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Lost Time Thursday: Little M. Goes Outside

We have Guermantes! I've been buying these books as I go, because I still anticipate wanting to keep them, but this month I have zero dollars in the bank, so I had to go to the library. I got The Guermantes Way and a stack of other books. But before I begin, I promised osprey_archer, who was worried about Little M. spending so much time indoors with the curtains drawn (doctor's orders!), that I would post a more representative passage about all the time he does get to spend hanging out with Albertine and her friends on the beaches and bike paths of Balbec, after he's finished his prescribed agony of anticipation every morning. This scene is quintessentially Albertine and quintessentially Little M.:

[People shouldnt play if they wont pay attention]
A few minutes earlier I had been envying this young man, when I saw that his hands as they slipped over the string were constantly brushing against hers. Now that my turn had come, too shy to seek, too agitated to savour this contact, I no longer felt anything but the rapid and painful beating of my heart. At one moment Albertine leaned her round pink face towards me with an air of complicity, pretending thus to have the ring in order to deceive the ferret and prevent him from looking in the direction to which it was being passed. I realised at once that it was to this ruse that the insinuations of Albertine's look applied, but I was excited to see thus kindle in her eyes the image--- simulated purely for the purposes of the game-- of a secret understanding between her and myself which did not exist but which from that moment seemed to me to be possible and would have been divinely sweet. While I was still enraptured by this thought, I felt a slight pressure of Albertine's hand against mine, and her caressing finger slip under my finger along the cord, and I saw her, at the same moment, give me a wink which she tried to make imperceptible to the others. At once, a multitude of hopes, invisible hitherto, crystallized within me. "She's taking advantage of the game to make it clear to me that she likes me," I thought to myself in a paroxysm of joy from which I instantly relapsed on hearing Albertine mutter furiously: "Why can't you take it? I've been shoving it at you for the last hour." Stunned with grief, I let go the cord, the ferret saw the ring and swooped down on it, and I had to go back to the middle, where I stood helpless, in despair, looking at the unbridled rout which continued to circle round me, stung by the jeers of all the players, obliged, in reply, to laugh when I had so little mind for laughter, while Albertine kept on repeating: "People shouldn't play if they won't pay attention and spoil the game for the others."

And here's Little M. enjoying cake and the outdoors:

[With sandwiches I had nothing in common]
[A]t other times, instead of going to a farm, we would climb to the highest point of the cliff, and, when we had reached it and were seated on the grass, would undo our parcel of sandwiches and cakes. My friends preferred the sandwiches, and were surprised to see me eat only a single chocolate cake, sugared with Gothic tracery, or an apricot tart. This was because, with the sandwiches of cheese or salad, a form of food that was novel to me and was ignorant of the past, I had nothing in common. But the cakes understood, the tarts were talkative. There was in the former an insipid taste of cream, in the latter a fresh taste of fruit which knew all about Combray, and about Gilberte, not only the Gilberte of Combray but the Gilberte of Paris, at whose tea-parties I had come across them again. They reminded me of those cake-plates with the Arabian Nights pattern, the subjects on which so diverted my aunt Leonie when Francoise brought her up, one day Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp, another day Ali Baba, or the Sleeper Awakes or Sinbad the Sailor embarking at Bassorah with all his treasures. I should dearly have liked to see them again, but my grandmother did not know what had become of them and thought moreover that they were just common plates that had been bought in the village. [. . . ]

Stretched out on the cliff I would see before me nothing but grassy meadows and beyond them not the seven heavens of the Christian cosmogony but two stages only, one of a deeper blue, the sea, and above it another, paler one. We ate our food, and if I had brought with me also some little keepsake which might appeal to one or another of my friends, joy sprang with such sudden violence into their translucent faces, flushed in an instant, that their lips had not the strength to hold it in, and, to allow it to escape, parted in a burst of laughter. They were gathered close round me, and between their faces, which were not far apart, the air that separated them traced azure pathways such as might have been cut by a gardener wishing to create a little space so as to be able himself to move freely through a thicket of roses.

Everyone's age is a little ambiguous. Little M. seems to be about fifteen or sixteen here? But that's just a guess, and not exactly to the point, either: he's fifteen and imagining himself looking back from an imaginary far future, and an ancient fifteen lingering over distant golden memories of innocent fourteen, and also a grown man writing about himself at fifteen, plus any dozen or more child selves, no longer public but never really gone -- each one with its own inevitable haze, and each one inseparable from the others. The girls are stated to be a little younger than M., but earlier we heard them complaining about their high-school leaving exams, which would make them a little older. The answer is probably that there isn't really an answer, because this is a book about how no one is ever just one age.

That's really it for Within A Budding Grove! (for now). Next week, get ready for more bourgie French people walking back and forth in The Guermantes Way!


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 9th, 2016 11:35 pm (UTC)

He does sound quite young, but yet he thinks in almost adult overtones in a couple of those passages.

Jun. 12th, 2016 11:05 pm (UTC)
I like the ambiguity! for the most part. Sometimes I wish he would try to remember how old he was when something happened, but sometimes memory just isn't like that. I understand it (I think) but it can make talking about the book a little difficult!
Jun. 10th, 2016 12:18 am (UTC)
Aw, poor Little M! But this almost makes things worse: even when he does get to hang out with the other children, he's tormented by anxiety and confusion. I JUST WANT LITTLE M TO HAVE SOME HAPPINESS.

But I suppose he does seem happy when he's thinking about the cake plates with the Arabian Nights pattern, so that's something, at least. If only he could learn to experience that happiness in the present instead of only in reminiscence.
Jun. 12th, 2016 11:12 pm (UTC)
It's funny, I have the overall impression from Budding Grove that he is having a basically good time and making friends, but whenever I look for a passage to illustrate this, it turns out to be things like, "My hopes were raised to a pitch of ecstasy AND THEN DASHED" or else it's a never-ending Mandelbrot set of reminisces and impressions.

That's just the Little M. life, I guess.

The thing is, he's always remembering something, even in the middle of remembering semi-idyllic summer days with the Albertine Band he's simultaneously remembering remembering something about his childhood home, or how he would feel about that day on the beach years later, or some flowers he saw once. For Little M., "living in the moment" is just another word for "fondly pre-remembering the present." It rings kind of true to me, to be honest. I have similar difficulties.

I need a Lost Time icon, I think!

Edited at 2016-06-12 11:13 pm (UTC)
Jun. 13th, 2016 02:56 am (UTC)
Don't we all? Well, no, clearly there are people who just live in the moment all the time, and write baffled articles about how people taking photos are clearly ruining their ability to live in the moment, and I'm like "But no! That actually helps me focus on this particular moment rather than comparing it to a cascade of similar (and not so similar but somehow suggested by associational logic) moments!"
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


blase ev

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