Chapter I: Grieving and Forgetting, from "How she would hurry to visit me in Balbec...." to "...the ceaseless hope of seeing her walk through the door."
_____Let's begin with one of those marathon sentences:
Perhaps my wealth and the prospect of a dazzling marriage had attracted her; my jealousy had retained her; her kindness, her intelligence, her feelings of guilt or her sheer skill and cunning had led her to accept, and led me to render increasingly harsh, a captivity forged simply by the progress of the inner workings of my mind, but which had none the less had repercussions on Albertine's life, destined through their backlash to pose my psyche new and increasingly painful problems, since it was from my prison that she had escaped in order to kill herself riding a horse which without me she wound have never owned, leaving me, even after her death, with suspicions whose truth, if confirmed, would perhaps be crueller for me than the discovery at Balbec that Albertine had known Mlle Vinteuil, since Albertine would no longer be there to soothe me.Whew! The sentence itself is a chain of causalities, spun out of the narrator's feeling of guilt.
Increasingly, the narrator speaks of the life and death of Albertine as an analogue to fiction: "any single life resembles an improvised experiment in subjective psychology" -- which is an apt description of any work of fiction -- "yet one which at a distance provides the 'plot' of a purely realist novel belonging to to a different reality, a different existence, whose reversals of fortune intervene one after the other to inflect the curve and change to direction of the psychological experiment."
And while the narrator assumes most of the guilt for Albertine's death, he's also willing to trace another chain of causality, starting with his reading a description of the church at Balbec and Swann's praises of it, and even the construction of the hotel in which he stayed. Balbec had not been as he had imagined it. "But in exchange for what the imagination leads us to expect and what we take so much trouble to try to discover, life gives us something that we were far from being able to imagine." And once again, he links Albertine's death to the very beginning of Proust's novel: "it was on account of that good-night kiss from such a stranger that, some years later, I was to suffer just as much as I did as a child when my mother did not come to see me."
He continues to compare his experience with Albertine to his experience with Gilberte, both of whom "were the kind of women who would not have caught the attention of some men who, on the other hand, would have done anything, however crazy, for another kind, who 'left me cold.'" And yet, the experiences with the two of them were quite different: "Starting out from Gilberte, I could have as little imagined Albertine, or the fact that I would love her, as the memory of Vinteuil's sonata could have enabled me to imagine his septet."
He drifts into the realm of might-have-been, recalling the experience with Mme. de Stermaria that helped precipitate him into the relationship with Albertine: "I had suffered so much that I would have given anything to see her again, and it was one of the greatest anxieties which I had ever known that Saint-Loup's arrival had assuaged." And he finally sees the futility of his attempt to possess Albertine -- or, in fact, anyone: "Albertine was poor and obscure, and ought to want to marry me. And yet I had not been able to possess her exclusively. Whatever social conditions prevail, however wise the precautions we take, we can never truly control another person's life."
He finds a particular shock in recognizing that the dead become like fictional characters, that "it is as difficult to return to the idea of what that person's being had experienced as it is difficult, even while memories of their life are still fresh, to think that this person is assimilable to the insubstantial images and memories left by the characters of a novel that we have read."
And he continues to berate himself over his attitude toward her lesbian experiences: "Why had she not told me, 'I do have those inclinations'? I would have yielded, I would have let her indulge them, and even then I would still have embraced her." This passage is almost identical to one that appeared two pages earlier: "Why had she not said to me, 'I am that way inclined'? I would have yielded, I would have allowed her to indulge her inclinations." This is possibly a reflection of the somewhat inchoate state of the manuscript Proust left behind. (In his notes, Peter Collier has just pointed out his deletion of a repeated sentence.) But it can also be intentional: Certainly the narrator has been more intensely obsessed by Albertine's same-sex tendencies than by almost any other aspect of her personality. Here, he is provoked by memories of Albertine's lies about her relationship to Mlle. Vinteuil and his harsh condemnation of lesbianism to her when he first suspected that she and Andrée might have been more than just friends.
Finally, grief betrays him into superstition: "I started to read books about turning tables, I started to believe in the possible immortality of the soul." And he lets himself imagine that she isn't dead, that "like a character in some novel..., she had not wanted me to learn that she had recovered.... I felt coexist within me the certainty that she was dead, and the ceaseless hope of seeing her walk through the door."