My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Captive & The Fugitive (In Search of Lost Time, Volume V ~ 1923 & 1925) by Marcel Proust continues the French Narrator’s journey in life as he begins in Paris to secretly live with Albertine Simonet, his lover and the young woman he wishes to one day marry.
Proust (likely the unnamed Narrator of The Captive & The Fugitive) wanted nothing more than to be a novelist and he eventually went on to achieve world fame and immortal success with In Search of Lost Time (previously translated as Remembrance of Things Past from the French title À la recherche du temps perdu).
The editors, however, did eventually add Marcel’s name to solidify the Narrator as the author himself in the six volumes that establish In Search of Lost Time:
“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.’ After this I would never allow a member of my family, by calling me ‘darling,’ to rob of their precious uniqueness the delicious words that Albertine uttered to me” (The Captive, Vol. V, p 91).
“My gratitude was even greater when a cyclist brought me a note from her bidding me be patient, and full of the charming expressions that she was in the habit of using. ‘My darling dear Marcel, I return less quickly than this cyclist, whose bike I should like to borrow in order to be with you sooner. How could you imagine that I might be angry or that I could enjoy anything better than to be with you? It will be nice to go out, just the two of us together; it would be nicer still if we never went out except together. The ideas you get into your head! What a Marcel! What a Marcel! Always and ever your Albertine’” (The Captive, Vol. V, pgs 202-203).
In the “Introduction” of In Search of Lost Time, Richard Howard explains of Proust and his un-named protagonist:
“What is narrated is not the Narrator’s life, but his desire to write. Time thwarts this desire, tends it toward a conventional chronology (which must be continually subverted, for what is merely successive is surely lost: only the circle can be retrouvé, a word that means not only regained but rediscovered, recognized, repossessed)—and how many challenges, discouragements, and rivalries must be endured before the desire to write achieves an ultimate triumph” (Vol. I, p xiv).
Proust, himself, would agree with this “other self” who narrates his epic:
“A book is the product of a different self from the one we manifest in our habits, in society, in our vices. If we mean to try to understand this self it is only in our inmost depths, by endeavoring to reconstruct it there, that the quest can be achieved” (Vol. II, p vi).
Proust would also explain further about this concept of a “book” in relation to the “self” and “habit” in The Fugitive:
“At times the reading of a novel that was at all sad carried me suddenly back, for certain novels are like great but temporary bereavements, abolishing habit, bringing us back into contact with the reality of life, but for a few hours only, like a nightmare, since the force of habit, the oblivion it creates, the gaiety it restores through the powerlessness of the brain to fight against it and to re-create the truth, infinitely outweigh the almost hypnotic suggestion of a good book which, like all such influences, has very transient effects” (Vol. V, pgs 757-758).
The Great French Novel (a single novel originally published as separate books), In Search of Lost Time (Volumes I-VI re-published with an updated translation by The Modern Library in 1992) is a major work (and piece of art) in World Literature and without question one of the longest books (excluding Addenda, Notes, Synopsis, etc.) at a total page count of 4,347 pages:
Volume I ~ Swann’s Way (1913) = 606 pages
Volume II ~ Within a Budding Grove (1919) = 730 pages
Volume VI* ~ Time Regained (1927) = 532 pages
*Note* ~ Proust died on November 22, 1922 before the last two volumes (or the last three books) were originally published
Major Characters in The Captive & The Fugitive
Narrator ~ officially un-named but interpreted (and later edited) as the author Marcel
Baron de Charlus (also Baron Palamède de Charlus, and informally as Mémé), who is the younger brother of Duc de Guermantes, and the nephew of Mme de Villeparisis, and Robert de Saint-Loup’s uncle known as Uncle Palamède, and who is a member of the Guermantes family (first introduced as Charles Swann’s confidant in Swann’s Way, Vol. I)
Plot Outline in The Captive & The Fugitive
The Captive (pgs 1-562)
- The World of Potentiality vs the World of Contingent Reality (p 21)
- Memory & Youth (p 25)
- Jealousy, & Ignorance vs Knowledge (p 28)
