CP 03024/en

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This page is a translated version of the page CP 03024 and the translation is 100% complete.

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Marcel Proust to Madame Scheikévitch [shortly after Wednesday 3 November 1915]

(Click on the link above to see this letter and its notes in the Corr-Proust digital edition, including all relevant hyperlinks.)


To Madame Scheikévitch

Madame, you wanted to know what became of Mme Swann as she got older. It’s quite difficult to summarize for you. I can tell you that she became more beautiful: “This was mainly the result of what happened during her mid-life, when after a period of time Odette had discovered, or invented for herself, her own personal look, an unalterable “character”, a “style” of beauty; and on her disjointed features - which for so long, prey to the dangerous and futile vagaries of the flesh, taking on years for the briefest of moments, and at the slightest fatigue, a sort of fleeting old age, had composed in her for better or worse, according to her mood and her state of health, a dishevelled, changeable, formless and charming face - had now bestowed on her this fixed type, a sort of “eternal youth[2]".

You will see her social circle changing[3]; yet (without knowing the reason until the end) you will still find Mme Cottard[4] there exchanging words with Mme Swann such as: “You’re looking very elegant”, said Odette to Mme Cottard, “Redfern fecit[5]?" “No, you know I always stay loyal to Raudnitz[6]. Besides, it’s just something I’ve had done up.” “Well, well! it’s really smart!” “Guess how much… No, change the first figure![7]" “Oh! it’s very bad of you to give the signal for everyone to leave, I see that my tea party hasn’t been a great success.” “Do try one of these little horrors, they are rather good actually[8]."

But I would prefer to introduce you to some characters that you don’t yet know, one above all who plays the most important role and determines the turn of events[9], Albertine. You will see her when she is still only a “young girl in bloom” in the shadow of whom I spend many happy times in Balbec[10]. Then when I become suspicious of her over trifles, and have my confidence in her restored again by trifles - “because it is a characteristic of love that it make us at the same time more distrustful and more credulous[11]." - I should have left it at that. “The wisest course would have been to consider with curiosity, to possess with delight, that little portion of happiness without which I might have died and never have suspected what it could mean to hearts less difficult to please or more favoured. I should have left, I should have shut myself up in solitude, remained there in harmony with the voice which I had contrived to render loving for an instant, and of which I should have asked nothing more than that it might never address another word to me, for fear lest, by an additional word which from then on could only be different, it might shatter with its dissonance the sensory silence in which, as though through the application of a pedal, there might have survived some tonality of happiness[12]." Yet little by little I tire of her, the idea of marrying her is no longer attractive to me; when, one evening, on our return from one of those dinners at “the Verdurins’ in the country” at which you will finally come to know the true personality of M. de Charlus[13], she tells me as she is saying goodnight to me that the childhood friend whom she had often mentioned to me, and with whom she still kept up an affectionate relationship, was Mlle Vinteuil. You will see the terrible night that I then spend, at the end of which I come in tears to ask my mother’s permission to get engaged to Albertine[14]. Next you see our lives together during our long engagement, the slavery to which my jealousy reduces her, and which, successfully calming my jealousy, causes to evaporate, or so I think, any desire to marry her[15]. But one day when the weather is so fine that, thinking about all the women who pass by, all the journeys that I could take, I am intending upon asking Albertine to leave, Françoise comes into my room and hands me a letter from my fiancée who has decided to break it off with me and has left that very morning. It was what I thought I had wanted! but I was under so much suffering that I was obliged to promise myself that by the same evening a way would be found to make her come back[16]. “A moment ago I had thought that that was what I had wanted. And seeing how much I had deceived myself, I understood how suffering can reach much deeper into our psychology than the best psychologist, and the knowledge that the elements from which our soul is formed is given to us not through the subtle perceptions of our intelligence - hard, glittering, strange, like a suddenly crystallized salt - but by the abrupt reaction of pain[17]." In the days that follow I can barely take more than a few steps into my room, “I tried not to brush against the chairs, to not notice the piano, nor any of the objects that she had used and all of which, in the private language that my memories had taught them, seemed to be seeking to give me a new translation of her departure. I sank down into an armchair, I could not remain in it, because I had only ever sat in it when she was still there; and so at every moment there was one or more of those innumerable and humble selves that compose our personality which would have to be told of Albertine’s departure and which must be made to hear the words that were as yet unknown to it: “Albertine has gone.[18]." “And so for every action I might make, however trivial, and which up until then had been suffused with the blissful atmosphere of her presence, I was obliged, at renewed cost, with the same pain, to begin all over again the apprenticeship of separation. Then the competition of other forms of life… As soon as I was conscious of this, I was panic-stricken. This calm which I had just enjoyed was the first apparition of that great intermittent force which was now going to wage war in me against grief, against love, and would ultimately get the better of them[19]." This is all about the act of forgetting but this page is already half filled up so I will have to pass over all that if I want to tell you about the end. Albertine does not come back, I begin to wish for her death so that no one else can possess her. “How could Swann have believed in the past that had Odette perished, the victim of an accident, he would have regained, if not his happiness then at least some calm by the suppression of suffering. The suppression of suffering! Could I really have believed that, have believed that death merely strikes out what exist[20]." I learn of the death of Albertine.

