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Albertine Gone by Marcel Proust

February 5, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Sweet Cheat Gone (Albertine Gone) by Marcel Proust. (1925) In Search of Lost Time, volume 6. Original French title: Albertine disparue.

Before diving into Albertine Gone by Marcel Proust, some information. I have read it in French, of course. Then I downloaded the cheapest translation available, the Scott Moncrief one. All the quotes in English come from this translation.

In the fifth volume of In Search of Lost Time, the Narrator acts like an insufferable stalker and control freak with Albertine, who now lives with him. Imagine what it must have meant at the beginning of the 20th century, even if, officially, she was staying at his mother’s house. Here are my two billets about The Captive: billet one and billet two.

It took me nine years to move from The Captive to Albertine Gone. In this volume, Albertine leaves him and moves out. How I understand her. Before he can go after her and make her change her mind, she dies in an accident. (Albertine may have been modeled after Alfred Agostinelli, Proust’s flame, killed in an airplane accident in 1914.)

The first part of the volume is about the Narrator’s grief and his relentless research to understand once for all if Albertine was a lesbian and if she cheated on him. Yes, to both. He gets his answer after torturing us with soul wrenching what-ifs, sending out his valet to investigate Albertine’s last days, questioning her girlfriend Andrée, etc. The Narrator is sick with jealously and he seems to be missing Albertine only marginally, because he didn’t get all his answers before her death. Sometimes I felt like he was grieving because grief was what he was supposed to feel and not what he was actually feeling. The Narrator was such a gossip.

However, Proust wrote excellent passages about grief, the recovering process and the Narrator’s feelings. There are beautiful thoughts about memories of people who passed away and what remains of them after they’re gone.

On dit quelque fois qu’il peut subsister quelque chose d’un être après sa mort, si cet être était un artiste et mit un peu de soi dans son œuvre. C’est peut-être de la même manière qu’une sorte de bouture prélevée sur un être, et greffée au cœur d’un autre, continue à y poursuivre sa vie même quand l’être d’où elle avait été détachée a péri.We say at times that something may survive of a man after his death, if the man was an artist and took a certain amount of pains with his work. It is perhaps in the same way that a sort of cutting taken from one person and grafted on the heart of another continues to carry on its existence, even when the person from whom it had been detached has perished

Then he starts going out again and traveling to Venice. He reconnects with his high society friends and tells us what have become of our former acquaintances: Gilberte, Robert de Saint-Loup, the Baron de Charlus, Madame de Guermantes…He’s found his wits and his irony again and this reader thought, “Yay we’re back to socializing and watching people with a magnifying glass!”

We’re back to witty observations and come-backs, this is the Proust I love.

Le snobisme est, pour certaines personnes, analogue à ces breuvages agréables dans lesquels ils mêlent des substances utiles.Snobbishness is, with certain people, analogous to those pleasant beverages with which they mix nutritionus substances

It’s like having coffee with your parents when they start telling you all the news of people you used to know and have lost contact with because you moved out of your hometown. All distant cousins, uncles, acquaintances, neighbors, friends of friends. Who got married, who got sick, blah blah blah. Only Proust says it with a lot more style.

Although you don’t read In Search of Lost Time for the plot, I won’t spoil your reading and tell you the breaking news about Gilberte and Robert de Saint-Loup that are dropped like bombs in this volume.

In Albertine Gone, Proust also makes peace with homosexuality. In the first volumes, it’s described as something unnatural to be ashamed of. Towards the end of this volume, Proust says that Charlus loves doing visits with Morel because he feels like he’s remarried. He loves acting as a couple. This passage is explicit about the Narrator’s views on homosexuality and very modern:

Personnellement, je trouvais absolument indifférent au point de vue de la morale qu’on trouvât son plaisir auprès d’un homme ou d’une femme, et trop naturel et humain qu’on le cherchât là où on pouvait le trouver.As far as morality was concerned, it was indifferent to me whether one finds their pleasure with a man or a woman. I found it only too natural and human to seek pleasure where it could be found.
(my translation)

A century later, I wish this sentiment were more widely spread. It would avoid a lot of bullying and heartaches. These two passages about Charlus and this statement about homosexuality are missing from the Scott Moncrief translation. I don’t know if they were censored or if Scott Moncrief worked on a French version that didn’t include these paragraphs.

Albertine disparue isn’t the easiest volume to read, at least for me. It is nonetheless a masterpiece and I have bright memories of Le Temps retrouvé, the next and last volume.

  1. February 5, 2022 at 3:59 pm

    Time to reread, I think (in the original – have a beautiful but heavy all-in-one volume from Gallimard).