- Poetical Reality (p 34)
- M de Charlus’s plan to possess Charlie Morel (p 58)
- “an album of Elstir’s work, one of Bergotte’s books, or Vinteuil’s sonata” (p 65)
- “the charming captive” (p 85)
- “aerodromes” (p 132)
- Albertine asleep: “as soothing as that of a garden still silent before the break of day” (p 146)
- The Dream World (p 155)
- A Symphony made of Street Sounds (p 175)
- “the weighing of souls” (p 176-177)
- Midinettes (p 224)
- “There is no such thing as a beautiful prison” (p 229)
- Bergotte’s Death (p 258)
- “Little patch of yellow wall” (p 245)
- Charles Swann’s Death (p 263)
- “fas et nefas” (p 290)
- The Dreyfus Case (p 313)
- Vinteuil’s sonata in a “new guise” (p 332)
- The (False) Death of Mme de Villeparisis (p 391)
- Odette’s Orgies (p 400)
- Morel openly rebukes the Baron (p 424)
- The Baron is Disgraced (p 425)
- Fugitive Memories (p 447)
- “the tempting phantom of that invisible Venice” (p 551)
- “an ineffable dream” (p 558)
The Fugitive (pgs 563-936)
Chapter One: Grieving & Forgetting (pgs 563-752)
- “Experimental Faith” (p 568)
- Abduction of a Minor (p 597)
- The Yacht and the Rolls-Royce (p 613)
- The Process of Forgetting (p 622)
- The Suppression of Suffering (p 641)
- Two Letters from Albertine and a telegram (p 644)
- A Succession of Moments (p 660)
- A Letter from Aimé concerning Albertine (p 695)
- A Second Letter from Aimé concerning Albertine (p 707)
Chapter Two: Mademoiselle de Forcheville (pgs 753-843)
- The Cruelty of Memory (p 754)
- The Collective Venus (p 769)
- How Gilberte Swann got her new surname (p 776)
- The Newcomer (p 804)
- Andrée’s Revelation concerning Albertine’s Past (p 810)
- Motives (p 837)
Chapter Three: Sojourn in Venice (pgs 844-890)
- Mme de Villeparisis and her lover (p 855)
- A Telegram (p 869)
- Devotion to Youth (p 873)
- St Mark’s (p 875)
- Flying Angels (p 878)
- The Exiled Piazza (p 882)
- O Sole Mio (p 886)
- A Letter with Unexpected News (p 889)
Chapter Four: New Aspects of Robert de Saint-Loup (pgs 891-936)
- A Hundred Million Francs (p 898)
- Two Marriages (p 905)
- The New Duchesse de Guermantes (p 909)
- The Muse of History (p 919)
- A Different Saint-Loup (p 934)
Thoughts on Themes Found in The Captive & The Fugitive
Memory is a leitmotif spanning the entirety of In Search of Lost Time, and in The Captive (1923) and in The Fugitive (1925), two books placed into a single volume (Volume V), Proust continues to explore and expand on how memory shapes and redefines reality and truth (including the tricks in one’s perceptions which define one’s understanding of the imagined self). Also, in Swann’s Way (1913) and in Within a Budding Grove (1919) and in The Guermantes Way (1920 & 1921), Proust discusses the importance of Places and Names, and after several volumes returns to these central ideas to directly link their effects on memory.
“In these return journeys along the same line from a place to which one will never return, when one recognizes the names and the appearance of all the places through which one passed on the outward journey, it happens that, while one’s train is halted at one of the stations, for an instant one has the illusion of setting off again, but in the direction of the place from which one has come, as on the first occasion. The illusion vanishes at once, but for an instant one had felt oneself being carried towards it once more: such is the cruelty of memory” (Vol. V, pgs 753-754).
Proust digs deeper into his subconsciousness and consciousness as he finally understands the limitations of his memory on reality and desire, and how memory is not to be trusted, not meant to be absolute and resolute, but faulty and imperfect, as much as any human life can be in a world where truth from individual and collective memory is defined by a multitude of perceptions built brick by brick from ideologies constructed out of beliefs founded from religions and politics raised from cultures that prosper from the majority strengths or dwindle from the weaknesses suffering in the minority in any given geographical region. Memory, as Proust declares, is not all-powerful:
“And once again I discovered, first of all that memory has no power of invention, that it is powerless to desire anything else, let alone anything better, than what we have already possessed; secondly, that it is spiritual, in the sense that reality cannot provide it with the state which it seeks, and lastly that, stemming from a dead person, the resurrection that it incarnates is not so much that of the need to love, in which it makes us believe, as that of the need for the absent person” (Vol. V, p 748).