For the death of Albertine to be able to eliminate my suffering, the shock would have had to have killed her not only outside of myself, as it had done, but within me. There, she had never been more alive. In order to enter into us, another person must take on the form, bend themselves to the framework of Time; appearing to us only in successive moments, never being able to reveal to us more than one aspect of themselves at a time, or present us with more than a single photograph of themselves. A great weakness no doubt for a person to consist only of a collection of moments; a great strength also: they are a product of memory, and our memory of a certain moment is not informed of everything that has happened since; this moment which it has recorded still endures, and along with it lives the person whose form is outlined there. A disintegration moreover which not only bring the dead back to life but multiplies them. When I had reached the point of being able to bear the grief of losing one of those Albertines, it all began again with another, with a hundred others. So that what until then had constituted the sweetness of my life, the perpetual rebirth of moments from the past, became its torment[21]. (Different times, seasons). I wait until summer is over, then autumn. But the first frosts recall other memories so cruel that then, like an invalid (who sees things from the point of view of his body, his chest and his cough, but in my case mentally) I felt that what I had still to dread most for my grief, for my heart, was the return of winter. Associated as it was to all of the seasons, in order for me to lose the memory of Albertine I should have had to forget them all, only to learn them all over again like a stroke victim learning to read again. Only the actual death of my own self would have consoled me for hers. But one’s own death is nothing so extraordinary, it is consummated every day in spite of ourselves[22].

Since, merely by thinking about her, I brought her back to life, her infidelities could never be those of a dead person; the moment when she had committed them became the present moment, not only for her but for that one of my evoked “selves” who was thinking about her. So that no anachronism could ever separate the indissoluble couple, where with each new culprit a still contemporaneous and jealous lover was immediately paired[23]. After all it is no more absurd to regret that a dead woman does not know that she has not succeeded in deceiving us, than it is to hope that our name will be known in two hundred years’ time. What we feel is the only thing that exists for us, and we project it into the past, or into the future, without allowing ourselves to be stopped by the fictitious barriers of death[24].

And when my strongest memories no longer brought her back to me, it was the small insignificant things that had that power. Because memories of love are no exception to the general laws of memory, which themselves are governed by Habit which weakens everything. And so what best reminds us of a person is precisely what we had forgotten, because it was of no importance[25].

Little by little I began to submit to the forces of forgetting, that powerful instrument of adaptation to reality, that destroyer in us of this surviving past which is in constant contradiction with it. Not that I no longer loved Albertine. But already I was no longer in love with her as I was during the final days, but as in the earliest days of our love. Before forgetting her altogether, before attaining my initial indifference, like a traveller who returns by the same route to the point where he started, I would have to traverse in the opposite direction all the feelings through which I had passed. But these stages do not appear to us as immovable. While one is stopped at one of them, one has the illusion that the train is setting off again, but in the direction of the place from which one has come, as one did the first time. Such is the cruelty of memory[26].

Albertine had nothing she could reproach me for. We can only be faithful to what we remember, and we can only remember what we have known. My new self, while it grew up in the shadow of the old, the old that had died, had often heard the other speak of Albertine. Through the stories of that moribund self, it believed that it knew her, loved her. But it was only a second hand affection[27].

Like certain pieces of good fortune, there are also pieces of misfortune which come to us too late, and can no longer assume the magnitude they would have had for us a little earlier[28]. By the time I learned this I was already consoled. And there was no reason to be surprised by it. Regret really is a physical malady, but between physical maladies we must distinguish those that only act on the body by the intermediary of memory. In the last case the prognosis is generally favourable. After a certain period of time a patient who is suffering from cancer will be dead. It is very rarely that the grief of an inconsolable widower is not healed after a period of time[29].

Alas Madame, I have run out of paper just as it was getting rather good!

