Day One Hundred Fifty-Two, The Prisoner, pp. 321-333

From "The vague fear I had felt at the Verdurins'..." to "...Then I slipped away so as not to wake her."
So the narrator's telling Albertine to leave was all a trick. "Arriving home, I had had the feeling of being a prisoner, not at all of returning to a female captive," he says, but her pique at the information that he had been to the Verdurins' bothered him. "I had thought it best to give her the impression that her slavery would not last for ever, and that I myself wished to bring it to an end." But then comes an admission from her that she once spent three weeks with Léa. "And that morning she had told me she did not know Léa at all!" The impact this confession makes on the narrator is a significant one: "I watched as sudden flames tore through a novel I had spent ten million minutes composing." The narrator, in short, is treating his life -- and more important, Albertine's -- as if it were a fiction of his own creation. (Try not to linger on the metafictional hall-of-mirrors effect here: Proust writing a novel whose narrator is writing a novel in which....)

He decides that Albertine's confession comes out of her fear that Léa herself had revealed this fact to him. And here he goes into yet another discussion of homosexuality: "Lesbians are rare enough but also common enough that wherever they go, in whatever crows, they cannot fail to spot another of their kind." And he tells the story of two women who met when they accompanied two men to a restaurant and immediately fell for each other: "The two girls became great friends, were seen everywhere together, one dressed as a man and went around picking up little girls and taking them home to the other to initiate them. The other had a little boy and used to pretend to be angry with him so that the other could punish him, with a heavy hand."

This is one of the more distasteful passages in Proust's novel, based as it is on the myth of the predatory, male-hating lesbian. We can, of course, ascribe it to the narrator and not to the author, as another instance of the narrator's neurotic obsession with possessing the love object, and his fear of her being lured away, not just by another man, but by another woman. Once again he sees "the unburnt portion of the novel ... slowly crumbling into ashes." Tormented by "the thought of the orgiastic life Albertine must have lived before she knew me," he concocts his complicated plan to pretend to break with her in order to keep her. "I suddenly felt I must keep Albertine because I felt her being was dissipated among various other people whom I could not prevent her from joining." He sees it as a battle for possession. And
so that Albertine would not think I was exaggerating and to keep her for as long as possible in the belief that we were going to separate, I had begun to plan the time which was to begin the following day and last for ever, the time when we should be apart, making all the same recommendations to Albertine as if we were not going to end our quarrel in a moment.... This scene of fictitious separation in the end caused me almost as much unhappiness as if it had been true, perhaps because one of the actors, Albertine, believed that it was, and so added to the illusion for the other.
The faux separation "turned out to be like those medicines that are to cure our sufferings in the long run, but whose first effect is to make them worse."

He feels "a kind of hatred for her which only made me the more desperate to keep her with me" when he thinks that "while she had given up the Verdurins and gone to the Trocadéro to please me, all the same, Mlle Vinteuil was supposed to have been at the Verdurins', and at the Trocadéro, which she had also given up in order to come out with me, there had been, as a reason to bring her back from there, Léa, that same Léa about whom I seemed to be worrying needlessly but whom, in words that I had not forced out of her, Albertine said she knew." Lesbians to the left of him, lesbians to the right of him.

So then he calls off her expulsion:
'Listen, Albertine, you say you're happier here this [than?] elsewhere, that you're going to be unhappy if you leave. -- Of course I am. -- That makes me wonder; do you think you'd like us to try to go on for a few more weeks after all? You never know, a week at a time, we might manage to go on for a good long time, you know some temporary things can go on for ever. -- Oh, that would be lovely!

And so she stays. And he looks in on her when she's fast asleep, not so much as her lover as her murderer: "And it was a dead woman that I saw when I went into her room a moment later. She had fallen asleep the minute she lay down; her sheets, wrapped around her body like a shroud, had fallen into fine folds with the apparent hardness of stone." Her body is now "meaningless," "twisted," an "allegorical figure of what? Of my death? Of my love?" Chilling.

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