Often formed from one’s experiences and longing of more such stronger experiences, desire is in itself an individual and collective illusion, crafted by what has been known (the past) by what is further expected (the future) but what cannot be currently grasped (the present); hence the nature of desire (and, as a result, suffering), because if we claim and conquer what we so desire, human nature dictates desire (for that particular person or thing or goal) shall predictably vanish and be replaced by new desires (for new people, things, or goals). Therefore, to escape the torments of memory (or even its pleasures which will forever remain in the past and, thereby, cause suffering because the past cannot be repeated or reclaimed no matter how hard one tries) one should flee the torments of desire (which combine three important points in Time & Space: Past, Present, Future):
“So that if happiness, or at least the absence of suffering, can be found, it is not the satisfaction, but the gradual reduction and the eventual extinction of desire that one should seek… 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…
“We believe that we can change the things around us in accordance with our desires—we believe it because otherwise we can see no favourable outcome. We do not think of the outcome which generally comes to pass and is also favourable: we do not succeed in changing things in accordance with our desires, but gradually our desires change. The situation that we hoped to change because it was intolerable becomes unimportant to us” (Vol. V, pgs 607-609).
Such is the stuff of maturity and adulthood.
Proust, however, understands the role of memory, often shaped and renewed by desire, and how memory, albeit a tool for suffering, can be a tool for shaping and renewing existence(s) in a reality no longer found in the present, except voiced by our very words from our imagined thoughts (which is also the act of storytelling, a truly mythological act of human existence and survival):
“It could have been arrested only by the appeal of some reality that addressed itself to my imagination, as might have done, this evening, a picture of that Venice of which I had thought so much during the afternoon, or some general element, common to several aspects and truer than they, which, of its own accord, never failed to awake in me an inner spirit, habitually dormant, the ascent of which to the surface of my consciousness filled me with joy…
“I understood that what Brichot, perhaps without realizing it, preferred in the old drawing-room, more than the large windows, more than the gay youth of his hosts and their faithful, was that unreal aspect (which I myself could discern from certain similarities between La Raspelière and the Quai Conti) of which, in a drawing-room as in everything else, the actual, external aspect, verifiable by everyone, is but the prolongation, the aspect which has detached itself from the outer world to take refuge in our soul, to which it gives as it were a surplus-value, in which it is absorbed into its habitual substance, transforming itself—houses that have been pulled down, people long dead, bowls of fruit at suppers which we recall—into that translucent alabaster of our memories of which we are incapable of conveying the colour which we alone can see, so that we can truthfully say to other people, when speaking of these things of the past, that they can have no conception of them, that they are unlike anything they have seen, and that we ourselves cannot inwardly contemplate without a certain emotion, reflecting that it is on the existence of our thoughts that their survival for a little longer depends, the gleam of lamps that have been extinguished and the fragrance of arbours that will never bloom again” (Vol. V, pgs 378-379).
The illusion of truth which shapes Proust’s reality and, thereby, shapes his thoughts and memories which reshapes Proust’s truth and again reshapes his reality through his memories and thoughts continues to haunt and torment Proust, already a sever neurotic, into a mythological ouroboros, a manifested paradox speaking to the nature of human existence and its individuation process, ever-seeking to make sense of the soul and infinity and how we can be made whole on this journey we call Life, “the fraternity of travel”:
“Either swift-moving and bent over the mythological wheel of her bicycle, strapped on rainy days inside the warrior tunic of her waterproof which moulded her breasts, her head turbaned and dressed with snakes, when she spread terror through the streets of Balbec; or else on the evenings when we had taken champagne into the woods of Chantepie, her voice provocative and altered, her face suffused with warm pallor, reddened only on the cheekbones, and when, unable to make it out in the darkness of the carriage, I drew her into the moonlight in order to see it more clearly, the face I was now trying in vain to recapture, to see again in a darkness that would never end… And these moments of the past do not remain still; they retain in our memory the motion which drew them towards the future—towards a future which has itself become the past—drawing us along in their train… the fraternity of travel” (Vol. V, p 659).
Regardless of these unanswerable, ever-moving questions of the past, the present, the future and how events within them all shape and reshape reality, the reader has to ask: How much of Volume V, containing the two novels The Captive (1923) and The Fugitive (1925), is real? Imagined? Legend?
And one more thing: Does the reality of life unfold and take shape in the memory, the soul, alone?
Now on to Proust’s Volume VI, Time Regained (1927).
The American novelist CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, & he’s a member of the Hemingway Society, Club Med, and the Royal Society of Literature. He’s also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) based in London.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), The Mystic’s Smile ~ A Play in 3 Acts (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), Little Hometown, America: A Look Back (2020); and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; A Time to Forget in East Berlin; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
You can follow the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 440,000+ followers