Sunday, July 21, 2019

Gaming Barbarossa: August 1941

The 1st Panzer Army is able to encircle a large number of Soviet units near Kiev.
The Germans only receive one weak infantry division as reinforcements.  They get 4 infantry steps as replacements which go to weakened corps in the north and south.  The Soviets, on the other hand, receive their first substantial reinforcement in the form of 14 infantry armies plus some regional corps.  More importantly, the Soviet get two headquarter units with which they can make better orchestrated attacks.  

The first Soviet HQ represents their supreme marshal Zhukov.  He works with a range of 3 hexes, just like the German Panzer HQs.  The second represents STAVKA, the Soviet Supreme Command Reserve.  This important HQ has a range of 6 hexes.  Unlike most other chits in the game, the Soviet player may choose to play the STAVKA chit whenever he wishes, except that it cannot be played before the Axis selects a chit on turns when the Axis has initiative.  

The Soviets may place any number of reinforcements into a “reserve pool.”  When the STAVKA chit is played, these reserve units may be placed anywhere within range of the STAVKA (and/or Zhukov) HQ, then move and attack (as long as they remain within range).  There are limits as to how many reserve units can enter the map, however.  In 1941 that limit is whatever the result is on a 2 dice roll.  Later in the game the Soviets will receive “combat” chits for each of these HQs, making them even more flexible and powerful.  

With 14 armies to place, the Soviet player decides to put half of them into STAVKA reserve (7 is a likely roll on 2 dice) and scatter the other half in major cities across the map.  The STAVKA HQ is placed in Smolensk.  Zhukov goes to Kiev.

The German air units flip to their “ready” side, having transferred bases closer to the front last turn.  No rail movement is allowed for either side yet.  The Soviets use naval movement in the Baltic Sea to reinforce the port of Ventspils.  This will tied down a few German infantry units trying to clear that area of the map.  Anything the Soviets can do to slow down and reduce the Axis advance should be attempted.  Since the grandiosity of Axis operations is beyond the Soviet capability at this point, an accumulation of little things like this particular sea movement is necessary to make the Axis advance as cumbersome as possible.  

The Axis still has the initiative and selects the “Move” chit first.  This will allow the infantry to catch-up a bit to the Panzers.  This is particularly important in the central portion of the map since the Germans are out of supply there at the moment and are thus subject to negative modifiers if attacked.  The Axis moves forward and consolidates positions, careful to place some infantry corps within range of the Panzer HQs so that they can be activated again later in the turn.  Near Kiev, the German Panzers move to encircle a large number of Soviet units.  Further to the south, Romanian and German units move toward Odessa.

The Soviet player now has the option to “trump” the chit draw process and play the STAVKA chit or save it for later.  Since Army Group Center is mostly out of supply, the Soviets will play STAVKA and attempt to damage the Panzers.  A “6” is rolled.  So 6 of the 7 infantry armies in reserve can move onto the board.  In this case all of them will go to the center to attack there.  They must remain in range of the STAVKA HQ at Smolensk.  The last infantry army remains in STAVKA Reserve to be deployed on a future turn.

The attacks force two Panzer stacks to retreat with one step loss while a third attack resulted in both sides losing one step but remaining in place.  In addition to that, the Soviets now have some powerful infantry armies guarding Vitebsk and Smolensk.  So, the attacks were moderately successful. 

The front line of Army Group Center begins August out of supply.  This negatively impacts their ability to attack and defend which is a huge advantage to the Soviets.
The first Soviet STAVKA attacks of the game pushed some of the Panzers back and, more importantly, inflicts step losses on the Germans.
This is the situation in the center at the end of the turn.  The Germans went virtually nowhere which throws the time table to capture Moscow completely out the window.  A major setback for the Axis and an important win for the Soviets.
Now we are back to random draw and the 4th Panzer Army activates.  The Germans use an air unit to bombard a strong Soviet position, which causes an important step loss.  There is a 50% chance of an air unit being flipped to “Done” whenever it bombards.  In this case the unit passes that check.  Then the 4th Panzer attacks with armor and infantry, eliminating several Soviet steps while forcing others to retreat. The 4th then moves after combat managing to take both Pskov and Luga in the process, though the advanced Panzers are beyond supply range again.
The 4th Panzer Army approaches Leningrad.
Several Soviet units are isolated as the Germans manage to capture Luga, only 5 hexes away from Leningrad, though Army Group North is very scattered and the infantry can not offer much support as things currently stand.
End of August in the north.  Many isolated Soviets have been eliminated and the most advanced Panzer divisions require air supply.
The 1st Panzer is drawn next.  Successful attacks drive behind Soviet lines near Kiev.  A potential large pocket of Soviet forces are surrounded north of Vinnitsa.  This is followed by a draw of the Logistics chit, which works in favor of the Axis in several ways.  First of all, the units in the center are now within supply range again so they lose their out-of-supply (OOS) status.  Secondly, that large pocket of Soviets just north of Vinnitsa is not only out-of-supply but, due the positioning of German zones of control, they are isolated as well.  Several Soviet units in the north are also isolated.  Meanwhile, the most advanced Panzers at Luga are now OOS.  So the effects of logistics cuts both ways.  

July through September the 1st and 2nd Panzer receive two chits in the draw cup.  This helps reflect better German mobility in the early part of Barbarossa.  So, when the next draw out of the cup is the 1st Panzer again it, if effect, gets a double move.  The Germans adjust their forces within range of the 1st Panzer HQ.  The use of available air support in combined attacks along the Kiev defensive works yields two captured hexes at a cost of a couple of Panzer steps.  They are now on the outskirts of the city.  

Now the Soviet “Counterattack” chit is drawn.   An “8” is rolled on 2 dice, so that’s how many attacks Stalin mandates for this turn.  Matters are in such disarray in the north that no attacks are really possible there.   Decent odds of 1-1 and even 2-1 are possible at six points in the center.  The other two can be fulfilled in the south including an attack on the weaker Romanian units.  The net result is that the Soviets lose six 1-4 infantry division steps while the Germans lose four steps and the Romanians lose one step.  Plus the counterattack at Kiev forces the Germans back and the Soviets retake part of the fortified line.  This exchange of loses works in the Soviets favor, as the Axis step loses are “greater” in that one step loss actually reduces each unit more in terms of combat factors than the loss of the Soviet 1-4’s.  Axis units lose their zone of control when they flip, which also helps the Soviets.

This is followed by the second Axis Move/Combat chit, which must be used as combat in this case since the first chit was used for movement bat the beginning of the Action Phase.  The Germans take the Baltic port of Ventspils which gives them another victory point.  The northern army group could attack several Soviet units, but there’s no real advantage to it.  Each attack carries the risk of an “Exchange” result which will eliminate the defenders but at a cost of an equal number of attacker steps.  The Germans can just wait things out there since many of the Soviets are isolated and will likely be eliminated by attrition later in the turn.

There are plenty of combat opportunities in the center but many of the German units are now of reduced strength.  This weakness can be mostly offset, however, by using air units in combat support.  The Germans also possess a special “assault gun” marker in /The Dark Valley/.  This marker becomes more powerful as the game goes along.  For now it adds +1 to each attack and +2 to each defense.  It can be used once per action round but otherwise it can be reused round after round throughout any given game turn.  Altogether this is enough support to cobble together a couple of decent attacks which don’t really accomplish much.

