Day One Hundred Forty-Three: The Prisoner, pp. 165-180

From "I learned that day there had been a death..." to "...was to be once more taken from me."
Bergotte has died, provoking the narrator to thoughts about medicine ("natural diseases can get better, but never medical ones, for medicine knows nothing of the secrets of cure") and to reflections about the author's reclusive character:
Bergotte had not been out of the house for years. He had never liked society, or rather he had once liked it for a single day, only to despise it afterwards as he despised everything, after his own fashion, which was not to despise what one cannot obtain, but what one has obtained, as soon as one has obtained it.
Which, of course, sounds a lot like the narrator himself.

In telling of Bergotte's death, Proust takes one of his most audacious liberties with narrative point of view, having the narrator not only tell us about a death he didn't witness but even report on what was going on in Bergotte's mind as he died. Bergotte supposedly read a critic's comment on Vermeer's View of Delft and, failing to recognize a detail the critic pointed out in the painting, a patch of yellow wall said to be "like a precious work of Chinese art, of an entirely self-sufficient beauty," he went out to see for himself the painting, which was on loan for an exhibition of Dutch art.
His head spun faster; he fixed his gaze, as a child does on a yellow butterfly he wants to catch, on the precious little patch of wall. "That is how I should have written, he said to himself. My last books are too dry, I should have applied several layers of colour, made my sentences precious in themselves, like that little patch of yellow wall."
A stroke fells him. "They buried him, but all the night before his funeral, in the lighted bookshop windows, his books, set out in threes, kept watch like angels with outspread wings and seemed, for him who was no more, the symbol of his resurrection."

But while the story stands on its own as a vignette about the artist's quest for immortality, the narrator finds another significance in the writer's death: Albertine claimed that she "had met him the day before, she told me about it that evening, and he had even kept her a little late, for he had talked to her for quite a long time. Probably she had been the last person he spoke to." Except that she is lying: "Albertine had not met Bergotte on that day at all. But I had not suspected it for a moment, she had told me the story so naturally, and it was only much later that I recognized her charming gift for lying with simplicity."

And then the narrator lies to her, telling her that he was going out to see some friends, but not revealing that he was going to the Verdurins'. As he leaves to hail a cab, he finds Morel sitting on a bollard, crying, an aftermath of the earlier quarrel with Jupien's niece that the narrator had overheard. If Morel breaks his engagement to her, he jeopardizes his relationship with Charlus, on whose money he depends.
It is quite possible that the love and then the indifference or hatred Morel felt towards Jupien's niece were both sincere. Unfortunately it was not the first time (and it would not be the last) that he had behaved in this way, suddenly "throwing over" a young girl after swearing to her that he would love her for ever, even showing her a loaded revolver and saying that he would blow his brains out if he sank so low as to leave her. 
And so the narrator has had two experiences -- the death of an artist and the dilemma of a lover -- that give him food for thought about his own life.

No comments: