Day One Hundred Fifty-Three: The Prisoner, pp. 333-358

From "It was so late that the next morning..." to "...sending the thirst-quenching juice squirting into one's mouth."
Françoise, "convinced that we had spent the night in what she called orgies, duly warned the other servants, in an ironic tone, not to 'wake her highness'." She brings a brisk note of comedy to the narrator's endless mad obsession, though he "fears, that one day Françoise would lose her self-control and speak insolently to Albertine, thus facing me with complications in our life together." Which is pretty ironic in itself, as their life together is already full of complications, largely of the narrator's own feverish imagining. He begins to see their relationship in diplomatic and military terms: "Albertine had never voiced any threat to break with me; but a system of impressions had led me to believe that she was thinking of doing so, just as the French government had believed of the Germans."
Preparations for war, which the most false of all proverbs recommends as a way of ensuring peace, in fact create the belief in each of the adversaries that the other wants to break off relations, a belief which brings about that very breakdown, and then, once it has taken place, the further belief on each side that it was the other side who wanted it.
He still clings to the fantasy of possession, looking in on the sleeping Albertine and reflecting "that this motionless, living semicircle, in which a whole human life was suspended, was the only thing that held any value for me, and that it was there, under my power, in my possession." But at other times he acknowledges the futility of possession, for it deprives her of the vitality that made him want to possess her, turning her into "a dutiful and tedious captive." He recalls her freedom in Balbec, and observes, "Because the wind no longer billowed in her garments, because, above all, I had cut her wings, she had ceased to be a Victory, she was a heavy slave of whom I wished to be rid."

She has become so docile that thoughts of her relationship to Léa and Mlle. Vinteuil trouble him less, so that he "often asked Albertine to play for me, without its making me suffer, some of Vinteuil's music." And he finds in the music a reproduction of "that inner, extreme point of sensation which is the thing that causes us the specific ecstasy from time to time," a "higher, purer, truer" emotion that evokes "the particular pleasure which I had sometimes experienced in my life, before the spires of Martinville, for example, or certain trees on a road at Balbec, or more simply, as at the beginning of this work, when drinking a certain mouthful of tea." And yet this is the Proustian moment artificially induced -- the pleasure without the mystery.
I said to myself that after all it might be that, even though Vinteuil's phrases seemed to me to be the expression of certain states of the soul -- analogous to the one I had experienced on tasting the madeleine soaked in tea -- nothing proved that the vagueness of these states was a sign of their profundity, rather than of our inability, so far, to analyse them: there would therefore be nothing more real in them than in others. Still, the happiness, that feeling of certainty in happiness, while I drank the cup of tea, or as I breathed in a certain scent of old wood in the Champs-Élysées gardens, was not an illusion.

Vinteuil's music also evokes for him the romance of Swann and Odette, and brings Gilberte to mind, so that he quizzes Albertine on her acquaintance with Gilberte. She tells him that Gilberte kissed her and asked her if she liked women, "But we didn't do anything." The narrator, of course, has his doubts about her truthfulness.

They talk about literature, including Thomas Hardy and Dostoevsky, although in fact it is mostly the narrator who does the talking. When she recalls something he had said earlier about Dostoevsky and Mme. de Sévigné, he says, "Come here little girl, and let me give you a kiss for being so good at remembering what I say."

He recognizes that his infatuation with her has come with a price:
even though when I came into my inheritance from Aunt Léonie I had promised myself I would be a collector like Swann, buying pictures and statues, in fact all my money went on horses, a motor-car, dresses for Albertine. But then, did not my room contain a work of art more precious than all those others? It was Albertine herself.
But then he changes his mind: "But no, Albertine was not at all a work of art for me." When he begins to see her that way, as "a wonderfully patinated statue, I soon became indifferent to her, presently I was bored in her company, but these moments did not last for long." He sees the truth: "we love only what we do not possess, and soon I began once more to realize that I did not possess Albertine." But will he hold fast to this truth?

He returns to his obsession with lesbianism, telling himself that he would not have been so tormented by jealousy if she had been attracted, as he once thought she was, to Saint-Loup. It is his ignorance of "love between women" that bothers him: "nothing could allow me to picture with confidence, with precision, its pleasures, its very nature." And once again, he is frustrated by his inability to truly possess her:
I could take Albertine on my knees, hold her head in my hands, I could stroke her, run my hands all over her, but, just as if I had been handling a stone enclosing the salt of immemorial oceans or the light of a star, I felt that I was touching only the closed outer casing of a being which on the inside was in touch with the infinite.

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