The Air Units stationed in Minsk are within range to not only assist in the center but also to bombard the portion of the Kiev fortified area that was recaptured by the Soviets during their counterattack.  This frees up the other German air unit in the south to assist with another attack.  The fortified line hex is retaken – a lot of back and forth action involving it.  Additional combats force the Soviets to retreat and the Germans take the entire fortified line adjacent to Kiev.  There is minimal combat further south.

The 2nd Panzer chit is drawn next.  The units within range of that HQ are now weakened from so much combat.  They manage to drive the Soviets back a bit but mainly the action is used to consolidate their line and bring up some additional infantry for support.  This is followed by the 3rd Panzer chit, whose units are in better condition.  They manage to cut off and destroy two Soviet divisions and a mechanized corps at the cost of a Panzer step.  This captures the town of Mogilev.  

At last the Soviet Move chit comes into play.  This turn could have worked out much differently had this chit been drawn earlier.  But that is true of almost every turn in The Dark Valley and one reason this game is so much fun.  The chaos created by the random chit draw makes each turn unpredictable and often squelches the best laid plans while also opening up unexpected opportunities.  In the north the Soviets make moves to better protect Leningrad, suddenly under threat with the fall of Luga.  In the center and south lines are reformed and consolidated.  Units initially deployed deep in Russia are brought forward, the infantry moving 6 movement points instead of the usual 4 due to “strategic” movement – basically moving without ever entering an enemy zone of control.

The remaining chit is the second 2nd Panzer activation of the turn.  These units are weak so no attacks are made and a couple of infantry corps are brought up to strength the line.  The Germans are far behind their historical advance in the center whereas actions in the north and south are on par with the historical results.  Overall, the Soviets have done well to this point and both sides have been impacted by errors I made in playing each side. 

The Axis Depots move forward at 4 hexes this turn due to their die roll check on the Depot Advance Table.  The German air unit in the north flies limited supply to the advanced Panzers at and near Luga which offsets the OOS status.  Special markers are placed on these units to reflect this and the air unit is flipped to “Done.”  Lastly, the Attrition Segment sees a number of isolated Soviets eliminated including the largest pocket so far north of Vinnitsa – six mechanized corps and five infantry divisions.  

But the “main” advance against Moscow was completely frustrated by the large number of Soviet’s deployed there, some timely counterattacks and the fact that the front line Germans began the turn out of supply in that sector with no air units available to assist.  Going into the September turn the Germans still have not captured Vitebsk or Smolensk.

The Germans attack the pocket north of Vinnitsa, compressing it.  You can see pro-Axis Romanian and even Hungarian units further south.
With the pocket now isolated (after the Logistics chit is drawn) the Panzers turn east again and capture part of Kiev's defensive line.
The end of August.  The huge pocket is captured/destroyed and the 1st Panzer Army is at the gates of Kiev.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Reading Proust: The Fugitive – The Beginnings of Lost Time

The actual “forgetting” part of Albertine does not happen in Chapter One (in fact, she is never completely forgotten).  At the beginning of the next chapter, Marcel understands that “before returning to the state of indifference from which one started, one cannot avoid covering in the reverse direction the distances one had traversed in order to arrive at love, the itinerary one follows, the line one takes, are not necessarily the same.” (page 754)

While taking a walk in Paris, Marcel notices three “well-born girls” of which “the fair one” catches his eye.  She gazes back at him from a distance before entering a carriage at the entrance of a hotel and going away.  His heart beats wildly.  Marcel becomes “madly in love with her” and inquires as to who she is.  The concierge gives him the name of a girl that Robert has mentioned having sex with earlier in the novel.  Marcel lives mostly in a fantasy world with women at this time, after having felt the void that having sex with various girls created for him.

That evening he receives marvelous news.  An artistic piece he wrote has been published in Paris’ leading art and leisure newspaper.  At long last his childhood dream of being a writer seems more the possible again.  In his excitement he immediately goes to the Guermantes’ drawing room to share his triumph with them.  Of course, when he arrives the “fair girl” is there, visiting with them as well.  He does not recognize her but she knows him quite well.  It is Gilberte, no longer a Swann but now a de Forcheville since Odette remarried after Swann’s death.  She is now immensely wealthy thanks to her inheritance not only from Swann but from a rich uncle as well.  The last name was misunderstood and misspelled by the concierge.  It was not the sexy girl Robert had been with after all.  Proust loves to play with these sorts of fallacies all through the novel.

Thus Gilberte reenters the novel significantly for the first time since she, as a red-headed girl, became the first love of a boyish Marcel way back in Swann’s Way (which helps explain why he doesn’t recognize her immediately).  She, actually in a quest to get over her father’s death, becomes the first stage in Marcel’s process of truly forgetting Albertine.  “And it was not only with regard to Swann that Gilberte was gradually completing the process of forgetting; she had accelerated in me the process with regard to Albertine.  Under the influence of desire, and consequently of the desire for happiness which Gilberte had aroused in me during the few hours in which I had supposed her to be someone else, a certain number of miseries, of painful preoccupations, which only a little while earlier had obsessed my mind, had slipped away from me, carrying with them a whole block of memories, probably long since crumbling and precarious, with regard to Albertine.” (page 801) 

Strangely, through Gilberte’s grieving and change, Marcel can feel himself starting to become someone different.  “I too still wept when I became once again for a moment the former friend of Albertine.  But it was into a new personality that I was tending to change altogether.  It is not because other people are dead that our affection for them fades; it is because we ourselves are dying.” (page 805)  

The next stage in Marcel’s forgetting process occurs when he has “semi-carnal relations” with Andrée, Albertine’s best friend.  The two have already spoken earlier in The Fugitive.  She visits Marcel just after Albertine’s death for the two to console each other.  Of course, perhaps out of habit more than anything, he tries to learn what he can about Albertine’s sexuality but Andrée denies anything like that ever happened between them, that Albertine abhorred such behavior.  On their second meeting, the two, being attracted to each other, fool around and Andrée suddenly is more forthcoming about her best friend.

Regarding Albertine: “And my desire to know about her life, because it had diminished less, was now relatively greater than my need for her presence.  Moreover, the idea that a woman had perhaps had relations with Albertine no longer aroused in me anything save the desire to have relations with that woman myself.  I told Andrée this, caressing her as I spoke.  Then, without making the slightest effort to make her words consistent with those of a few months earlier, Andrée said to me with a lurking smile: ‘Ah! Yes, but you’re a man.  And so we can’t do quite the same things as I used to do with Albertine.’…
Ah! we spent many happy hours together; she was so caressing, so passionate.  But it wasn’t only with me that she liked to enjoy herself.  She had met a handsome young fellow at Mme Verdurin’s called Morel.  They came to an understanding at once.  He undertook…to entice young fisher-girls in remote villages, or young laundry-girls, who would fall for a boy but might not have responded to a girl’s advances.  As soon as the girl was well under his control, he’d bring her to a safe place and hand her over to Albertine.  For fear of losing Morel, who took part in it all too, the girl always obeyed…Once he even had the nerve to bring one of these girls, with Albertine, to a brothel…where four or five of the women had her together, or in turn.” (page 811)

Andrée tells him that Albertine had at one time hoped that by marrying him she would resolve her sexual tastes.  She also reveals that she and Albertine had sex in her bedroom while she was living with Marcel and were almost caught by him without him realizing it.  These revelations are perhaps the most blatant and shocking of all, and yet they did not “assume the magnitude they would have had in our eyes a little earlier.” 

