Marcel Proust

Swann's way

In me, too, many things have been destroyed that I thought were bound to last forever and new ones have formed that have given birth to new sorrows and joys which I could not have forseen, then, just as the old ones have become difficult for me to understand. (37)

In fact, she could never resign herself to buying anything from which one could not derive an intellectual profit, and especially that which beautiful things afford us by teaching us to seek our pleasure elsewhere than in the satisfactions of material comfort and vanity. (40)

Never again will such moments be possible for me. But of late I have been increasingly able to catch, if I listen attentively, the sound of the sobs which I had the strength to control in my father's presence and which broke out only when I found myself with Mamma. In reality their echo has never ceased; and it is only because life is now growing more and more quiet round me that I hear them anew, like those convent bells which are so effectively drowned during the day by the houses of the street that one would suppose them to have stopped, until they ring out again through the silent evening air. p.49 swann's way

I had the consolation of no longer having to mingle apprehensive scruples with the bitterness of tears; I could weep henceforth without sin. p.51

And so it is with our own past. It is a labour in vain to attempt to recapture it: all the efforts of our intellect must prove futile. The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us) of which we have no inkling. And it depends on chance whether or not we come upon this object before we ourselves must die. p. 60

"Always try to keep a patch of sky above your life, little boy," he added, turning to me. "You have a soul in you of rare quality, an artist's nature; never let it starve for lack of what it needs." p.93

Since then, whenever in the course of my life I have come across, in convents for instance, true saintly embodiments of practical charity, they have generally had the cheerful, practical, brusque and unemotioned air of a busy surgeon, the sort of face in which one can discern no commiseration, no tenderness at the sight of suffering humanity, no fear of hurting it, the impassive, unsympathetic, sublime face of true goodness. p.113

...for the space of an hour he sets free within us all the joys and sorrows in the world, a few of which only we should have to spend years of our actual life in getting to know, and the most intense of which would never be revealed to us because the close course of their development prevents us from perceiving them. It is the same in life; the heart changes, and it is our worst sorrow: but we know it only through reading, through our imagination: in reality its alteration, like that of certain natural phenomena, is so gradual that, even if we are able to distinguish, successively, each of its different states, we are still spared the actual sensation of change. 117

The facts of life do not penetrate to the sphere in which our beliefs are cherished; they did not engender those beliefs, and they are powerless to destroy them...209

Perhaps she would not have thought of evil as a state so rare, so abnormal, so exotic, one in which it was so refreshing to sojourn, had she been able to discern in herself, as in everyone else, that indifference to the sufferings one causes which, whatever other names one gives to it, is the most terrible and lasting of cruelty. 233

Among all the modes by which love is brought into being, among all the agents which disseminate that blessed bane, there are few so efficacious as this gust of feverish agitation that sweeps over us from time to time. For then the die is cast, the person whose company we enjoy at the moment is the person we shall henceforward love. It is not even necessary for that person to have attracted us, up till then, more than or even as much as others. All that was needed was that our predilection should become exclusive. And that condition is fulfilled when--in this moment of deprivation--the quest for the pleasures we enjoyed in his or her company is suddenly replaced by an anxious, torturing need, whose object is the person alone, an absurd irrational need which the laws of this world make it impossible to satisfy and difficult to assuage--the insensate agonizing need to possess exclusively. 327

We do not tremble except for ourselves, or for those whom we love. When our happiness is no longer in their hands, how calm, how relaxed, how bold we become in their presence. 454

For what we suppose to be our love or our jealousy is never a single, continuous and indivisible passion. It is composed of an infinity of successive loves, of different jealousies, each of which is ephemeral, although by their uninterrupted multiplicity they give us the impression of continuity, the illusion of unity. p.529

..when one is in love one has no love left for anyone...568

But when a belief vanishes, there survives it--more and more vigorously so as to cloak the absence of the power, now lost to us, of imparting reality to new things--a fetishistic attachment to the old things which it once did animate, as if it was in them and not in ourselves that the divine spark resided, and as if our present incredulity had a contingent cause--the death of the gods. 603

Within a budding grove

Shattered by what M. de Norpois had just said to me with regard to the fragment which I had submitted to him, and remembering at the same time the difficulties that I experienced when I attempted to write an essay or merely to devote myself to serious thought, I felt conscious once again, of my intellectual nullity and that I was not cut out for literary life. p.63