Your Marcel Proust

[30] [31]


  1. In a letter of [2 or 3 November 1915], Proust announces to Marie Scheikévtch, who is in mourning for a brother fallen at the front (see CP 02892; Kolb, XIV, no. 3), that he is going to send her "in the next few days" a copy of Du côté de chez Swann in which he has "attempted to summarize for [her] on the blank pages [...] an episode entirely different from the rest and the only one that at this moment might find in [her] shattered heart some affinities of pain" (CP 03020; Kolb, XIV, no. 132). This letter-dedication must therefore have been sent shortly after 3 November 1915. The facsimile after which we have reviewed the transcription is published in Lettres à Madame Scheikévitch (see under the title "Publications antérieurs" (Previous Publications) in Informations). [PK, FL, NM, FP]
  2. This dedication is for the most part composed of quotations selected by Proust from his rough draughts, between which he intersperses quick summaries or paraphrases of the plot. Note the ambiguity of the "I", compared with Odette, Mme Cottard, Albertine or Charlus, who are all well presented as characters. Here Proust appears to have before his eyes a proof sheet of the second volume, printed by Grasset in June 1914 (NAF 16761, sheet 43, col. 4-5): he changes the introductory sentence ("But that was due to the fact that upon reaching her mid-life she was finally..."), after which it follows the text faithfully. See RTP, I, 606. [NM]
  3. Odette's salon, limited to officials of ministries, takes on a new life during the Dreyfus affair (RTP, III, 141-144). [FL]
  4. If Odette invites the Cottards so frequently it is because she is the doctor's mistress. This revelation is mentioned several times in the novel (RTP, I, 507 and II, 625). But the corresponding paperole, fallen out of the exercise book, was only published for the first time in 1983: after Cottard's death "a correspondence, however cold in tone it might have been but full of small facts that the doctor had explained to her differently, crushed Mme Cottard by revealing to her that her husband had never ceased to keep up, at fixed intervals, a relationship with Odette. [...] He had known her in her early youth, when she herself did not know many people (it was he who had introduced her to the Verdurins later on). Every time he gave her a little sum of money and had remained with her as an old client, at a price that was in itself desultory, even when she had become a great coquette, then Mme Swann, then Mme de Forcheville, and then when the Duc de Guermantes [had] lavished millions on her" (see Denise Mayer, "Les caractères immortels", Commentaire, 1983/4, no. 22, p. 373-378; quotation p. 374-375). [NM]
  5. Redfern & Sons, British couture house, "dressmakers by appointment to all the royal courts of Europe. Furs. 242, rue de Rivoli, Paris. Branches at Aix-les-Bains, Summer and Winter at Nice, Cannes, Monte-Carlo." (Back cover of Tout-Paris, 1894). [PK, FL, NM]
  6. There were two maisons Raudnitz: that of Ernest, the brother, 8, rue Royale; the sisters managed Raudnitz et Cie, 21, place Vendôme. Tout-Paris, 1904, p. 65. [PK, FL, NM]
  7. Proust had before him the Grasset proof sheet no. 42 from June 1914, col. 8. The phrase: "Du reste c'est un retapage" (Besides, it’s just something I’ve had done up) is not printed there; so the author must have copied it from a manuscript addition. See RTP, I, 588-589. [NM]
  8. Proust is not following the text of the Grasset proof sheet no. 42, col. 8 word for word here, and the quotation includes a phrase that is not printed in it: "Prenez donc encore un peu de ces petites saletés[-]là, c'est très bon" (Do try one of these little horrors, they are rather good actually). This is a fresh indication that the revision of the 1914 proofs was already well underway. At that time this passage (see RTP, I, 593) and the previous one (see RTP, I, 588-589) were still contiguous: Proust later moved it into an "insertion" of several pages. [NM]
  9. The expression "péripétie" (peripetia) relates to the poetics of tragic drama, such as the "episode" where Proust sets out the story of Albertine. See his letter of [shortly after 12 December 1919] to André Chaumeix: "it is the recollection of this episode [the scene at Montjouvain] that arouses the jealousy of the narrator [...] leading to what in the theatre is known as peripetia" (CP 03988; Kolb, XVIII, no. 308). [NM]
  10. Allusion to the first stay in Balbec. By November 1915 there now existed only two stays at Balbec, and not three as originally, the first being without the appearance of the young girls. [NM]
