Le Temps retrouvé Manuscript

   Most capital, and probably to be put at the very end when I speak about not wanting to die so as to be able to carry out my work.

   During the war Odette will say (capital and if she does not appear I could say Mme  de Forcheville as though retrospectively in parentheses). Perhaps this would be best at the moment of Saint-Loup's death and will make it possible to put that [illegible] in beauty and the criticism of Gregh's idea). [Mme de Forcheville who was no longer obliged to say as when she was the lady in pink "our neighbours the English" and when she was Mme Swann "our friends across the Channel" (put it at the appropriate time), but our allies the English (perhaps simply put the three phrases at the appropriate time without drawing attention to the difference between them, at most in the case of the third one "our Allies the English" as she now said), Mme de Forcheville who had been so pleased... fought alongside the English and said at first "Now Robert knows all the slang expressions of the brave "Tommies" and the most remote "dominions", and he fraternizes just as easily with the general commanding the base as with the humblest "private".]

   Instead of sticking to Mme de Guermantes' humane, realistic, Mérimée and Meilhac language, she, when told that such a death brought honour upon her and must fill her with pride, replied: "I do not feel any sense of honour; I feel only grief. I am only moved and only feel any pleasure when somebody talks to me about him, when they show that they loved him deeply and that he will not be quickly forgotten." Mme de Forcheville said about Robert: "We should not pity him: he died in beauty". Of course such language was naturally that of Odette de Crécy,1 but the idea that it encompassed had been that of the greatest minds during the war. So that I asked myself if, indeed, such a death was to be envied, if  "from the pupil it creates a master", as Barrès says and Gregh:
   "What of those days, those few days more... had he lived...
   What is a little more life next to such glory?"
   But without thinking about it further, which I was putting off for later, whether, from another more profound point of view, such deaths do not have a different meaning, that aspect of over-valuing the work on account of the heroic death of the artist and also the superiority of such a "passage" through life, seemed to me to be terribly frivolous and superficial. It was, in short, when applied to death, the thing that I felt was so false in all circumstances of life, the idea that truth, which can only be extracted by the efforts of the intellect and put down into the work, can be fixed at whim, that there exists a possession other than the spiritual. But the war itself demonstrated the complete opposite. The letters, the writings2 of those who were in the trenches or had come back wounded and who ought to have been, truth be told, automatically placed at a higher level than the verses and writings of those who had lived a mediocre life,  were not dependent in any way on the force of events, but on the aesthetic level at which the author found himself. Those glorious wounded wrote the most idiotic poems with the most outmoded imagery where it was always a case of the Great Dawn, the Dawning of Victory, full of grammatical errors, and not a single idea truly felt, even if the writer was a hero.3 Others,  just as heroic but more intelligent, kept marvellous diaries in the trenches, but no different from the ones they would have kept anywhere else.4 They bring into and they compare to the war the culture that they knew before; while standing on watch they observe the "Rembrandt-like" contrast between light and darkness in the Bois-le Prêtre which reminds them of some particular canvas in the Mauricehuis (check the name). Such culture moreover is sometimes that of neutrals: "I thought of that page where Jean-Christophe", or enemies: "I feel that I can sense the coolness of the wonderful Nymphs' choir of the Rhinemaidens and I have encouraged my men by singing them the sailors' chorus from the first act of Tristan" (just as in the courtroom for the Zola trial Colonel du Patty de Clam, before giving evidence against Pierre Quillard who had just been brought out and whose works he knew by heart, recited in a loud voice as he passed in front of him the first lines of La Fille aux mains coupées (authentic fact I think concerning Pierre Quillard). Moreover they call the army that they see a panorama and conclude by going into raptures about the woods: "When all is said and done it is fairly insignificant in the face of Nature, just a European war". (A point of view that clearly might be outmoded, but all the same is superior to that of all those young sons of bankers who have no thoughts for anything else but what is going on around them, who take hardly any part in everyday life and as soon as they read in the papers that millions of men are involved think they have the souls of epic poets, and feel a dreadful transformation in themselves caused by "the prodigious days in which we are living".) I do not know what Saint-Loup might have been able to make of his life, and how he would have enjoyed it, if the pleasures that preceded his death were more profound and more beautiful. But for certain people life is the only means, the only laboratory in which to realize certain experiences of truth, the result of which - a work of art - will survive the person who has realized it, is more important than his life, but yet needed that person for it to be achieved. Certainly frivolous people think that there is an equal balance between a man who has a fine house, singular habits, noble friendships, who leaves behind a fine image of himself, and the shabbily dressed writer, renting a small middle-class apartment, and who just carries out his work. But it is because they do not understand what the essence of truth consists of. So a "beautiful" death is only a larger frame, more noble than a "beautiful" life, but does not exist for the artist who has to discover his own truth. An interesting life, that is what pleases contemporaries and even those critics of posterity who are just as frivolous as the contemporaries and who take the man into account, the man with the moustache who I saw in Bergotte instead of occupying themselves only with the divine old man. That is the perverted sort of distraction that we find in Sainte-Beuve's Lundis. As for Barrès, it was legitimate that, like all great writers, the war was for him (among other things) a new theme for the things that had occupied his mind for some time. Just as Kipling has made the forest of Argonne into a sort of jungle in which "the Boche" are differentiated from the Allies in the same way as the Bandar-Logs, the Monkeys, are from Bagheera the Panther, and Wells used the war as a mechanism to explore future times and a pretext for science fiction, for Barrès it was an occasion to develop [some text missing] and the highest spiritual forces in the open sky of Lorraine and to depict El Grecos, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz with the gods on high and the mortals down below, and his Amitiés françaises. And in this he has shown the continuity of his genius, to which the genius of France, and perhaps of Destiny, have in part complied. Yet perhaps some excess of mildness may have been the result of a certain excess of harshness in the early part of his life. Because when one makes a habit of not being, out of political passion, completely honest with oneself, or even when one is no longer inspired by ill-will, it is too easy to believe in the lofty spirituality of a native home that no longer provides shelter, that Racine's work is necessarily better than that of a modern writer who might be his equal, because of  "all the noble souls whose thoughts have subsequently come through him", and that the prose of a mediocre but heroically fallen writer acquires from that day on a magisterial beauty (there is no need to finish this section there. It could go after the quotation from Cahen - opposite the Rembrandt and in parenthesis). It is only in this way that original geniuses accommodate themselves to the themes that they have discovered in the war etc... And when I have finished about Barrès I will say: But when he thinks that death can - and what I say about Barrès at the end of this section will actually be (if there was not the point of view that I did not have to deal with yet and did not concern Time found again which was for later) - as frivolous as those who think that a beautiful life, etc...

