I’m finding WITHIN A BUDDING GROVE to be better than I remember (and I also had the same experience with SWANN’S WAY). For some reason, perhaps the five years that have passed, perhaps my familiarity with the entire text, or perhaps simply because I’m using a different translation, I’ve been finding the text to be much clearer than I remember. On Twitter, I was speaking to someone who was comparing Proust to Henry James, but I feel like James, for all his virtues (and I think he has many), is not a very clear writer. You need to work hard to understand exactly what is going on: the literal facts of the scene, who is speaking and what is happening to them, are often not very clear.
In Proust, though, you always get it. You might be bored, but you get it. The sentences, no matter how long, are logical and clear. Of course, I can’t forget that I read Proust in translation and James in the original, so perhaps there’s something to be said for the clarifying action provided by a good and sensitive translator.
I just finished reading the part of the book where the narrator falls out of love with his first crush (who we met in the previous book) Gilberte. It’s a pretty drawn out, and at times tedious, process. He realizes that she’s begun to find him dull, so, in order to make her fall back in love with him, he stops seeing her. His intention is that once she sees he has no need of her, she will desire his presence again. The problem, though, is that by not seeing her for a time, his affections for her wane, so that eventually the moment comes when he no longer cares if he sees her or not.
In general, Proust has a very dark view of love. When he speaks of love, it’s almost always unrequited love. In his conception, the unrequitedness of love is central to the emotion, because the moment love becomes requited, it becomes to bore the lover and, thus, it soon fades. There’s certainly an accuracy to this. In general, people want those who they can’t have, and they disdain those that they can have. This is the reason for all the frustration inherent in trying to find a partner.
But, to my mind, the glory of love is that it short-circuits this status competition. When you’re in love, you can feel lucky to have someone, and they can feel lucky to have you, and you can both be right. They can feel unworthy of you, and you can feel unworthy of them, and you can both be right. And for all the length of Proust’s book, I’m surprised that there’s no room for that sort of thing to occur.