    • February 5, 2022 at 6:29 pm

      All in one volume? How is it even possible?


      • February 5, 2022 at 7:12 pm

        It is very big, very heavy and with rather small writing, but the paper quality is quite good, not wafer thin, surprisingly.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. February 5, 2022 at 4:07 pm

    It’s been a very long time since I read In Search of Lost Time (only in English, I’m afraid). It took me years before I was ready to read it (I had several unsuccessful attempts) but when I finally did so, I thought it was fantastic.

    I initially tried the Moncrief translation, didn’t like it and ended up going with the new Penguin translation, under the direction of Christopher Prendergast. The “Penguin Proust” used different translators for the different volumes (Lydia Davis did Swann’s Way), an interesting approach but one that probably resulted in a certain uneven quality. I still preferred it to Moncrief, who seemed a little stilted and antiquated to me (more knowledgeable readers than I, however, have disagreed about this). The Prisoner (part I of volume 6, I believe), translated by Carol Collins, was easily my very least favorite of the volumes. Not only did I actually felt rather claustrophobic as I read it, I had to stifle my indignation at the narrator! A great study of obsession and control, but tough to read. In The Fugitive (Peter Collier tr.), Proust was, as you say, thankfully out and about again!


    • February 5, 2022 at 6:30 pm

      I use the Scott Moncrief translation because it’s free for the quotes I want to include but I’ve heard it’s not necessarily the best one.
      The Prisoner is indeed very claustrophobic and I also didn’t like the Narrator’s behavior.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. February 5, 2022 at 5:30 pm

    Although I’m skimming the details here because I haven’t read this one yet, I’m intrigued about the missing sections in Moncrieff because that’s the version I have, albeit a revised one. I shall be interested in seeing what’s there when I get to this…


    • February 5, 2022 at 6:34 pm

      The last quote is a few pages before the end of the book. Easy to spot.
      Do you know when you plan to read it?


  4. February 5, 2022 at 9:27 pm

    “Breaking news” heheh All those bombs of information!
    Glad your year’s plans are off to a rewarding start.


    • February 7, 2022 at 10:09 pm

      All this gossip about who married whom and revelations of sexual preferences and affairs!
      My Proust Centenary project is on track. There are lots of things about it in France and I wish I lived in Paris and attend all these conferences.
      I’ll have to be happy with podcasts by Radio France, though.


  5. February 6, 2022 at 2:30 am

    It is indeed a relief to get back to the socializing and pointed observations in this book!


    • February 7, 2022 at 10:10 pm

      He’s a terrible lover, isn’t he? Frightening and very unhealthy.
      The socializing part is great, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. February 6, 2022 at 3:55 am

    I read the Penguin version with all the different translators, and I’m waiting for something better (as in more coherent) before I re-read it.
    I read Brian Nelson’s translation of Book One which was great… but I imagine the stamina and commitment it would take to translate the whole thing, so I don’t hold out hope that he will be the one to do it.


    • February 7, 2022 at 10:13 pm

      Picking a translation is a dilemna and yes, I can’t imagine how much work it is for a translator to translate the whole Recherche.
      I understand why Penguin chose different translators and decided to live with the differences between the translators.

      Liked by 2 people

      • February 8, 2022 at 1:35 am

        Best to struggle on with learning French, I think. One of my virtual friends is reading it with rusty French, so I think that if I keep on with it, I’ll get there one day too.
        BTW I am reading Colette’s La Chatte at the moment, slowly, of course, but liking it:).

        Liked by 1 person

        • February 8, 2022 at 8:02 pm

          I’m not sure about that, Lisa. Reading it in French would require a lot of brain power and maybe you’d miss the joy and pleasure to read such a great author!

          Liked by 1 person

  7. February 6, 2022 at 5:24 pm

    It will take me a lot of time to get round to reading this one, so I wouldn’t have minded even if you had included a couple of spoilers (I understand others might disagree).
    I’m curious about the bits missing in this English translation, though. I find the history of translations always so interesting, especially when there are different versions of a same text in the original language (I’ve often wondered this with the Iliad and the Odyssey. I’m sure someone has written about this).


    • February 7, 2022 at 10:19 pm

      The info he gives in this volume give you a new perspective on the characters and their future. I think it’s better not to be aware of it when you start reading La Recherche.

      About the translation. At first, I thought I was dreaming and that I didn’t succeed in spotting the paragraph in the English text. I do a basic “CTL+F” with a word I know will be in the paragraph or find one above ou after that will bring me at the right place.
      In one of the missing paragraphs, the French text mentioned the name of a poet. I didn’t find it in the English text, which isn’t possible if the paragraph is there. I dug further and found the paragraphs before and after but not this one.

