Day Fifty-One: In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, pp. 285-299

From "Like a rare species of shrub..." to "...or failed to recognize a god." 
We begin today "within a budding grove," as it were. Or rather, riding through orchards that have recently lost their blossoms. The narrator's reflections on remembering these orchards when he bought apple branches in Paris the following spring and gazed on the pink buds amid the white blossoms may have given Scott Moncrieff the inspiration for his title for this volume, which Grieve translates more literally.

We learn more about Mme. de Villeparisis, whose familiarity with the arts makes it seem "that she looked upon painting, music, literature, and philosophy as merely the unavoidable accomplishments of any young girl given an aristocratic upbringing and happening to live in a building famous enough to figure on the list of national monuments. She gave the impression of believing that the only paintings worth anything are the ones you inherit." Despite this aristocratic attitude, she is something of a radical. "She was in favor of the Republic; and her only objection against its anticlericalism she expressed as follows: 'I should be as much against being prevented from going to Mass if I wanted to go as I should be against being made to go to Mass if I didn't want to go!'"

On the other hand, she and the narrator have a bit of a falling out over literature. She dismisses his enthusiasm for Chateaubriand, Balzac, and Victor Hugo -- "all of whom had been guests in her parents' house, and whom she herself had even glimpsed" -- in favor of some now-forgotten figures whom she regarded as having "qualities of measured judgment and simplicity in which she had been taught to see the mark of genuine worth." And she quotes Sainte-Beuve to the effect that "one should take the word of people who knew them at first hand and could size them up properly." As Grieve tells us in his note, this is the opposite of Proust's insistence that one should judge the work and not the creator.

As they ride through the countryside, the narrator indulges once again his fantasies about the women he sees there, and reveals that "Bloch had ... opened a whole new era for me by informing me that ... every single one of these girls, from the village girl to the smart lady, was ready and willing to oblige me." But he also reveals that he has learned that inaccessibility is a great sauce to desire, that "beauty is a succession of hypotheses" and that "I have never met in real life any girls as desirable as the ones I saw when in the company of some important personage who baffled all my ingenious attempts to get rid of him." And he recalls once leaping from a carriage in which he was riding with a friend of his father's to chase after a woman he saw in the street, only to find, when he caught up with her, that he was "face-to-face with the aging Mme Verdurin, whom I usually avoided like the plague."

While sightseeing an old church in Carqueville, he spots a village girl who is fishing from a bridge. "It was not only her body I was after, it was the person living inside it, with whom there can be only one mode of touching, which is to attract her attention, and one mode of penetration, which is to put an idea into her mind." And so he contrives a way to mention that he is traveling with "the Marquise de Villeparisis. "I was simultaneously aware that I had lost not only my anxiety at perhaps not being able to see her again, but with it part of my desire to do so.... As happens with physical possession, this forcible insertion of myself into her mind, this disembodied possession of her, had taken away some of her mystery."

But not all of his experiences on these rides are erotic. One is an account of a failed epiphany -- "a feeling of profound bliss, rather like the feeling I had once had from things such as the steeples of Martinville." He has a sensation of déjà vu on seeing three trees "making a pattern that I knew I had seen somewhere before."

I watched the trees as they disappeared, waving at me in despair and seeming to say, "Whatever you fail to learn from us today you will never learn. If you let us fall by this wayside where we stood striving to reach you, a whole part of your self that we brought for you will return forever to nothing."... I never did find out what it was these particular trees had attempted to convey to me, or where it was that I had seen them.... I was as sad as though I had just lost a friend or felt something die in myself, as though I had broken a promise to a dead man or failed to recognize a god.
It's an enigmatic passage at best, especially puzzling because he has already flagged for us the earlier experience with the three steeples that seemed to him truly epiphanic.

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