  11. Here Proust has opened Cahier 46 at f. 81r, and copied out the addition from the margin: "N’est-ce pas d’ailleurs le propre de l’amour de nous rendre à la fois plus défiant et plus crédule" (Because is it not a characteristic of love that it makes us at the same time more distrustful and more credulous) (see Julie André,"Le Cahier 46 de Marcel Proust : transcription et interprétation", Université Paris Sorbonne nouvelle, 2009; cf. Cahier IV, f. 127r et RTP, III, 227, where the adjectives are in the plural). For the "trifles" see also Cahier 46, f. 85r, the "petits riens morbides pour mon être prédisposé" (the small trifles that became morbid to my predisposed self). [NM]
  12. This passage was copied from Cahier 46, f. 81v and already featured in a clause about Maria in Cahier 64 at f. 82r (see the note by Antoine Compagnon, RTP, III, 1241-1242). So Proust's memo note in Cahier 64: "place here the phrase from the first volume tonality as if by means of some pedal the tonality of happiness" suggests a more important genetic precedence. Indeed we already find the passage, in a fuller form, at the end of the scene of Mama reading in "Combray". It features on two typed pages of the primitive typescript of 1909 (NAF 16733, "Second" typescript, f. 80r and 81r). For the definitive text in SG II, see RTP, III, 229. [NM]
  13. Was Proust hesitating over the meeting place between Charlus and Jupien, which would not yet have taken place at the time of the second stay at Balbec? Or perhaps he thought rather that "addressing Mme Scheikévitch", we was "loath to allude" to this scabrous episode? See A. Compagnon, RTP, III, 1242, note 1. [NM]
  14. The passages to which Proust was alluding (return from a dinner "in the country", that is to say with the Verdurins at Raspelière, Albertine's involuntary confession, the hero's despair) are narrated at the end of Cahier 72 and at the start of Cahier 53, numbered respectively as Cahier "no. IV" and Cahier "no. V" of the "Episode". See particularly Cahier 53, f. 1f-4r. [NM]
  15. Proust is summarizing here the broad features of Albertine's captivity, developed in Cahiers 53, 73 et 55, that is Cahiers "no. V", "no. VI" and "no. VII" of the "Episode". [NM]
  16. See Cahier 55, f. 42r-46r. Cf. III, 911-915 and La Fugitive, Cahiers d’Albertine disparue, ed. by N. Mauriac Dyer, Le Livre de poche "classique", 1993, p. 7-8. [NM]
  17. See Cahier 55, folios 47r-48r, which Proust had copied out and condensed at the same time (cf. La Fugitive, Cahiers d’Albertine disparue, op. cit., p. 7-8). This passage appeared in 1922 at the transition between La Prisonnière (Sodome et Gomorrhe III) and La Fugitive (Sodome et Gomorrhe IV), and Proust would still be working on it on the typescript of "Albertine disparue". Its source was identified, as were most of the following passages, by Kazuyoshi Yoshikawa in his thesis "Études sur la genèse de La Prisonnière d’après des brouillons inédits", Université de Paris-Sorbonne, 1976 (see v. I, p. 8-12 and v. II, Appendix, p. 344-351). [PK, FL, NM]
  18. See Cahier 55, f. 51r (K. Yoshikawa, thesis op. cit., v. I, p. 10-11). Cf. RTP, IV, 13-14. [PK, FL, NM]
  19. See Cahier 55, f. 56r. The bottom half of the page was subsequently cut out by Proust and glued into Cahier "mise au net" XII, f. 40r (after "autres formes de la..."; see K. Yoshikawa, thesis op. cit., Appendix, v. II, p. 345). Cf. RTP, IV, 31. [PK, FL, NM]
  20. In this quotation Proust summarizes then recopies a two page passage from Cahier 55 that comes after the actual folio 61, pages that he will later cut out and glue into Cahier XII (f. 73r-74r; see K. Yoshikawa, thesis op. cit., Appendix, v. II, p. 345-346). Cf. RTP, IV, 57. On Swann's desires see RTP, I, 349. [PK, FL, NM]
  21. Here Proust is taking two pages from Cahier 55 which he will later glue into Cahier XII, f. 79-80. He has not put it in quotation marks although the copy is frequently word for word (see K. Yoshikawa, thesis op. cit., Appendix, v. II, p. 346-347). Cf. RTP, IV, 60. [PK, FL, NM]
  22. The painful return of "different times, season", is described at length in Cahier 55 starting at f. 62; it is worked around previously written fragments such as the Goncourt pastiche (f. 63-78) and is taken up again from f. 82. Most of it will be cut out and glued into Cahier XII, like this fragment copied out in the letter-dedication ("alors, comme un malade, se plaçant, lui, au point de vue de sa poitrine et de sa toux […] elle se consomme malgré nous chaque jour") (then, like an invalid, who sees things from the point of view of [his body,] his chest and his cough [...] it is consummated every day in spite of ourselves), which was originally to be found after f. 93 of Cahier 55 (Cahier XII, reverse of paper glued into f. 98). Cf. RTP, IV, 65-66. [PK, FL, NM]
