I am falling asleep, Marcel says, taking the young girl in his arms

This is another replay from the past. I’m rewriting Proust. (My, such modesty.) I was primarily interested in the narrative situated created when the omniscient narrator gives–or appears to give–the character insights and knowledge he could not possibly have or know.

By the way, has there ever been an omniscient anything on this earth?

Wait, how could we know?  or say?


There was a time when he was always taking long aimless walks, but today it’s different. He has a goal in mind, a date deep in the Combray countryside. The landscape expands as he travels. His parents have returned to Paris in preparation for Madame’s gynecological appointment (though Marcel did not know this), so he’s not pressed to return home early; in fact, he’s rather inclined to stay out for the afternoon, find a spot to settle down in, and read a good book.

He has The Stones of Venice to read, he has his umbrella in case of a sudden downpour, and he has his spyglasses, a neat pair that folds up and fits comfortably in a side pocket. In his novel, Marcel rather forgets to mention how often he kept a pair of opera glasses on his person; how often he used them, peeking across the low hills at lovers in the woods, spying on strangers and casual friends, intimate friends and at times his own lovers. You learn to forgive the great artist his little peccadilloes…and he would tell you he was studying the landscape, the birds, the wind in the willows,  that sort of thing…but Marcel had a bit of the voyeur in him, even at an early age.

In Search of Lost Time tells the incident this way. Marcel has walked out to Montjouvain, the house which was once owned by M. Vinteuil and is now occupied by his daughter, Mademoiselle Vinteuil. M. Vinteuil had recently passed away and his daughter is in deep mourning. Marcel portrays himself as nonchalant about visiting the area: he was fond of the reflections in the small pond next to the house; it was hot; he finds a shady spot on the hill above the house…oh, just with a view into the sitting room window, that’s all…and falls into a deep sleep. No one is around; the countryside is sepulchral.

Thus for Marcel the world is a kind of bedroom; he awakes in time to see Mlle. Vinteuil (insofar as he recognized her) a mere inches away, though in fact in the privacy of her own home, dressed in deep mourning. We had not gone to see her, my mother had not wanted to because of a virtue of hers which alone limited the effects of her goodness; her sense of decency; but she pitied her deeply.

He awakes into a preternatural world of slippery pronouns and antecedents: the world inside the window is open to his consciousness. Mlle. Vinteuil’s friend returns; the scene that follows is cinematic and suffused with a weird intuitive omniscience—for not only does Marcel see too much, he knows too much. We enter a labyrinth.

Imagine a film. It would stage the scene as if for an old Charlie Chaplin silent, not really black-and-white, but tinted, not really silent, but orchestrated: Marcel is peering through his opera glasses, hidden in the pine trees. Fade and cut to an old-fashioned, Victorian interior. There is too much furniture for such a small space. A young woman is pacing about, fussing with a picture. An older woman comes into the room; they embrace in silence; the young woman breaks free, moving to the window. The camera freezes, holds our attention: she is about to close our access to this world.

Subtitle: “No, leave them open, I’m hot.”

As if their steps are choreographed, they move around the room, circling each other. The camera circles the circling women, coming closer as they move together. They embrace again. The older woman kisses Mlle. Vinteuil on the neck; she opens a button. The camera very close here; the two women are fragile, sensual, sexual—just for a brief moment.  Mlle. Vinteuil breaks free, but falls back on the couch; in a semi-predatory way the older woman hovers over the supine figure.

Subtitle: “Oh that picture of my father is looking at us.”

This said softly by Mlle. Vinteuil as the two women and the camera focus on an old M. Vinteuil, shabby and sorrowful. The camera blurs on the picture and clears again on Marcel—who is in fact the person doing the looking. Marcel is deep in thought, but what are those thoughts?

Out of an instinctive generosity and involuntary courtesy she did not speak the premeditated words that she had felt were indispensible to the full realization of her desire. And time and again, deep inside her, a timid and supplicant virgin entreated and forced back a rough and swaggering brawler.

Her scrupulous and sensitive heart did not know what words ought to come to her spontaneously to suit the scene that her senses demanded. She faced far away from her true moral nature as she could to find a language that would fit the depraved girl she wanted to be, but the words she thought that girl would have uttered sincerely seemed false on her own lips.

Now choose:

Marcel is asleep and has dreamt these thoughts he attributes to Mlle. Vinteuil.

Marcel, deeply homosexual himself, is able to enter imaginatively into the situation of Mlle Vinteuil, articulating thoughts she doesn’t quite know she has.

Marcel is an imaginative boy; he’s projecting things that aren’t really there.

Marcel is making reasonable inferences based on the behavior of Mlle. Vinteuil.

There is another realm: the realm of the ‘mind’, the realm of ‘the spirits’, the realm of Geist. Marcel is in touch with it.

The camera watches as Marcel falls back into a sound sleep, a young girl in his arms. He chooses Geist.

Published by extrasimile

define: extra: excess, more than is needed, required or desired; something additional of the same kind. define: simile: a simile is a type of figurative language, language that does not mean exactly what it says, that makes a comparison between two otherwise unalike objects or ideas by connecting them with the words “like” or “as.” The reader can see a similar connection with the verbs resemble, compare and liken. Similes allow an author to emphasize a certain characteristic of an object by comparing that object to an unrelated object that is an example of that characteristic. define: extra: an minor actor in a crowd scene

2 thoughts on “I am falling asleep, Marcel says, taking the young girl in his arms

  1. Yes John, I’d like to write more–more about poetry, fiction, ideas–the whole works. I’d also like to write about Parkinson’s disease. I’ve been diagnosed for eleven years now, so I think I’ m qualified. I stay busy drawing, though–and there is only so much time in a day. And I am very much slower at everything I do–including reading and writing. But maybe with your encouragement I’ll manage to get into a routine that is more productive. You know, I used to write poetry very early in the morning–like 3:30. I don’t want to go there.

  2. That’s most interesting Jim, and well worth reading – whether or not we know Proust – for your reflections on ‘omniscience’: how much does who know what about what Mlle Vinteuil is actually thinking. I remember this vivid passage from the book but I certainly don’t recall seeing all these possibilities in it. Keep reading, keep writing – more please! (Oh, and your sentences are very much shorter than those of Marcel, so that’s a help!).

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