Now the same mystery which often veils from our eyes the reason for a catastrophe envelops just as frequently, when love is in question, the suddenness of certain happy solutions, such as had been brought to me by Gilberte's letter. Happy, or at least seemingly happy, for there are few that can really be happy when we are dealing with a sentiment of such a kind that any satisfaction we can give it does no more, as a rule, than dislodge some pain. And yet sometimes a respite is granted us, and we have for a little while the illusion of being healed. (101)

The sadness of men who have grown old lies in their no longer even thinking of writing such letters, the futility of which their experience has shown. --82,

I applied to her face, which was blurred in the twilight, the mask of my most impassioned dreams, but read in her eyes as they turned towards me the horror of my own nonentity...331

But what matters in life is not whom or what one loves, it is the fact of loving. 468

We are, when we love, in an abnormal state, capable of giving at once to the most apparently simple accident, an accident which may at any moment occur, a seriousness which in itself it would not entail. What makes us so happy is the presence in our hearts of an unstable element which we contrive perpetually to maintain and of which we cease almost to be aware so long as it is not displaced. In reality, there is in love a permanent strain of suffering which happiness neutralizes, makes potential only, postpones, but which may at any moment become, what it would so long since have been had we not obtained what we wanted, excruciating...213

p.259 For regret, like desire, seeks not to analyse but to gratify itself. When one begins to love, one spends one's time, not in getting to know what one's love really is, but in arranging for tomorrow's rendezvous. When one renounces love one seeks not to know one's grief, but offer to the person who is its cause the expression of it which seems most moving.

p.262 Not that the clear perception of certain weaknesses in those we love in any way diminishes our affection for them; rather that affection makes us find those weaknesses charming.

p.262 And this resistance was costing me gradually less and less, because, however much we may love the poison that is destroying us, when necessity has deprived us of it for some time past, we cannot help attaching a certain value to the peace of mind which we had ceased to know, to the absence of emotion and suffering.

p.270 What we now put off from day to day is on longer the end of the intolerable anxiety caused by separation, it is the dreaded renewal of emotions which can lead to nothing.

p.270 We know, all of us, when we no longer love, that forgetfulness, or even a vague memory, does not cause us so much suffering as an ill-starred love.

p.282-3 For, so long as our heart keeps enshrined with any permanence the image of another person, it is not only our happiness that may at any moment be destroyed; when that happiness has vanished, when we have suffered and then succeeded in anaesthetizing our sufferings, the thing then that is as elusive, as precarious as ever our happiness was, is calm.

p.423 In a world thronged with monsters and with gods, we know little peace of mind. There is hardly a single action we perform in that phase which we would not give anything, in later life, to be able to annul. Whereas what we ought to regret is that we no longer possess the spontaneity which made us perform them. In later life we look at things in a more practical way, in full conformity with the rest of society, but adolescence is the only period in which we learn anything.

p.430 These words filled me with a sort of melancholy and I was at a loss for an answer, for I felt when I was with him, when I was talking to him--and no doubt it would have been the same with anyone else--none of that happiness which it was possible for me to experience when I was by myself. Alone, at times, I felt surging from the depths of my being one or another of those impressions which gave me a delicious sense of well-being.

p.513 We need imagination, awakened by the uncertainty of being able to attain its object, to create a goal which hides the other goal from us, and by substituting for sensual pleasures the idea of penetrating another life, prevents us from recognizing that pleasure, from tasting its true savour, from restricting it to its own range.

p.561-2 One can feel an attraction towards a particular person. But to release that fount of sorrow, that sense of the irreparable, those agonies which prepare the way for love, there must be--and this is perhaps, more than a person, the actual object which our passion seeks so anxiously to embrace--the risk of an impossibility.

p.562 Perhaps they are inseparable from love; perhaps everything that formed a distinctive feature of our first love comes to attach itself to those that follow, by virtue of recollection, suggestion, habit, and, through the successive periods of our life, gives to it different aspects of a general character.

p.563 The most exclusive love for a person is always a love for something else.

p.664 And yet, perhaps I was not wrong in sacrificing the pleasures not only of society but of friendship to that of spending the whole day in this green garden. People who have the capacity to do so--it is true that such people are artists, and I had long been convinced that I should never be that--also have a duty to live for themselves. And friendship is a dispensation from this duty, an abdication of self. Even conversation, which is friendship's mode of expression, is a superficial digression which gives us nothing worth acquiring. We may talk for a lifetime without doing more than indefinitely repeat the vacuity of a minute, whereas the march of thought in the solitary work of artistic creation proceeds in depth, in the only direction that is not closed to us, along which we are free to advance--though with more effort, it is true--towards a goal of truth.

p.139 Besides, it was she whom I loved and whom I could not therefore see without that anxiety, without that desire for something more, which destroys in us, in the presence of the person we love, the sensation of loving.

