The Captive and The Fugitive
Modern Library, 1999; 957 pages. Translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin; revised by D.J. Enright.
This year marked my fifth consecutive summer of Proust. I read The Captive and The Fugitive (which Modern Library combines into what it calls vol. 5). The Captive was initially published in 1923 and The Fugitive came out two years later, but since they are the shortest installments of In Search of Lost Time, many publishers have included them in one volume. As always, these books were the perfect way to begin my summer.
The Captive and The Fugitive involve the narrator and Albertine, his live-in girlfriend, and their increasingly rocky relationship, which is conducted almost entirely within the confines of his mother’s flat. Begging the question: Is she the captive? Is he? Their relationship is simultaneously irritating and engrossing. True to form, Proust keeps your loyalties in flux between the narrator and Albertine. Who really deserves our sympathy and attention?
If I had to say, I believe the books primarily concern this question: How is it that people can persist in our minds and memories differently from how we actually knew them, how they actually present themselves in reality? The implications of this question are amplified when Albertine supposedly dies in a riding accident. Now the narrator must determine whether he loved her at all in the first place. What form will his grief and enduring jealousy take? (Well, they will take about 900 pages of self-reflection and doubt, but that’s to be expected.)
These books seemed to include more reflection and a more ready expression of aphorism and interpersonal philosophy than previous volumes. The books were also much darker and reflective than the earlier, lighter society tomes. A sampling:
Don’t bear grudges or judge people.
For one thing the knowledge would have brought me more rapidly to the idea that we ought never to bear a grudge against people, ought never to judge them by some memory of an unkind action, for we do not know all the good that, at other moments, their hearts may have sincerely desired and realized. And thus, even simply from the point of view of prediction, one is mistaken. For doubtless the evil aspect which we have noted once and for all will recur; but the heart is richer than that, has many other aspects which will recur also in the same person and which we refuse to acknowledge because of his earlier bad behavior.
We are all entirely self-absorbed.
The bonds between ourselves and another person exist only in our minds. Memory as it grows fainter loosens them, and notwithstanding the illusion by which we want to be duped and with which, out of love, friendship, politeness, deference, duty, we dupe other people, we exist alone. Man is the creature who cannot escape from himself, who knows other people only in himself, and when he asserts the contrary, he is lying.
Memory mixes everything up in the end.
After a certain age our memories are so intertwined with one another that what we are thinking of, the book we are reading, scarcely matters anymore. We have put something of ourselves everywhere, everything is fertile, everything is dangerous, and we can make discoveries no less precious than in Pascal’s Pensees in an advertisement for soap.
As always, you won’t find a better or more thorough exploration of love, memory, desire, and internal conflict than you will in Proust. He has never disappointed me yet. I almost dread next summer, because I will read the last volume. Say it isn’t so! I will say, however, that this enormous novel’s influence on me has been so profound that I doubt I will ever really be done with Proust.