Instead Marcel comes to the dark conclusion that: “Lying is essential to humanity.  I plays as large a part perhaps as the quest for pleasure, and is moreover governed by that quest.  One lies in order to protect one’s pleasure, or one’s honor if the disclosure of one’s pleasure runs counter to one’s honor.  One lies all one’s life long, even, especially, perhaps only, to those who love one.  For they alone make us fear for our pleasure and desire their esteem.” (page 824)

Andrée’s confession leaves Marcel numb, not knowing how to feel now that he no longer hurts and his memories of Albertine are becoming fragmentary.  “But why should I believe that is was she rather than Andrée who was lying?  Truth and life are very difficult to fathom, and I retained of them, without really having got to know them, an impression in which sadness was perhaps actually eclipsed by exhaustion.” (page 843) While he will continue to think back upon Albertine a lot, the emotions he used to feel in his intimacy with her are now largely abandoned.

Not long afterward, Marcel finally goes out into the world again, beyond Paris, to visit Venice, a long-time ambition, with his mother.  Much of the city reminds him of Combray only in a “far richer key.”  This is a section of the novel that Proust probably would have fleshed out more.  There are a few long paragraphs regarding the architecture and sculptures and scenery of Venice, the play of light on the buildings and the water, but they are subdued compared with some of the passages on art and beauty that the reader has enjoyed earlier in the novel.  As the text stands, the city itself only has equal prominence with Marcel’s continuing fascination with girls.

A humorous moment occurs when a friend of his mother, Mme Sazerat, is being escorted by Marcel to the restaurant for her to meet Mme de Villeparisis, who used to be a prostitute and the lover of Mme Sazerat’s now deceased father, whose heart she broke. She has never met her before and seeks consolation that at least her father once loved “the most beautiful woman of his generation.”  Marcel points toward the table where Mme de Valleparisis is seated with her current lover, the elderly diplomat M. de Norpois, returning to the novel after a long absence.

“But, like a blind person who looks everywhere but the right direction, Mme Sazerat did not bring her eyes to rest upon the table at which Mme de Villeparisis was dining, but, looking towards another part of the room, said: ‘But she must have gone, I don’t see her where you say she is.’  And she continued to gaze around the room in quest of the loathed, adored vision that has haunted her imagination for so long. ‘Yes, there she is, at the second table.’ ‘Then we can’t be counting from the same point.  At what I count as the second table there’s only an old gentleman and a little hunchbacked, red-faced, hideous woman.’
That’s her!’” (pp. 859 – 860) 

This funny moment is actually a narrative theme about the passage of Time that Proust starts to develop more earnestly in this section of the novel, the young grow older and we no longer recognize them nor find what we were once seeking in them. Marcel does not recognize Gilberte initially, for example, due to the passage of years since he was in love with her.  He wrestles with this in an almost metaphysical context.  

“True, it often happened to me to recall, with an extraordinary violence of desire, some wench of Méséglise or Paris, or the milk-girl I had seen early in the morning at the foot of the hill during my first journey to Balbec.  But alas! I remembered them as they were then, that is to say as they certainly would not be now.  So that if in the past I had been led to qualify my impression of the uniqueness of a desire by seeking…I had to consent to a further departure from the principle of the individuality of desire: what I must look for is not those who were sixteen then, but those who were sixteen today, for now, in the absence of that which was most distinctive in the person and which eluded me, what I loved was youth.  I knew that the youth of those I had known existed no longer except in my impassioned recollection, and that it was not them, however anxious I might be to make contact with them when my memory recalled them to me, that I must cull if I wished to harvest the youth and blossom of the year.” (page 851)  

In this way, the search for lost Time truly begins to take shape in the narrative.

A strange thing occurs while Marcel is in Venice.  He receives a telegram that is signed by Albertine stating that “I am quite alive.”  What surprises Marcel most is not the shock of the telegram, but the fact that he feels nothing toward it.  He is changing.  “Life, in accordance with its habit which is, by unceasing, infinitesimal labors, to change the face of the world, had not said to me on the morrow of Albertine’s death: ‘Become another person,’ but, by changes too imperceptible for me to be conscious even that I was changing, had altered almost everything in me, with the result that my mind was already accustomed to its new master – my new self – when it became aware that it changed.” (pp. 870 - 871) He realizes he no longer loves Albertine.

As he and his mother are preparing to leave Venice, Marcel, nosy as ever, notices that the hotel register is expecting the arrival of “Mme Putbus and attendants.”  His desire to fulfill his fantasy with the chambermaid is once more roused and he initially chooses not to leave with his mother.  He will stay behind for awhile and enjoy “hours of causal pleasure.”  His mother leaves to catch the train.  Marcel is self-conflicted for several pages but ultimately decides to go with his mother, catching the train just in time.

While on the train he takes a moment to read a letter just received from Gilberte announcing that she is going to marry Robert de Saint-Loup.  In reading her handwriting it suddenly occurs to him that she writes the capital “G” in her name similarly to a Gothic “A”.  This and a few other small handwriting idiosyncrasies are recalled from a letter he received from her all the way back in Within a Budding Grove.  The telegram operator must have accidentally mistaken her name to be “Albertine;” another twisted Proustian accident that initially leads to false conclusions.  If nothing else, it reveals the extent to which he has now gotten over Albertine even though no one fills the void the loss of her creates in his life.

While short, the final chapter of The Fugitive is dense with narrative elements and complex relationships.  Saint-Loup’s marriage to Gilberte turns out to be an unhappy one.  He is a notorious womanizer.  Marcel reenters Gilberte’s life as a true friend and visits with her at Tansonville, Swann’s old country estate home.  The years that have separated them took away all the passion Marcel once felt for her.  And, true to Proust’s philosophy of love, because he no longer desires her she is more forthcoming and open and grows closer to him.

For his part, Marcel contents himself with “keeping a girl in Paris…I needed her sleep by my side during the night and, by day, to have her always by my side in the carriage.”  These are “daily habits” born of those “homeward drives to the beloved’s door…All these habits, which are like great uniform high-roads along which our love passes daily and which were forged long ago in the volcanic fire of an ardent emotion, nevertheless survive the woman, survive even the memory of the woman.” (page 921)  So, while he no longer feels love for Albertine, the many intimate habits that he once shared with her must continue with another (generically nameless) girl whom he does not love at all.  Once more, the theme of searching to regain something of the past becomes a more pronounced theme in the novel. 

Gilberte shares with Marcel that she has found some love letters addressed to Robert that are signed by “Bobette.”  While checking in on M. de Charlus, still recovering from his cardiac condition, Marcel sees Jupien and these letters come up in conversation.  Marcel learns that “Bobette” is someone he and the Baron know quite well.  It is Morel!  So, just as with his uncle M. de Charlus, Robert’s womanizing is a mere cover for his bisexuality (Proust calls it “homosexuality” but I believe, by today’s standards, Robert would be considered bi).  This is further confirmed a bit later by Aimé who speaks of knowing that Saint-Loup spent a great deal of time in private at odd hours with the Grand Hotel lift-boy at Balbec.