The Guermantes Way

At the age when Names, offering us an image of the unknowable which we have poured into their mould, while at the same moment connoting for us also a real place, force us accordingly to identify one with the other to such a point that we set out to seek in a city for a soul which it cannot enshrine but which we have no longer the power to expel from its name....(3)

For a moment, from the clear echo of its warbling in some distant springtime, we can extract, as from the little tubes used in painting, the exact, forgotten, mysterious, fresh tint of the days which we had believed ourselves to be recalling, when, like a bad painter, we were giving to the whole of our past, spread out on the same canvas, the conventional and undifferentiated tones of voluntary memory. (4)

But even apart from rare moments such as these, in which suddenly we feel the original entity quiver and resume its form, carve itself out of the syllables now dead, if in the dizzy whirl of daily life, in which they serve only the most practical purposes, names have lost all their colour, like a prismatic top that spins too quickly and seems only grey, when, on the other hand, we reflect upon the past in our day-dreams and seek, in order to recapture it, to slacken, to suspend the perpetual motion by which we are borne along, gradually we see once more appear, side by side but entirely distinct from one another, the tints which in the course of our existence have been successively presented to us by a single name. p.5

Francoise had not yet learned that our cruellest adversaries are not those who contradict and try to convince us, but those who magnify or invent reports which are liable to distress us, taking care not to give them any appearance of justification which might lessen our pain and perhaps give us some slight regard for an attitude which they make a point of displaying to us, to complete our torment, as being at once terrible and triumphant. (20)

I felt a despondency that was all the more profound in that, if the object of my headstrong and active desire no longer existed, on the other hand the same tendency to indulge in an obsessional day-dream, which varied from year to year but led me always to sudden impulses, regardless of danger, still persisted. (51)

And even in my most carnal desires, orientated always in a particular direction, concentrated round a single dream, I might have recognised as their primary motive an idea, an idea for which I would have laid down my life, at the innermost core of which, as in my day-dreams while I sat reading all afternoon in the garden at Combray, lay the notion of perfection. (52)

I did not even wish to come back another day and hear Berma again; I was satisfied with her; it was when I admired too keenly not to be disappointed by the object of my admiration, whether that object was Gilberte or Berma, that I demanded in advance, of the impression to be received on the morrow, the pleasure that yesterday's impression had denied me. (61)

At any rate, I realised the impossibility of obtaining any direct and certain knowledge of whether Francoise loved or hated me. And thus it was she who first gave me the idea that a person does not, as I had imagined, stand motionless and clear before our eyes with his merits, his defects, his plans, his intentions with regard to ourselves (like a garden at which we gaze through a railing with all our borders spread out before us), but in a shadow which we can never penetrate, of which there can be no such thing as direct knowledge, with respect to which we form countless beliefs, based upon words and sometimes actions, neither of which can give us anything but inadequate and as it proves contradictory information--a shadow behind which we can alternately imagine with equal justification, that there burns the flame of hatred and of love. (82)

It has been said that silence is strength; in a quite different sense it is a terrible strength in the hands of those who are loved. It increases the anxiety of the one who waits. Nothing so tempts us to approach another person as what is keeping us apart; and what barrier is so insurmountable as silence? It has been said also that silence is torture, capable of goading to madness the man who is condemned to it in a prison cell. But what an even greater torture than that of having to keep silence it is to have to endure the silence of the person one loves! (157)

If we were expected to love all the people we find attractive, life would be pretty ghastly, wouldn't it? (225) (Rachel speaking a/b Saint-Loup's jealousy.)