   Those heroes may well have seen extraordinary things, if they had a banal mind they wrote false pages about things that were true. What they had apparently endured, be it something very moving, the death of a friend or a son, they were unable to draw any truth from it. Only those minds which are incapable of drawing out that truth will find that it is there that "sensibility" lies. Phrases by the writer such as "my poor little one is sleeping down there in the absolute silence" have their effective cause not in the fact itself, but in a literature anterior to those events that the author, in his naivety, in his inability to be severe with himself (which one can divine in his conversation, in his ready-made or imitated expressions: "it is a very select chapel", "the political band of these last ten years") fails to recognize; he believes, because he adopts the form "we are not making literature"5 that what he writes is from real life, when on the contrary it is one of the most banal forms of an anterior literature not a firm rejection of literature. So his ideas are barely changed by an event such as the war, especially an event like the war, which is to say a collective event in which ideas participate more by imitation, by the contagion of feelings that have little in them that is carefully examined or personal.

   Most Capital.
   On Saint-Loup's first leave, the one where I run into him going to Jupien's establishment where he loses his Croix de Guerre, I will put everything that needs to be said about the men who are coming back from the war in the Transvaal, relics, etc., what the wounded in Cabourg had inspired in me on their return from the Marne and who will be better off there than the needless Transvaal. And here I will add, or rather insert, because this will not be the ending of it:
    (I have just spotted Saint-Loup)
   I approached him with a feeling of religious timidity, with that impression of the supernatural that we feel when we are in the close presence of a person struck down with a mortal illness and yet who is still on his feet. It seemed to me that there was something cruel in the "leave" that was granted to combatants and which appeared to be quite natural because habit subtracts from the things we have done a number of times (like [illegible] soldier on leave) the root of the impression and the idea that gives it its real meaning. But for the first ones we think: "They don't want to go back, they will desert".

Expressions for Norpois
when the dice are cast
if we want to win the war
there is a certain friction
the losses are severe
a gentleman who was consul several times has assured me
(this perhaps in the visit to Mme de Villeparisis)
Persons of that stamp
in the full force of the term

   Don't forget that M. de Charlus will say (because one can never predict the future exactly even the most intelligent of men) to Saint-Loup in about 1912: "Don't be in too much of a hurry, I shall apply myself to all that and I promise you as a certainty that nothing whatsoever can prevent you from becoming Erlaucht and Duke in Bavaria at the start of 1915."

1. With a slight air of finesse: it's what is called pluck and it is what the Germans don't have.

2. [crossed out] poems

3. No, it would be better if it was Saint-Loup who wrote all this, in his so-called remarkable letters that Mme de Saint-Loup told me about. Only it must have a very Saint-Loup style. He might say: "Tell Marcel"? He will also read Thus Spake Zarathustra in front of the Boche and whistle the 15th Quartet (put in the appropriate place that he is a musician and a lover of painting).

4. If he writes to me Saint-Loup could say these sorts of things to me only a little less well.

5. Say more succinctly: in a great scene they think they are talking about their own countries, but their words precede not the events that they have witnessed and from which they did not know how to extract the truth, but a literature anterior to them, a literature that they thought was true to life because it affected to disregard style.

From Un inédit de Proust en marge du Temps Retrouvé, André Ferré, Bulletin de la société des amis de Marcel Proust et des amis de Combray, No 5, 1955, pp 9-16.


Return to Front Page

Created 09.12.17