them personally, and also ladies of another class, not clearly distinguished from actresses in my mind. He used to entertain them at his house. And if we went to see him on certain days only, that was because on the other days ladies might come whom his family could not very well have met. So we at least thought; as for my uncle, his fatal readiness to pay pretty widows (who had perhaps never been married) and countesses (whose high-sounding titles were probably no more than noms de guerre) the compliment of presenting them to my grandmother….

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Preterite Bluebells


Here’s a lovely picture of some bluebells from our walk on the Bucks Ridgeway above Wendover yesterday. And to go with it a great word ‘preterite’ as used by Marcel in describing his mother reading aloud:

as she read on, any harshness there might be or discordance in the tenses of verbs, endowing the imperfect and the preterite with all the sweetness which there is in generosity, all the melancholy which there is in love; guided the sentence that was drawing to an end towards that which was waiting to begin,

As far as online dictionaries will allow, I think this means things in the past (or more literally things that have gone by), a very Proustian word.

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And so we arrive at the cakes


If there’s one thing that anyone knows about In Search of Lost Time, it’s that the author is transported back to memories of his childhoold following a bit of a cake he enjoyed as a child. About forty pages in to Swann’s Love the passage arrives. It’s a stunning mixture of description and philosophy and worth quoting at length:

Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, as I came home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips and suddenly the memory returns. The taste was that of the little crumb of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before church-time), when I went to say good day to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of real or of lime-flower tea. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often seen such things in pastry-cooks’ windows, that their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take its place among others more recent; perhaps because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the forms of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds, were either obliterated or had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness. But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest.

This appropriately enough arrived during a spring walk on the Ridgeway near Wendover in Buckinghamshire, a walk that took us past the boundaries of the Prime Minster’s country house, Chequers. Those who have been nearer say creepy CCTV posts follow you as you walk along the footpath. It’s in the distance in the photo, which reveals the limitations of my cameraphone.

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Mobileproust in Germany


Mobileproust was recently in the small town of Lingen in Germany for work. It was not a place you would go to otherwise, though there was a fetching nuclear power plant viewable from the flat I was staying at. Proust came too of course, and the train from Dusseldorf provided ample time for reading. In this lovely passage we are still at the night of Swann’s visit. Young Marcel is now remembering the presents his grandmother would give him, particularly some novels by George Sand. Marcel nails exactly the motivation of present-givers who could not give anything that answers a material need (chocolate, clothes) rather than an intellectual or spiritual:

“My dear,” she had said to Mamma, “I could not allow myself to give the child anything that was not well written.” The truth was that she could never make up her mind to purchase anything from which no intellectual profit was to be derived, and, above all, that profit which good things bestowed on us by teaching us to seek our pleasures elsewhere than in the barren satisfaction of worldly wealth. Even when she had to make some one a present of the kind called ‘useful,’ when she had to give an armchair or some table-silver or a walking-stick, she would choose ‘antiques,’ as though their long desuetude had effaced from them any semblance of utility and fitted them rather to instruct us in the lives of the men of other days than to serve.

We also have a vocabulary hit with desuetude which means to fall out of custom

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Dads and mums – a short guide

Mobileproust was on the 50 bus this week, which is both a public taxi service between Moseley and the city centre, and a place where all human life is on show from sodcasters to smokers. Onto Proust, and anyone with young children will see how well Marcel hits the nail on the head here. After being sent to bed before Swann comes over for dinner, the young Marcel determines to stay up until his parents come to bed. Cue mum who speaks first and is determined to offer a nineteenth-centry tough love, but is undermined by dad who takes himself off to bed after dropping mum in it:

“whether or not I feel like sleep is not the point; we must not make the child accustomed… ” “There’s no question of making him accustomed,” said my father, with a shrug of the shoulders; “you can see quite well that the child is unhappy. After all, we aren’t gaolers. You’ll end by making him ill, and a lot of good that will do. There are two beds in his room; tell Françoise to make up the big one for you, and stay beside him for the rest of the night. I’m off to bed, anyhow; I’m not nervous like you. Good night

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Swann on the tram


On the tram to Wolverhampton for a training event at The Lighthouse, an arts cinema and media centre. Perfect place for a spot of Proust. We now have met the protagonist of the first volume, an aristocratic friend of the family. As ever, one’s vocabulary is expanded by the combination of writer and translator. Today’s challenge – what was the ‘pinchbeck’ things of life referring to? Apparently ‘Pinchbeck’ things are sham, spurious or counterfeit.

As well as describing Swann, his background and coming to dinner, the young Proust is sent up to bed once he has been introduced to Swann. We’re back in the bedroom and the realm of sleep, and the excerpt from today’s pages (27-33 on the adliko version) is a wonderful passage about how pain appears in dreams as something else, and only when you wake do you discover what pain was:

When we have gone to sleep with a maddening toothache and are conscious of it only as a little girl whom we attempt, time after time, to pull out of the water, or as a line of Molière which we repeat incessantly to ourselves, it is a great relief to wake up, so that our intelligence can disentangle the idea of toothache from any artificial semblance of heroism or rhythmic cadence.

Yes, it’s exactly like that.

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Today’s pages happened at Billesley Tennis Centre while daughter (in the yellow) was having her tennis lesson. Forehand coming on but quite a bit of work needed on the backhand. Marcel has finally moved on from talking about being in bed and being woken up, to talking about childhood with his family. This passage, which covers his aunt who would go for walks in the rain, I found brilliant

When these walks of my grandmother’s took place after dinner there was one thing which never failed to bring her back to the house: that was if (at one of those points when the revolutions of her course brought her, moth-like, in sight of the lamp in the little parlour where the liqueurs were set out on the card-table) my great-aunt called out to her: “Bathilde! Come in and stop your husband from drinking brandy!” For, simply to tease her (she had brought so foreign a type of mind into my father’s family that everyone made a joke of it), my great-aunt used to make my grandfather, who was forbidden liqueurs, take just a few drops. My poor grandmother would come in and beg and implore her husband not to taste the brandy and he would become annoyed and swallow his few drops all the same, and she would go out again sad an discouraged

My son had had his tennis lesson the hour before, and shortly after the above passage Proust talks about being kissed goodnight by his mother when really a bit old for it, just as our son likes a ‘holdy handy’ aged eight just as he did aged four, which he doesn’t really need anymore. But he likes it.

this kiss of peace always annoyed my father, who thought such ceremonies absurd, and she would have liked to try to induce me to outgrow the need, the custom of having her there at all, which was a very different thing from letting the custom grow up of my asking her for an additional kiss when she was already crossing the threshold.


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