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ClassicsOnline Home » PROUST, M.: Remembrance of Things Past, Vol. 6: Fugitive (The) (Abridged)
Albertine has finally made her escape from Marcel’s Paris apartment, where his obsessive jealousy had turned her into a virtual prisoner. Not only is Marcel quite unprepared for the effect on him of her flight, but soon he is devastated by news of an even more irreversible loss. The penultimate volume of Remembrance of Things Past.
The Good Book Guide
(The Sweet Cheat Gone)
The Fugitive opens with Marcel astonished at the intensity
of his mental agony following Albertine’s sudden departure, “How little we know
ourselves”, he observes, having never dreamed how desperately he depended on
Albertine for his peace of mind and happiness.
Unlike more conventional novels, Remembrance of Things Past
does not depend on its narrative to ensure the continuation the reader’s
interest. Events themselves are less compelling than the poetic descriptions
and philosophical observations to which they give rise. That said, The Fugitive
contains one of the most unexpected and shocking occurrences in the novel; the
death of Albertine. But even here, the accident itself happens offstage in the
manner of a Greek tragedy, and it is the author’s penetrating observations on
the process of grief and mourning, which result from that event, that provide
the major content of the book.
From the moment Françoise announces “Mademoiselle Albertine
has gone!” we follow the development of the Narrators’ emotional states; his
initial shock, his astonishment at the power of his feelings, the realization
of how much he has depended on Albertine’s presence and how he has avoided
acknowledging the signs of her unhappiness and frustration. He lets us see his
attempts at self-deception, the ‘double-think’ that enables him to bear his
pain. And at each stage that pain becomes more unbearable: first when he
realizes Albertine has gone, next when he accepts that she may not come back,
and finally when he knows that death has prevented her from returning ever
again. And even when she is dead his jealousy persists, and he continues to
torture himself by seeking to discover explicit details of her sexual
Proust’s deep understanding of the human soul and his
ability to describe his own thoughts and feelings with unparalleled
truthfulness and courage enable us recognize the universality of his
experience. He analyzes his inner world with the insight of a psychologist, and
it is his ability to speak without equivocation, to show himself at his most
vulnerable, which touches us so deeply.
But despite Proust’s literary honesty, the social climate in
which he lived forced certain restrictions on him. Society demanded that any
life style, especially homosexuality, which deviated from what was considered
acceptable, had to be discreet and hidden from view. The fate of Oscar Wilde
loomed as a warning to those who ignored the rules. Proust was not one to flout
society; on the contrary, in his youth he had made strenuous efforts to be
accepted in the right circles. It was not until after the death his mother that
he was able to indulge his homosexual tendencies, although even then he was
never able to live openly as a homosexual.
Proust remarked that as a writer one could say anything
providing one does not say ‘I’, and although Remembrance of Things Past is
written in the first person, Proust contrived to remain incognito. He denied
publicly that the Narrator was intended to be himself (he writes of “the ‘I’
who is not ‘I’”, although at one point he teasingly suggests we call the
Narrator ‘Marcel’), and the Narrator’s two great loves, Albertine and Gilberte,
are women, although their originals have been identified as male. The device of
attributing homosexuality to other characters enabled him to discuss the
subject freely without implicating himself.
Proust repudiated accusations by his friends that he had
portrayed them, insisting that each character is based not on one, but on many
originals, but it is clear that some characters are modeled more closely than
others on a single person. It is generally accepted that the main original of
Albertine, by sexual transposition, was a young Monegasque, Alfred Agostinelli,
who worked initially as Proust’s chauffeur and later as his secretary.
Although over time there were several young men engaged by
Proust in the capacity of secretary, who lived in his apartment and became
‘Captives’ as a result of his possessive nature, it was Agostinelli whose
tragic death in a plane crash was so closely echoed in Albertine’s riding
accident, and resulted in the deep grief Proust describes so movingly.
In correspondence Proust referred to Agostinelli as “an
extraordinary being” and “a young man whom I loved probably more than all my
friends” and added, “I don’t know how I can endure such grief.” Proust used the events of his life more
directly than many authors as raw material for his work, and it was
Agostinelli’s death, which was to inspire him to create out of his suffering
the enduring monument, which is The Fugitive.
Marcel Proust was born on July 10, 1871. His father, a
distinguished professor of medicine, was from a Catholic family, while his
mother was Jewish.
Although intent on becoming a writer from an early age,
Proust was riddled with self-doubt. During his twenties he co-founded a
short-lived review, Le Banquet, contributed to La Revue Blanche and had his
first book published, a collection of articles and essays entitled Les Plaisirs
et les Jours.
He became an enthusiastic admirer of the work of Ruskin and
translated his Bible of Amiens and Sesame and Lilies into French. A novel, Jean
Santeuil, which was the precursor of Remembrance of Things Past, was eventually
abandoned and only published long after his death, in 1954.
For much of his youth he led the life of a man of fashion,
frequenting fashionable Paris drawing rooms and literary salons, and these
formed the background for a number of his stories and sketches, and
subsequently of Remembrance of Things Past.
The death of his adored mother in 1905 resulted in a nervous
collapse and aggravated his chronic asthma and insomnia. But despite his grief
and the sense of loss from which he never recovered, his mother’s death freed
him with regard to his homosexual emotional life and allowed him to address
homosexuality in his writing, albeit in a manner which treated such experiences
as happenings to others rather than to himself.
In 1907 he moved into an apartment in the Boulevard
Haussmann where, in the bedroom which he had lined with cork to keep out noise,
he embarked upon his great work A la Recherche du Temps Perdu (Remembrance of
This long cycle of autobiographical novels was published in
eight sections: Du Côté de Chez Swann
(Swann’s Way) in 1913; A L’Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleur (Within A
Budding Grove) in 1918; Le Côté de Guermantes I (The Guermantes Way I) in 1920;
Le Côté de Guermantes II and Sodome et Gomorrhe (Cities of the Plain I) in
1921; Sodome et Gomorrhe II in 1922; La Prisonnière (The Captive) in 1923;
Albertine Disparue (The Sweet Cheat Gone) in 1925; Le Temps Retrouvé (Time
Regained) in 1927.
Proust was obliged to publish Swann’s Way at his own
expense, and even after it had appeared, he had trouble finding a publisher for
the next volume, A L’ Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleur. However, when it
appeared in 1918 it received considerable acclaim, and was awarded the Prix
Goncourt the following year.
By the time Proust died on November 18, 1922, the first four
parts of the cycle had been published, leaving the others to appear
posthumously. The English translations by C.K. Scott Moncrieff, from which this
abridged audiobook version has been prepared, were published between 1922 and
In Remembrance of Things Past, the minuteness of Proust’s
observation, the depth of his psychological understanding and the vividness of
his descriptive powers have combined to create one of the most poetic and magical
works in all literature.
Notes by Neville Jason
Neville Jason trained at RADA where he was awarded the
Diction Prize by Sir John Gielgud. He has worked with the English Stage Co.,
the Old Vic Company and the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as in films and
musicals. Jason has appeared in popular television serials such as Maigret,
Emergency Ward 10 and Dr. Who, as well as playing classical roles such as
Orestes and Horatio. Formally a member of the BBC Radio Drama Co., he can be
frequently heard on radio. Jason’s passion for Remembrance of Things Past comes
alive in his adaptation and reading of the series, for which he has received
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