Gilberte has no idea about her husband’s taste for boys and men.  She attempts to deal with Robert’s alleged affairs with women by becoming more like Rachel, the actress/prostitute Robert was so enamored with when Marcel first met him. Like Rachel, she wears “bows of scarlet or pink or yellow ribbon in her hair, which she dressed in a similar style, for she believed that her husband was still in love with Rachel, and so was jealous of her.  That Robert’s love may have hovered at times on the boundary which divides the love of a man for a woman from the love of a man for a man was quite possible.” (page 929, Proust is definitely writing here about what we call male bisexuality today, even if he considers Robert “homosexual.”) At one point, Robert goes so far as to ask Gilberte to dress up as a man and “leave a lock of her hair hanging down” over her face – exactly the way Morel wore it for the Baron in The Captive.

Marcel bemoans the passage of time in many relationships at this point of the novel, another way the affects of Time are a consistent undertone in The Fugitive.  “But I wept when I reflected that I had once had so great an affection for a different Saint-Loup, an affection which, I sensed all too clearly from the cold and evasive manner which he now adopted, he no longer felt for me, since men, now that they were capable of arousing his desires, could no longer inspire his friendship.” (page 934)  

Marcel finds it difficult to deal with this new sadness pervading his life but nevertheless he considers a melancholic hope.  “Everything that seems to us imperishable tends towards decay; a position in society, like everything else, is not created once and for all, but, just as much as the power of an empire, is continually rebuilding itself by a sort of perpetual process of creation, which explains the apparent anomalies in social and political history in the course of a half century.  The creation of the world did not occur at the beginning of time, it occurs every day.” (page 909)  Paradoxically, that is both a somber and poignantly hopeful insight of Becoming.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Reading Proust: The Fugitive – Grieving and Forgetting

At about 370 pages, The Fugitive is the shortest volume in the novel.  This is entirely due to the fact the Proust died as he was writing it.  Nevertheless, as I mentioned in my post on The Captive, there is a complete narrative structure with associated subplots and musings, so The Fugitive can be fully comprehended from start to finish.  But, unlike the previous volume, Proust, working in a semi-comatose state at times, did something significant to The Fugitive just before he died.  He obsessively marked through about two-thirds of the piece, as if he wanted to cut most of it out.

In his biography of the author, Jean-Yves Tadie explains that Proust worked from a typed manuscript that was duplicated by carbon copy.  The author did not touch the carbon copy and worked with only the “top copy” when it came to expanding and rewriting his text.  Tadie makes the sensible claim that Proust “always made additions and never deleted material.”  So, in his opinion, it was not Proust’s intent to remove the 250 or so pages but, rather, to rework them. 

Since Proust died before any of it could be rewritten, virtually all translators have chosen to go with the carbon copy text as the final version.  There is simply no way to ascertain what Proust intended to change (or expand) about The Fugitive.  Obviously, this is a unique controversy concerning In Search of Lost Time.  Nevertheless, what we have today is a quick read compared with the rest of the novel.  Not only because it is hundreds of pages shorter than the other books but because his practice of constructing labyrinthine sentences is also minimized.  

Having said that, The Fugitive is not short on story or ideas.  A lot is expressed in this portion of the novel. What occurs and what Proust explores philosophically contains as much literary weight as any other part of the novel.  The philosophy of Memory is again on display, but Proust also returns to Habit and offers us some additional insight.  Mostly, it is the story of Marcel losing Albertine and somewhat recovering.  There is a beautiful chapter devoted to Marcel’s trip to Venice.  While not quite as erotically charged as The Captive, this book nevertheless is filled with sexual undertones.

Chapter One, “Grieving and Forgetting,” is 189 pages long in my Enright edition.  Chapter Two, “Mademoiselle de Forcheville” is 91 pages, “Sojourn to Venice” is 46 pages and “New Aspect of Robert de Saint-Loup” is 45 pages in length.  Once again, Proust works with wildly unequal chapter lengths.  Despite the differences in number of pages, all of these possess more or less the same narrative weight, perhaps a further indication of how much filling remained for Proust to do had he had time to rework the book.  In this blog post, we will look at Chapter One.

“Mademoiselle Albertine has gone!” Marcel proclaims to himself.  In fact, he must painfully proclaim it to many “selves.”  “I sank down on one of those blue satin armchairs…Alas, I had never sat in one of them until this minute when Albertine was still with me.  And so I could not remain sitting there, and stood up again; and thus, at every moment, innumerable and humble ‘selves’ that compose our personality which was still unaware of Albertine’s departure and must be informed of it;  I was obliged…to announce to all these beings, to all these ‘selves’ who did not yet know of it, the calamity that had just occurred;  each of them in turn must hear for the first time the words: ‘Albertine has asked for her boxes’…
Albertine has gone.’  Each of them had to be told of my grief, the grief which is in no way a pessimistic conclusion freely drawn from an accumulation of baneful circumstances, but it is the intermittent and involuntary reviviscence of a specific impression that has come to us from without and was not chosen by us…For instance, the ‘self’ that I was when I was having my hair cut.  I had forgotten this ‘self,’ and his arrival made me burst into tears, as, at a funeral, does the appearance of an old retired servant who has not forgotten the deceased.” (pp. 578 – 579)  The multiplicity of “selves” within the human psyche is a big psychological area of interest to Proust.

Proust formerly saw Habit as “an annihilating force” but now, in the apparent loss of Albertine, it has become “a dread deity, so riveted to one’s being.”  Seeing Albertine every day, as much as he pleased, made Habit a dark, powerful force in Marcel’s life.  The familiarity of her, when removed, became annihilating in a different way.  It created a void where the familiarity of habit vanished.

Albertine’s letter reads that “our life together has become impossible.” Marcel feels a lot of emotions.  Sorrow, love again (apparently since Albertine can no longer be possessed by him), anger, fear.  Mostly, he feels existentially isolated.  “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 a creature who cannot escape himself, and when he asserts the contrary, he is lying.” (page 607)

It isn’t a grand mystery as to where Albertine escaped.  Marcel soon discovers that she is with her aunt in a nearby town. Instead of writing to her or going there personally, Marcel concocts a ridiculous, almost comical strategy to get her back without Albertine knowing he wants her back.  The plan is a pathetic failure.  Albertine writes him: “My dearest, if you needed me, why did you not write me direct?  I should have been only too delighted to come back.” (page 610)

“I had only to do what she said, to write to her that I needed her, and she would return.  So I was going to see her again, the Albertine of Balbec.” (page 611)  It all seems so simple.  And what does Marcel do next?   He writes her a letter that will screw everything up.  He desperately wants her back but instead he writes that she made the right choice and he won’t ask for her return even though he has made many plans for their future together, which include, ridiculously, a yacht and a Rolls-Royce.  His twisted logic is driven by the need for her to return of her own volition and not because of Marcel’s clinginess.  He is convinced she cannot live without him.

Sending the letter, he goes neurotic on the reader again, feeling that the absurd letter will definitely entice her to come back to him: “I began to regret that I had sent it.  For when I pictured to myself Albertine’s return and what an easy matter it was after all, suddenly all the reasons which made our marriage a thing disastrous to myself returned in their fullest force.  I hoped that she would refuse to come back.  I was in the process of calculating that my liberty, my whole future depended upon her refusal, that I had been mad to write her, that I ought to have retrieved my letter which, alas, had gone, when Francoise brought it back to me (at the same time handing me the newspaper which she had just brought upstairs).  She was not certain how many stamps it required.  But immediately I changed my mind; I hoped that Albertine would not return, but I wanted the decision to come from her, and I handed the letter back to Francoise.” (page 617)  A bit of humor there. Marcel ends up twice sending the letter he wished he had never sent.  The psychological contortions are obvious.

Proust uses The Fugitive to better flesh out the character of Francoise.  She has been around since helping Marcel’s aunt in Swann’s Way.  Mostly, she is a background character but she has several significant interactions with Marcel while he is suffering from the loss of Albertine.  It is Francoise that shares his initial disturbance over Albertine’s escape.  She discovers Albertine’s rings, left behind, and gives them to Marcel with a animated and humorous conversation about the details of the rings.  She serves as Marcel’s domestic shadow and her lively, simple character offers a refreshing change of pace in this part of the novel.

After bumbling the entire situation trying to get her back without asking for her, Marcel does what he should have done to begin with.  He sends “a despairing telegram begging for her to return.”  As he sends this another telegram coincidentally arrives for him.  It is from Albertine’s aunt.  Albertine has died in a horse riding accident.  Simultaneously with this, Francoise brings two new handwritten letters to Marcel from Albertine.  She mailed them just before her accident. “Is it too late for me to return to you?”  Albertine asks this haunting question in one of the letters. She was actually doing what he wanted all along, asking to return of her own volition.  The abrupt juxtaposition of these various communications is almost more than our narrator can take.  He contemplates the essence of his grief, the workings of memory and multiplicity.  Now the core of the novel, the “lost time” aspect, begins to take sharper focus.

“In order to enter into us, another must first have assumed the form, have adapted himself to the framework of time;  appearing to us only as a succession of momentary flashes, he has never been able to reveal to us more than one aspect of himself at a time, to present us with more than a single photograph of himself.  A great weakness no doubt for a person, to consist of merely a collection of moments; a great strength also: he is a product of memory, and our memory of the moment is not informed of everything that has happened since; this moment which it has recorded endures still, lives still, and with it the person whose form is outlined in it…this disintegration…multiples him or her…I would have to forget, not one, but innumerable Albertines.

“So then my life was entirely altered.  What had constituted its sweetness…was precisely the perpetual resurgence, at the bidding of identical moments, of moments from the past.  From the sound of pattering raindrops I recaptured the scent of the lilacs at Combrey; from the shifting of the sun’s rays on the balcony the pigeons in the  Champs-Elys
ées; from the muffling of sounds in the heat of the morning hours, the cool taste of cherries; the longing for Brittany or Venice from the noise of the wind and the return of Easter.” (pp. 644 – 645)

The process of grieving gives way to the process of forgetting.  “I knew that I should forget her one day; I had forgotten Gilberte and Mme de Guermantes; I had forgotten my grandmother.  And it is our most just and cruel punishment for that forgetfulness, as total and as tranquil as the oblivion of the graveyard, through which we have always detached ourselves from those we no longer love, that we should recognize it to be inevitable in the case of those we love still…I thought with despair of all the integument of caresses, of kisses, of friendly slumber, of which I must presently let myself be stripped forever.” (page 650)

Sensual memory is dealt with.  “I could see Albertine now, seated at the pianola, pink-faced beneath her dark hair; I could feel against my lips, which she would try to part, her tongue, her maternal, incontestable, nutritious, hallowed tongue, whose secret dewy flame, even when she ran it over the surface of my neck or my stomach, gave to those caresses of hers, superficial but somehow imparted by the inside of her flesh, externalized like a piece of material reversed to show its lining, as it were the mysterious sweetness of a penetration.” (pp. 671 – 672)

It is worth noting that Marcel does not attend Albertine’s funeral nor does he ever visit her grave, or, if he does, he does not share that with the reader.  Instead, still obsessing, he hires Aimé, a head waiter he has known for awhile in the novel, first at Balbec and later in Paris, to investigate Albertine’s sexuality at Balbec.  Aimé discovers that Albertine used to take showers at the beach with “a tall woman older than herself, always dressed in grey.”  They would then spend a long time in a nearby cabin, the older one always leaving a big tip.  

This is the first outright, tangible example we have of Albertine’s bisexuality.  Next, Marcel sends Aimé to the town where her aunt lives where, it is discovered, a sexual encounter happened just after she left Marcel.  Aimé finds a “young laundry-girl” who eventually admits to knowing Albertine and having “bathed” with her, usually in the early mornings.  Aimé writes in a letter to Marcel: “The young laundry-girl confessed to me that she enjoyed playing around with her girlfriends and that seeing Mlle Albertine was always rubbing up against her in her bathing-wrap she made her take it off and used to caress her with her tongue along the throat and arms, even on the soles of her feet which Albertine held out to her.  The laundry-girl undressed too, and they played at pushing each other into the water…I took the young laundry-girl to bed with me.  She asked me if I would like her to do to me what she used to do to Mlle Albertine when she took off her bathing-dress.  And she said to me:  ‘If you could have seen how she used to wriggle, that young lady, she said to me ‘oh, it’s too heavenly’ and she got so excited that she could not keep from biting me.’  I could still see the marks on the laundry-girl’s arms.  And I can understand Mlle Albertine’s pleasure, for that young wench is really a very good performer.” (page 708)

In Albertine’s absence, Marcel can no longer experience her comforting reassurances (even though many of them were lies).  Her sweetness has turned into “a different girl, heaping up lies and deceit” without the condolence of her presence.  Marcel feels that, at last, he is seeing “into the core of Albertine’s own being” and that “Albertine had deceived me as to her profoundest humanity.”  As with most things, Proust finds an aesthetic approach to reveal Marcel’s state of being.

“I had as it happened seen two paintings by Elstir showing naked women in a thickly wooded landscape.  In one of them, a girl is pushing into the water another girl who gaily resists, her thigh raised, her foot barely dipping into the blue water.  I remembered now that the raised thigh made the same swan’s-neck curve with an angle of the knee as was made by the line of Albertine’s thigh when she was lying by my side on the bed, and I had often meant to tell her that she reminded me of those paintings.  But I had refrained from doing so, for fear of awakening in her mind the image of female naked bodies.” (pp. 710 – 711)

Marcel’s reaction to Aimé’s second letter is to go out and find some girls for an erotic experiment.  Once more he eavesdrops, this time from a neighboring room:  “I had had two young laundry-girls, from a district where Albertine had often gone, brought to a house of assignation.  One of them, beneath the caresses of the other, suddenly began to utter sounds which at first I found rather difficult to identify; for one never understands precisely the meaning of an original sound expressive of a sensation which one does not experience oneself…and it took me some time, too, to understand that this noise expressed what, by analogy with the (very different) sensations I myself had felt, I called pleasure; and the pleasure must have been great to overwhelm to this extent the person who was expressing it...”  (pp. 741 – 742)  But this passion only disappoints Marcel.  “In any case these two girls could tell me nothing, as they had no idea who Albertine was.” 

Gradually, of course, his pain subsides. He begins to “take home with me other girls” and concludes that “, by disclosing to me little by little the permanence of our needs, had taught me that failing one person we must content ourselves with another…”  But this does not turn out well.  These other girls lack the nature of Albertine that attracted him to begin with.  After enough of them he experiences a void.