  23. See Cahier 56, f. 1v (K. Yoshikawa, thesis op. cit., Appendix, v. II, p. 347-348). Cahier 56 is the last of the series of Cahiers about the "Episode" that Proust makes use of (no. "VIII"). Once again we note that he has not placed the text between quotation marks. Cf. RTP, IV, 72. [PK, FL, NM]
  24. See Cahier 56, the page which was originally to be found after f. 18, and which Proust later cut out and glued into Cahier "mise au net" XIII, f. 33 (K. Yoshikawa, thesis op. cit, Appendix, v. II, p. 348). Once again we notice that Proust has omitted quotation marks. Cf. RTP, IV, 109, and var. b. [PK, FL, NM]
  25. Once again, omitting quotation marks, Proust is adapting and recopying a passage from Cahier 56: "Most Capital / When I write about the loosening of ties or something similar (or even somewhere else) say: Because in the case of love memories are no exception to the general laws of remembrance, which is itself governed by the laws of habit. Since everything is weakened by it what recalls a person to us most is precisely that which we have forgotten (forgotten because it was insignificant and which we have therefore invested with all its power)" (verso of second sheet following on after f. 8 of Cahier 56, transferred into Cahier XIII, f. 2). All of it has been crossed out because it has been used elsewhere, as can be seen by an additional note: "I put that provisionally about Gilberte in a previous volume / maybe it won't stay there." We actually find it today at the beginning of "Noms de pays: le pays" (RTP, II, 4). The passage, printed in the first Gallimard proofs (sheet no. 17), had been added in Proust's handwriting on the Grasset proof sheet no. 44 of the second volume (sheet no. 21, private collection; see Pyra Wise, "Le généticien en mosaïste", Genesis, 2013, no. 36). We recall that Proust copied out certain passages in the present letter-dedication from the corrected Grasset proof sheet no. 42 of the same series (see n7 and n8): perhaps the idea of transferring this passage from Albertine to Gilberte occurred to him when he was writing this dedication? Even before the publication of À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs Proust nevertheless repeated the passage about the "general laws of memory" in relation to Albertine. (Cahier XIII, paperole at f. 37r ; RTP, Pléiade, ed. Clarac and Ferré, III, 1105, note 1 of p. 531). We do not know if in the end he would have retained the duplication. The insertions on the carbon typescript of "Albertine disparue" kept in the Bibliothèque nationale are not in Proust's hand, despite what is suggested in RTP, IV, 113 var. a. [NM]
  26. Here once again Proust is copying out without quotation marks most of f. 32r-33r of Cahier 56 (K. Yoshikawa, thesis op. cit., Appendix, v. II, p. 348-350). Cf. RTP, IV, 138-139. [PK, FL, NM]
  27. This passage was drafted in autumn 1914 in Cahier "Venuste", according to his letter CP 02830 to Reynaldo Hahn (see n6). Proust takes it up again here from the subsequent Cahier 56 f. 56 (K. Yoshikawa, thesis op. cit., Appendix, v. II, p. 350); a page that was then cut in two, see Cahier XIV, f. 119, on the back of the glued paper: "Albertine had nothing to reproach her friend for; the one who usurped the name was merely his inheritor. We can only be faithful to what we remember, and we can only remember what we have known. My new self, while it grew up in the shadow of the old, the old that had died, had often heard it speak of Albertine; through the stories it heard from that moribund self, it believed that it knew her, loved her; but it was only a second hand affection." Cf. RTP, IV, 175. [PK, FL, NM]
  28. See Cahier 56, f. 118r: "Like certain pieces of good fortune, there are also pieces of misfortune which come to us too late, and can no longer assume the magnitude they would have had for us a little earlier." Cf. RTP, IV, 181. [PK, FL, NM]
  29. See Cahier 56, f. 104v. The bottom half of the sheet was transferred into Cahier XIV, f. 108r (K. Yoshikawa, thesis op. cit., Appendix, v. II, p. 350-351). Cf. RTP, IV, 222-223. [PK, FL, NM]
  30. Translation notes. Because of potential copyright issues I have made my own translations of passages from La Recherche.
 Unlike the “definitive” Pléiade text there are several different English translations in different editions so it has not been possible to include page references for the quoted passages.
  31. Contributors: Yorktaylors