Sunday, December 16, 2007

Proust on aging

The last part of In Search of Lost Time is, among other things, an extended discourse on aging and on the ways in which we do and do not notice it, in others and in ourselves. Here the narrator is talking with Gilberte, the beautiful girl of his childhood, now a woman whom he will later mistake for her mother:

Gilberte de Saint-Loup said to me: 'Shall we go and dine, just the two of us, at a restaurant?' As I replied: 'So long as you don't think it compromising to dine alone with a young man,' I heard everybody round me laughing, and hastily added: 'or rather, with an old man.' I felt that the phrase which had caused the laughter was one that my mother might have used when speaking of me, my mother for whom I was always a child. Now I noticed that in matters of self-examination, I looked at things from the same point of view as she did. If I had finally taken in, like her, certain changes which had occurred since my early childhood, these were nevertheless now very old changes. I had stopped at the one which once made someone say, almost before it was true: 'He's almost a grown-up young man now.' I still thought this, but these days it was vastly out of date. I was not fully aware how much I had changed. But what, in fact, had those people who had just burst out laughing really noticed? I had not a single grey hair, my moustache was black. I would like to have been able to ask them what it was that revealed the evidence of this terrible thing.

Marcel Proust, Finding Time Again, translated by Ian Patterson (London: Penguin, 2003), 239-40

A related post
Introducing Mlle. Swann (from Swann's Way)

All Proust posts (via Pinboard)

comments: 2

Anonymous said...

This incident sounds like one of those things that actually happened to Proust. Although I guess it also happens to all of us at some point or another- even when we haven't had a mother like Marcel's :)
Thanks for sharing...

Michael Leddy said...

It happens more and more frequently -- even with people I see often -- that all at once they look older. Though I've also had the experience of seeing people after twenty years and finding them essentially unchanged.

For Proust readers: Mari's blog, Madeleine Moments, makes good reading.