“The same vacuum that I had found in my room since Albertine had left, and had supposed that I could fill by taking women in my arms, I regained with them.  They had never spoken to me, these women, of Vinteuil’s music, of Saint-Simon’s memoirs, they had not sprayed themselves with an overpowering scent before coming to see me, they had not played at intertwining their eyelashes with mine, all of which things are important because they seem to enable one to weave dreams around the sexual act itself and to give oneself the illusion of love, but in reality because they formed part of my memory of Albertine and it was she whom I wanted there.” (page 750)

The original English translation of this volume by Moncrieff is entitled Sweet Cheat Gone, which, if old-fashioned, is perhaps somewhat more indicative of this part of the novel than The Fugitive.  Marcel comes to terms with the loss of Albertine and the confirmation of his neurotic fears.  She was a “cheat”, after all, and she is “gone” in the most tragic sense.  All of this leads to an unsatisfying catharsis.  

In the voice of the overarching narrator: “And I really ought to have discovered sooner that one day I would no longer be in love with Albertine.  When I had realized the difference that existed between what the importance of her person and of her actions was to me and what it was to other people, that my love was not so much a love for her as a love for myself…” (page 751)  

(To be continued)

Monday, July 8, 2019

Taking in a Braves Game

Ronald Acuna, Jr. draws a walk to load the bases.  The Braves didn't score this time.  The crowd gravitated toward the parts of the stadium that were in the shade.  It was a really hot, humid afternoon.
My daughter and I took in a Braves game yesterday.  She had asked about going to one several weeks ago.  We have always connected on baseball and softball, among other things.  It was a fun time for both of us and the game was definitely a good one to watch.

The Braves beat the Miami Marlins 4-3 in what ended up being a tense game.  We lucked up and got to see the recently signed free agent Dallas Keuchel pitch a decent game.  It was 4-0 when he left after throwing 7.1 innings.  He scattered five hits while striking out 4 against only one walk.  That walk is what took him out of the game, bringing in the wobbly Braves bullpen to make the game closer than it ever should have been.

What impresses me most about Keuchel is he throws strikes.  He rarely pitches behind in the count.  He is able to locate his pitches well.  He doesn't have that many deep counts, which keeps the ball in play (if he doesn't strike the batter out) and that always helps the defense play better.  Although he doesn't have the numbers to indicate it compared with some of the other Braves starters, I feel his stats will still be impressive by the end of the season.  He is essentally the Braves ace after starting only four games thus far.

Avery (so named after former Braves pitcher Steve Avery) and I arrived at the game a few minutes before the gates opened.  It rained on us a little bit but we managed to get to our seats remaining dry.  The first order of business was hot dogs and beers.  Hefty foot-longs were a mere $10.50 each.  Regular size beers were $7 each.  But a big part of seeing a ball game is having hot dogs and beer so I shrugged off the price and we enjoyed ourselves as the crowd slowly started to filter in.

I made sure to get tickets on the first base side because that part of the stadium gets shade in the daytime and is also under the partial roof.  Which turned out to be a good thing, not only because we were out of the sun on an afternoon when the heat index approached 100 degrees but also because the start of the game was delayed 25 minutes due to rain.  We stayed in the dry and had a great view looking down on home plate as shown in the photo above. 
Avery and me just before the game started.
In addition to Keuchel's good start, we got to see the power of Josh Donaldson, who hit a two-run homer to right-center field.  It was Donaldson's 200th career home run.  So congratulations to him.  He started the season slowly offensively but has picked his game up a couple of notches in the past month.  I expect solid production from him from here on out.  He is also an very good defensive 3rd baseman, so he can help on both sides of the ball.

By far, the biggest play of the game was not a batting or pitching achievement.  It was a fielding play made by Charlie Culberson in the 9th inning to preserve the win.  Luke Jackson entered the 9th to nail down a save for Keuchel's effort.  Not entirely due to his own doing, the Marlins nevertheless loaded the bases with nobody out.  It looked as if they would certainly tie the game, if not go ahead of the Braves.  It would have really sucked to have led for so long and to see Keuchel's good pitching wasted by our inconsistent so-called closer. 

But that's not what happened.   The Marlins brought in a pinch-hitter who lifted the ball out to Culberson in left field.  (Culberson had entered the game as a defensive substitution in the 8th inning.)  It was deep enough to tie the game.  The runner would tag at third on the catch and run toward home plate.  Culberson's was positioned properly, he was running toward the plate as he caught the ball.  He then threw toward the plate with everything he had, falling to the field after his throw.  The ball zipped toward Braves catcher Brian McCann.  It was a perfect throw and the Marlin runner was tagged out at the plate by the slimmest of margins.  A double play.

The crowd went wild.  McCann roared from the plate, walking up the 3rd base line and pointing his mitt at Culberson.  That's the loudest I've yelled at a ballgame in several years, just a fantastic play.  Jackson managed to get the final out and preserve the win but the "save" should have really gone to Culberson, not Jackson.  The Braves need to find a true closing pitcher.  That is probably the weakest part of their team.

At any rate it was a good game and a fun day to spend with my daughter.  We both enjoyed ourselves. 

The Braves are 54-37 as we go into the All-Star Break, the second best record in the National League.  Even though they have some weaknesses, it is hard to complain about that kind of record.  I'm hoping they can keep it up over the season's final 71 games.  A long way to go yet.

You can see Donaldson's homer, Keuchel's pitching effort, and Culberson's outstanding defensive play on videos here.
As you approach the stadium from parking lots 9 and 11 the first statue you come to is one of Warren Spahn, who pitched for the Braves in Boston and Milwaukee and won more games than any other leftie in major league history.
You gotta have a hot dog and a beer at the ball game.  These foot-longs were hefty and tasty and, like most Braves concessions, expensive.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Reading Proust: The Captive – Sex and Lies

“…she used to slide her tongue between my lips like a portion of daily bread, a nourishing food that had the almost sacred character of all flesh upon which the sufferings that we have endured on its account have come in time to confer a sort of spiritual grace…” (page 2)

The Captive features some of Proust's most erotic moments, giving us an intimate, rather than objective as in Sodom and Gomorrah, view of physical desire.  Sex is an underlying tension throughout the volume.  Even the irrational jealousy and possessiveness has an intensity about it that feeds into the erotic side of things.  This toxic relationship is full of sexuality but it harbors more mutual deceit and distrust than anything.

It has been three weeks since the conclusion of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Albertine is now installed in a spare bedroom of the narrator’s home in Paris.  The intention, of course, is that she will become his fiancé and they will be married.  But, the relationship develops more darkly than either of them anticipated. 

Before we attempt to dissect his relationship with Albertine more thoroughly, it is worth mentioning how Proust teases the reader in a literary sense throughout The Captive.  He continues to occasionally break from the narrative form and address the reader directly with phrases like “I might ask the reader, as one might ask a friend with regard to whom one has forgotten…”  (page 312) In this case he (the overarching narrator?) is wondering out loud whether the reader remembers something that was brought up back in The Guermantes Way.

Proust openly reflects upon his narrative style, a sort of self-critique, with the reader.  Regarding the narrator's jealousy for Albertine and the fact that, earlier in the novel, he believed himself to be in love with Andr
ée: “…when jealousy had revived my love for her.  My words, therefore, did not in the least reflect my feelings.  If the reader has no more than a faint impression of these, that is because, as narrator, I expose my feeling to him at the same time as I repeat my words.  But if I concealed the former and he were acquainted only with the latter, my actions, so little in keeping with them, would so often give him the impression of strange reversals that he would think me more or less mad.” (page 467)

The multiple levels of the narration are revealed in several passages.  Reflecting back from his overarching perspective, “I was but imperfectly aware of the nature which guided my actions; today, I have a clear conception of its subjective truth.  As for it objective truth, that is to say whether the intuitions of that nature grasped more exactly than my reason Albertine’s true intentions, whether I was right to trust to that nature or whether on the contrary it did not alter Albertine’s intentions instead of making them plain – that I find difficult to say.” (page 468)  The use of the word “today” indicates a present moment in the future of where we are in the story and this admission of lack of clarity on the narrator’s part is revealing of his confusion over discovering the “authentic” Albertine that his neurotic paranoia desires.

