Published on [Permalink]
Reading time: 4 minutes

Swann’s Way, paragraph 34

Thanking my father was out of the question; doing so would have aggravated him with what he called sentimentality. I stood there not daring to move; he still loomed before us, in his white nightshirt, under the pink and purple India cashmere he’d wrap around his head since developing neuralgia, making the gesture of Abraham saying to Sarah she must leave Isaac’s side, as in the engraving after Benozzo Gozzoli that Monsieur Swann had given me. All of this was many years ago. The wall beside the stairway, where I saw the rising light of my father’s candle, has long since ceased to exist. Within me, too, many things have been destroyed, things I’d thought would last forever, and new things have been built, giving rise to new sorrows and joys I could not have foreseen back then, just as the old ones have become difficult for me to understand. It’s been a long time, too, since my father could say to Maman, “Go with the boy.” The possibility of such hours will never arise again for me. But lately, I’ve begun to hear quite clearly, if I train my ear, the sobs I had the strength to hold back before my father and that did not break through until I found myself alone again with Maman. In reality they never stopped; and it’s only because life has gone quiet around me now that I hear them again, like convent bells muffled so fully by city sounds during the day that one would think the bells had stopped forever, until they start to ring once more in the silence of night.

On ne pouvait pas remercier mon père; on l’eût agacé par ce qu’il appelait des sensibleries. Je restai sans oser faire un mouvement; il était encore devant nous, grand, dans sa robe de nuit blanche sous le cachemire de l’Inde violet et rose qu’il nouait autour de sa tête depuis qu’il avait des névralgies, avec le geste d’Abraham dans la gravure d’après Benozzo Gozzoli que m’avait donnée M. Swann, disant à Sarah qu’elle a à se départir du côté d’Isaac. Il y a bien des années de cela. La muraille de l’escalier, où je vis monter le reflet de sa bougie n’existe plus depuis longtemps. En moi aussi bien des choses ont été détruites que je croyais devoir durer toujours et de nouvelles se sont édifiées donnant naissance à des peines et à des joies nouvelles que je n’aurais pu prévoir alors, de même que les anciennes me sont devenues difficiles à comprendre. Il y a bien longtemps aussi que mon père a cessé de pouvoir dire à maman: «Va avec le petit.» La possibilité de telles heures ne renaîtra jamais pour moi. Mais depuis peu de temps, je recommence à très bien percevoir si je prête l’oreille, les sanglots que j’eus la force de contenir devant mon père et qui n’éclatèrent que quand je me retrouvai seul avec maman. En réalité ils n’ont jamais cessé; et c’est seulement parce que la vie se tait maintenant davantage autour de moi que je les entends de nouveau, comme ces cloches de couvents que couvrent si bien les bruits de la ville pendant le jour qu’on les croirait arrêtées mais qui se remettent à sonner dans le silence du soir.

N o t e s

The engraving after Benozzo Gozzoli. Gozzoli (c. 1421–97) was a Florentine painter who worked with Fra Angelico and painted frescoes. According to Jean Milly, Gozzoli created works “in the Campo Santo de Pisa … inspired by the Old Testament, [frescoes] now largely destroyed, that included a gesture of Abraham. But it does not seem that the scene evoked by Proust (which is also not found in the Bible) was represented there” (p. 618).

Ceased to exist. In reality the house still existed (and exists), and presumably the wall did, too. Judith Thurman, in Architectural Digest, describes how “the staircase that Proust’s narrator climbed every night to await, in anguish, the uncertain arrival of his mother for a goodnight kiss leads to the bedrooms.”