Friday, 24 August 2012

The Captive, Post Two. (a short one this time)

The Captive - Marcel Proust: Post Two

One of the most effective scenes in The Captive is one in which Marcel, who rarely leaves his room, imagines the sounds of the world outside waking up as a musical composition. This is an excerpt and the whole piece raised some nostalgia for city life. Over a number of pages Proust compares the calls of traders and the sounds on shops opening and carts passing to plainchant, song and symphony. It is a wonderful passage of description, of unseen streets.

"Outside, popular themes skilfully transposed for various instruments, from the horn of the mender of porcelain, or the trumpet of the chair weaver to the flute of the goat driver who seemed, on a fine morning, to be a Sicilian goatherd, were lightly orchestrating the matutinal air, with an "Overture for a Public Holiday." Our hearing, that delicious sense, brings us the company of the street, every line of which it traces for us, sketches all the figures that pass along it, shewing us their colours. The iron shutters of the baker's shop, of the dairy, which had been lowered last night over every possibility of feminine bliss, were rising now like the canvas of a ship which is setting sail and about to proceed, crossing the transparent sea, over a vision of young female assistants. This sound of the iron curtain being raised would perhaps have been my sole pleasure in a different part of the town. In this quarter a hundred other sounds contributed to my joy, of which I would not have lost a single one by remaining too long asleep."

The sense of life being at a distance is reinforced by many mentions of telephone conversations, his desire to visit Venice and yet another reflection on aeroplanes. It all serves to underline the theme of life passing him by as his obsession with Albertine imprisons him in his own jealousy.


  1. your progress is better than I did this year I never really got started oh well always next year to do it ,all the best stu

    1. Well, we won't count the years it sat on my shelves!

  2. It's very evocative, isn't it?

    He's also locked up in his room due to his poor health. I read somewhere that Proust would have wanted to go to the cinema and watch a film but that he was too weak to do it. Our narrator's health declines even if he never truly complains.

    1. Yes. I also read somewhere (perhaps it was one of your posts?) that Proust subscribed to a service where he would listen to live symphonies over the telephone. A very early instance of lo-fi!
      I'm always aware of the distance between Marcel and Marcel Proust. It's tempting to consider them one and the same but there seems to be quite a bit of a gap between them.