In discussing how Albertine refers to the narrator we get these lines in the midst of passionate caressing: “Then she would find her tongue and say: ‘My –‘ or ‘My darling –‘ followed by my Christian name, which, if we give the narrator the same name as the author of this book, would be ‘My Marcel,’ or ‘My darling Marcel.’” (page 91)  We are told that Albertine was also in the habit of writing letters to him as “’My darling dear Marcel…’” (page 202) and “’What a Marcel!  What a Marcel!  Always and ever your Albertine.’” (page 203)  Given these instances where the narrator is obviously toying with the reader like this, I will refer to him as “Marcel” for the remainder of the novel.

There are many passages making it clear that, for all its faults, Marcel's relationship with Albertine is a sensual one of mutual physical attraction.

“…I undressed and went to bed, and, with Albertine perched on the side of the bed, we would resume our game or conversation interrupted by kisses; and in the physical desire that alone makes us take an interest in the existence and character of another person, we remain so true to our own nature…catching sight of myself in the mirror at the moment when I was kissing Albertine and calling her ‘my little girl,’ the sorrowful passionate expression on my face, similar to the expression it would have worn long ago with Gilberte whom I no longer remembered…made me think that…I was performing duties of an ardent and painful devotion dedicated as a oblation to the youth and beauty of Woman.  And yet with this desire by which I was honoring youth with a votive offering, with my memories too of Balbec, there was blended, in my need to keep Albertine thus every evening by my side, something that had hitherto been foreign to my amorous existence, at least, if it was not entirely new to my life.  It was a soothing power the like of which I had not experienced since the evenings at Combray long ago when my mother, stooping over my bed, brought me repose in a kiss.” (page 93) 

More so than the physical pleasure she offers him, however, Marcel feels satisfaction in knowing that his relationship prevents Albertine from finding pleasure with anyone else.  “…for my pleasure in having Albertine to live with me was much less a positive pleasure than a pleasure of having withdrawn from the world, where everyone was free to enjoy her in turn, the blossoming girl who, if she did not bring me any great joy, was at least withholding joy from others. Ambition and fame would have left me unmoved.  Even more was I incapable of feeling hatred.  And yet to love carnally was none the less, for me, to enjoy a triumph over countless rivals.” (page 94)

Their intimacy is often exquisite.  “Before Albertine obeyed and took off her shoes, I would open her chemise.  He two little uplifted breasts were so round that they seemed not so much to be an integral part of her body as to have ripened there like fruit; and her belly…was closed, at the junction of her thighs, by two valves with a curve as languid, as reposeful, as cloistral as that of the horizon after the sun has set.  She would take off her shoes and lie down by my side.” (page 97)

But Marcel’s sensuality is greater than Albertine could satisfy.  His mind is constantly ruminating on other possible liaisons…and of the freedom to travel away from Albertine. He is particularly interested in working class girls.  Among those he mentions are: “a laundry girl,” “the baker’s girl,” “the greengrocer’s girl,” and “various young female employees.”  It is a striking fact that the very thing he fears about Albertine (that she has liaisons with other girls) is so allowable in Marcel himself.  He is a tough protagonist to root for sometimes.

“Perhaps the habit that I had acquired of nursing within me certain desires, the desire for a young girl of good family…especially for the girl whom Saint-Loup had mentioned to me..the desire for some lady’s-maids, and especially for Mms Putbus’s, the desire to go to the country in early spring and to see once again  hawthorns, apple-trees in blossom, storms, the desire for Venice…” (page 106)

The artist-lover.  “…the law of our amorous curiosities…We are sculptors.  We want to obtain of a woman a statue entirely different from the one she presented to us…we will not rest until we discover by experiment whether the proud girl…cannot be made, by skillful handling on our part, to relax their uncompromising attitude, to throw about our necks those arms that are laden with fruit, to bend towards our lips, with a smile of consent, eyes hitherto cold or absent…allow their pupils to light up with sunny laughter when we speak of making love!” (pp. 182- 183)

But does he love her?  Marcel’s tortured heart and mind are as waffling and confused as ever in The Captive.  The general sense is that, now that she is living with him, now that he has “captured” her and sealed her off from the world, even though she is allowed to take day trips and travel a bit without him, he has become even more indifferent to her.  “I no longer loved Albertine…”  But, we also still get these objective declarations.  “…my love for Albertine…” “If I was not in love with Albertine (and of this I could not be sure)…” At one point Marcel converses with her: “’Albertine, you distrust me although I love you…”  This is as close as we come to a subjective declaration of love.  Later, he tells us of his “fear of telling Albertine that I loved her.” 

It seems that he holds more jealousy and possessiveness for Albertine than anything else and that these, along with his obvious sexual attraction to her, are the only basis for any “love” he might feel toward her.  “We love only what we do not wholly possess,” he tells us.  “Only the desire that she aroused in others, when, on learning of it, I began to suffer again and wanted to challenge their possession of her.”  “I was taking possession of her more completely…”

Yet, his sense of possession is inescapably shallow.  He finds Albertine a “fugitive being” with a “beautiful laugh…so voluptuous.”  She is “fugitive” in the sense that, as another person, she is opaque.  Marcel cannot penetrate into her and know her actual past, her actual ambitions, sexual or otherwise.  She denies any impropriety every time he brings it up.

Albertine is under the rather strict control of Marcel.  He showers her with expensive gifts, clothing and accessories.  They go out together to the finest restaurants.  He spoils her at every opportunity.  But this is not out of love so much as out of possession and jealousy.  Ironically, it is Marcel who finds his sense of freedom curtailed.  He discusses “…the fact that Albertine had put a full stop to my freedom” and refers to his own “bondage.”

Upon his return from the afternoon salon at the Verdurins’ Marcel discovers “the feeling that I myself was a captive.” He refers to “my captivity in Paris” as he dreams of visiting Venice.  He admits that “Albertine was far more of a prisoner than I” but that is of little consolation.  She is his captive, but she remains a “fugitive” to him.  He is a captive of his own need to monitor and control Albertine, who he may or may not love, who he cannot truly know to the extent is neurotic jealousy apparently requires.  Out of this possessive jealousy merges a relationship that is obviously sexual but also stifling and imprisoning, leading to a rotting mess of suspicion and lies.    

There are many lies told throughout The Captive, beyond the ones already cooked up by the Verdurins in my previous post.  Virtually all other lies are told between Marcel and Albertine.  Marcel admits: “To tell the truth, I knew nothing that Albertine had done since I had come to know her, or even before.  But in her conversation…there were certain contradictions, certain embellishments which seemed to me as decisive as catching her red-handed, but less usable against Albertine who, often caught out like a child, had invariably, by dint of sudden, strategic changes of front, stultified my cruel attacks and retrieved the situation.” (pp. 197- 198)

Marcel’s initial suspicions were purely reflective, wondering about how many lies she has told him since they first met years ago in Balbec.  Though they gnaw at him, he represses these in the beginning in favor of “contenting myself with kissing her.” But, gradually, he catches her in other lies, particularly about where she has gone and what she had done in his absence.  She tells him she met Bergotte on a day after the great author died.  She lies about going to Balbec when, in fact, she went somewhere else.  She states (confesses?) that she has met Lea, an infamous lesbian, at Balbec after previously telling him that she had never met Lea at all.  Supposedly, at one point in the past, she meets Gilberte and the latter makes the strange inquiry as to “whether I was fond of women.”  Supposedly, Albertine answered yes.  But always Albertine declares herself innocent of the sexuality that Marcel suspects of her.  