      My big question is censored or not censored? It may have appeared in a later French version of the text too.

      I haven’t read Homer, by lack of time but I’m also at loss with the choice of translation. I don’t want to read the literal one aimed at students of Ancient Greek. Good for learning the language but terrible to read. If you know a good one, let me know.


  8. February 6, 2022 at 7:29 pm

    This is my year for Proust. Started V. 1 in January and I’m glad I did.


    • February 7, 2022 at 10:20 pm

      I’m looking forward to reading your posts about your journey with Proust.
      Swann’s Way isn’t the most interesting one, IMO but it’s seminal for the rest.
      You’ll see how much the characters and the events stay with you.


  9. February 8, 2022 at 2:42 am

    I really enjoyed a lot this volume and the last one. You are almost done!
    I read it all a few years ago, and sometimes I toy with the idea of rereading it all again

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 8, 2022 at 8:03 pm

      I’m almost done, yes. It’s a reread and I know that the last one is wonderful.
      I’ll try to post soon about the Proust exhibition I’ve seen.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. November 19, 2022 at 4:20 pm

    I need to consult you to tell me if Proust actually did use the verse now translated into English as “universe”? If so, he was indeed ahead of his time. This question arises from my reading of Volume V, my current post on Ripple Effects.


    • November 20, 2022 at 9:59 am

      Hi Arti,
      I’ve answered your question on your post. He did use the word “universe”. I’m not sure it means he was ahead of his time.

      I’ll copy-paste my answer here:

      I’ve tracked down the quotes you mention in the French original.

      Here’s the first one:

      Des ailes, un autre appareil respiratoire, et qui nous permissent de traverser l’immensité, ne nous serviraient à rien, car, si nous allions dans Mars et dans Vénus en gardant les mêmes sens, ils revêtiraient du même aspect que les choses de la Terre tout ce que nous pourrions voir. Le seul véritable voyage, le seul bain de Jouvence, ce ne serait pas d’aller vers de nouveaux paysages, mais d’avoir d’autres yeux, de voir l’univers avec les yeux d’un autre, de cent autres, de voir les cent univers que chacun d’eux voit, que chacun d’eux est.

      translated by (?? which translation have you been reading? Scott Moncrieff’s?)

      A pair of wings, a different respiratory system, which enabled us to travel through space, would in no way help us, for if we visited Mars or Venus while keeping the same senses, they would clothe everything we could see in the same aspect as the things of Earth. The only true voyage… would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is.

      The translation is fair and you can see that the word “immensité” has been translated into “space”, which is good and “univers” becomes “universe” at the same places.

      The second one now:

      …de mon lit, j’entends le monde s’éveiller, tantôt par un temps, tantôt par un autre. Oui, j’ai été forcé d’amincir la chose et d’être mensonger, mais ce n’est pas un univers, c’est des millions, presque autant qu’il existe de prunelles et d’intelligences humaines, qui s’éveillent tous les matins.


      … from my bed, I hear the world awake, now to one sort of weather, now to another! Yes, I have been forced to whittle down the facts, and to be a liar, but it is not one universe, but millions, almost as many as the number of human eyes and brains in existence, that awake every morning.

      Also a good translation and yes, the word “univers” is here again with its translation as “universe”

      About your post now.

      I’m no Proust scholar either. I know that Proust knew Freud and that Freud didn’t like Proust’s books.
      I think you’re missing two important references. Proust was influenced by Bergson’s philosophy (Time and Free Will / Matter and Memory) I haven’t read him, I can’t tell you more. And he was influenced by Impressionist paintings, as Elstir proves it.

      Plus, about time travel and all that, let’s not forget his time is the time of major science fiction books by HG Wells and Jules Verne (Journey to the Center of the Earth, A Voyage in a Balloon, From the Earth to the Moon) I don’t know if Proust enjoyed them or not but he knew about them, that’s for sure.

      And then, there’s the word “univers” in French which has, I think, a broader meaning that “universe” in English. I’m not an English native speaker but I understand “universe” as mostly the real notion of “outer space”. The word used in physics.
      In French, “univers” isn’t as straightforward.
      “bienvenue dans mon univers” => Welcome to my world
      C’est mon univers => it’s my environment, my home, my realm, my expertise
      Je viens de cet univers là ==> this is the background I come from.

      In these two quotes, “univers” is intended as “universe” but in the second one, it also means “millions of personal quotidians”

      The Captive and the Fugitive are the two books I like the least. They are stiffling. And I always associate The Captive with The Police’s song Every breath you t


  1. March 31, 2023 at 7:22 pm

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