In reality, it seems that Marcel’s suspicions far exceed Albertine’s lies.  For every time he catches her at something there are several other instances when he is simply being paranoid or possessive.  The lies cut both ways, too.  Marcel often tells a falsehood under the pretense of getting Albertine to admit something or other.  This is a sad, toxic relationship with distrust eating at its core.  Marcel’s instance on “keeping” Albertine with him (to ultimately marry her) and controlling her as much as possible is literally housed within a basic lack of trust.

This twisted psychological maze created out of all manner of falsehood, big and small, is frankly rather tedious to read by this point in the novel.  The reader has already endured such treachery and deceit in Sodom and Gomorrah.  Now we get hundreds more pages of it.  But things are not completely filled with neurotic doubts and distrust between them.  There are beautiful moments as well, as mentioned previously with their sexual attraction (even though it is plain that this attraction is not limited to her alone on the part of Marcel, and possibly she has liaisons on the side, though it remains murky at this point how much she is lying about her sexuality, if any).

The couple share a few wonderful moments.  As an example, she play parts of Vinteuil’s sonata for him.  This offers Marcel some relief as : “…I could dispose of my thoughts, detach them for a moment from Albertine, apply them to the sonata…I was carried back to Combray…when I longed to become an artist.” (page 204)  They sit by the fireside with each other, enjoying lively conversations.  When music isn’t played, she reads aloud to him in the evenings.  He is soothed by this.  Of course, there are constant “caresses and kissing” between them, which Marcel discovers has taken the place of his childish need for a kiss from his mother every night.  Albertine fulfills this basic need.  The sonata also connects this love relationship with Swann and Odette in book one.

One of the most beautiful passages in the novel is also one of the most erotic ones.  It involves Marcel watching Albertine sleep on his bed. “For sometimes, when I got up to fetch a book from my father’s study, my mistress, having asked my permission to lie down while I was out of the room, was so tired after her long outing in the morning and afternoon in the open air that, even if I had been away for a moment only, when I returned I found her asleep and did not wake her.  Stretched out at full length on my bed, in an attitude so natural that no art could have devised it, she reminded me of a long blossoming stem that had been laid there…her sleep realized to a certain extent the possibility of love: alone, I could think of her, but I missed her, I did not possess her; when she was present, I spoke to her, but was too absent from myself to be able to think of her;  when she was asleep, I no longer had to talk, I knew I was no longer observed by her, I no longer needed to live on the surface of myself.

“By shutting her eyes, by losing consciousness, Albertine had stripped off, one after another, the different human personalities by which she had deceived me ever since the day I made her acquaintance…I had an impression of possessing her entirely which I never had when she was awake.  Her life was submitted to me, exhaled towards me its gentle breath.

“I listened to this murmuring, mysterious emanation, soft as a sea breeze, magical as a gleam of moonlight, that was her sleep.  So long as it lasted, I was free to dream about her and yet at the same time to look at her, and, when that sleep grew deeper, to touch and kiss her.  What I felt then was a love as pure, as immaterial, as mysterious, as if I had been in the presence of those inanimate creatures which are the beauties of nature.” (pp. 84 – 85)

“Carriages went rattling past in the street, but her brow remained as smooth and untroubled, her breath as light, reduced to the simple expulsion of the necessary quantity of air.  Then, seeing that her sleep would not be disturbed, I would advance cautiously, sit down on the chair that stood by the bedside, then on the bed itself.  I spent many a charming evening talking and playing with Albertine, but none so sweet as when I was watching her sleep.

“I would run my eyes over her, stretched out below me.  From time to time a slight, unaccountable tremor ran through her, as the leaves of a tree are shaken for a few moments by a sudden breath of wind.  She would touch her hair and then, not having arranged it to her liking, would raise her hand to it again with motions so consecutive, so deliberate, that I was convinced that she was about to wake.  Not at all; she grew calm again in the sleep from which she had not emerged.” (pp. 85 – 86)

“I, who was acquainted with many Albertines in one person, seemed now to see many more again reposing by my side.  He eyebrows, arched as I had never noticed them, encircled the globes of her eyelids like a halcyon’s downy nest.  Races, atavisms, vices reposed upon her face…I seemed to possess not one but countless girls…I would climb deliberately and noiselessly on to the bed, lie down by her side, clasp her waist in one arm, and place my lips upon her cheek and my free hand on her heart and then on every part of her body in turn, so that it too was raised, like the pearls, by her breathing; I myself was gently rocked by its regular motion…

“Sometimes it afforded me a pleasure that was less pure…my leg to dangle against hers…imparting to it now and again a gentle oscillation…I chose, in gazing at her, the aspect of her face which one never saw and which was so beautiful…The sound of her breathing, which had grown louder, might have given the illusion of the panting of sexual pleasure, and when mine was at its climax, I could kiss her without having interrupted her sleep.” (pp.  87 – 88)

Marcel masturbates on his sleeping girlfriend.  The act is couched in marvelous prose of the turn of the last century, but that is clearly what happens here.  It is one of the most vividly erotic moments in the novel, filled with such gentle, sensual energy (the actual passage is about four pages long).  It is one of the most intimate moments we have of the two of them together when they are not arguing or being interrogated or spending money.  But it is also, clearly, the pure objectification of a woman by a sexually aroused man.  That’s not PC but it’s still hot.  Marcel has many qualities as a narrator that are sensual and erotic but, even more so, we are stuck with a protagonist who is as neurotic as he is aesthetic, perhaps one infuses the other.

The Captive ends with Marcel and Albertine together.  We get more of Proust’s twisted philosophy of love here as the narrator realizes his growing indifference toward Albertine.  He feels his life swings constantly between boredom and painful jealousy.  Albertine refuses Marcel’s suggestion that she has had sex with various women, particularly with Andrée, something Albertine calls a “pretty tale” and a “slander.”   One evening among all these evenings he asks her to undress for him in his bedroom but she refuses.  She agrees to sit on is bed and they talk civilly but she does not kiss him when she leaves his room.

The next couple of days they go out together, taking trips around Paris.  They visit the Louvre.  They go shopping for fancy overcoats.  They see an airplane high overhead, still a novelty.  Marcel considers how “fugitive her strongest desires” are from him.  He cannot know them.  His jealousy subsides and is replaced by indifference. He will not marry her.  He makes plans to go visit Venice after all.  When he is awakened by Francoise the next morning he is told that Albertine packed some boxes and left him a letter.  Fear suddenly grips him.  Has she escaped for a liaison?  But the contents of the letter are not revealed to the reader – yet.  

Both Sodom and Gomorrah and The Captive are wonderful works of sexuality, philosophy, and art/nature.  I would rank them as the best two books within the novel, in that order respectively.  The Captive, while unfinished, is like Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, a masterpiece.  It suffers a bit from the tedium of the toxic relationship, but it makes up for it with stunning prose, interesting ideas and inquiries, and what is certainly one of the best social episodes in the whole novel.