Not only every kind of intoxication, from that which we get from the sun or from traveling to that which is induced by exhaustion or wine, but every degree of intoxication--and each should have a different "reading," like fathoms on a chart--lays bare in us, at the precise depth which it has reached, a different kind of man. (226)

For it is a charming law of nature, which manifests itself in the heart of the most complex social organisms, that we live in perfect ignorance of those we love. (382)

There is nothing like desire for preventing the things one says from bearing any resemblance to what one has in one's mind. (483)

Words do not change their meaning as much in centuries as names do for us in the space of a few years. Our memories and our hearts are not large enough to be able to remain faithful. We have not room enough, in our present mental field, to keep the dead there as well as the living. (729)

Sodom and Gomorrah

..that feeling of the brevity of all things which makes us determine that every blow must strike home and renders so moving the spectacle of every kind of love. 7

But sometimes the future is latent in us without our knowing it, and our supposedly lying words foreshadow an imminent reality. 53

Any mental activity is easy if it need not be subjected to reality. 53

Like everybody who is not in love, he imagined that one chooses the person one loves after endless deliberation and on the strength of diverse qualities and advantages. 128

Even when one is no longer attached to things, if it's still something to have been attached to them; because it was always for reasons which other people didn't grasp. 139

When we are waiting, we suffer so keenly from the absence of the person for whom we are longing that we cannot endure the presence of anyone else. 175

But never again would I be able to erase that tightening of her face, that anguish of her heart, or rather of mine; for as the dead exist only in us, it is ourselves that we strike without respite when we persist in recalling the blows that we have dealt them. I clung to this pain, cruel as it was, with all my strength, for I realized that it was the effect of the memory I had of my grandmother, the proof that this memory was indeed present within me. I felt that I did not really remember her except through pain, and I longed for the nails that riveted her to my consciousness to be driven yet deeper. 215

The captive and the fugitive

...beneath any carnal attraction at all deep, there is the permanent possibility of danger. (100)

What attaches us to people are the countless roots, the innumerable threads which are our memories of last night, our hopes for tomorrow morning, the continuous weft of habit from which we can never free ourselves. (121)

Love, in the pain of anxiety as in the bliss of desire, is a demand for the whole. (133)

It has been said that beauty is a promise of happiness. Conversely, the possibility of pleasure may be the beginning of beauty. (180)

Amorous curiosity is like the curiosity aroused in us by the names of places; perpetually disappointed, it revives and remains for ever insatiable. (184)

In abandoning that ambition de facto, had I forfeited something real? Could life console me for the loss of art? Was there in art a more profound reality, in which our true personality finds an expression that is not afforded it by the activities of life? (204)

Love is too strong a word, but pleasure that is at all rooted in the flesh is helpful to literary work because it cancels all other pleasures, for instance the pleasures of society, those which are the same for everyone. And even if this love leads to disillusionment, it does at least stir, even by so doing, the surface of the soul which otherwise would be in danger of becoming stagnant. Desire is therefore not without its value to the writer in detaching him first of all from his fellow men and from conforming to their standards, and afterwards in restoring some degree of movement to a spiritual machine which, after a certain age, tends to come to a standstill. We do not achieve happiness but we gain some insights into the reasons which prevent us from being happy and which would have remained invisible to us but for these sudden revelations of disappointment. Dreams, we know, are not realizable; we might not form any, perhaps, were it not for desire, and it is useful to us to form them in order to see them fail and to learn from their failure. (239)

People are not always tolerant of the tears which they themselves have provoked. (418)

The carriage drove off. I remained for a moment alone on the pavement. It was true that I endowed those luminous streaks which I could see from below, and which to anyone else would have seemed quite superficial, with the utmost plenitude, solidity and volume, because of all the significance that I placed behind them, in a treasure unsuspected by the rest of the world which I had hidden there and from which those horizontal rays emanated, but a treasure in exchange for which I had forfeited my freedom, my solitude, my thought...So that, as I raised my eyes for one last look from the outside at the window of the room in which I should presently find myself, I seemed to behold the luminous gates which were about to close behind me and of which I myself had forged, for an eternal slavery, the inflexible bars of gold. (445)

What I had dreamed of, as a child, as being the sweetest thing in love, what had seemed to me to be the very essence of love, was to pour out freely, to the one I loved, my tenderness, my gratitude for her kindness, my longing for an everlasting life together. But I had become only too well aware, from my own experience and from that of my friends, that the expression of such sentiments is far from being contagious. (464)

Besides, we feel that in these lies there is indeed a grain of truth, that, if life does not bring about any change in our loves, it is we ourselves who will seek to bring about or feign them, so strongly do we feel that all love, and everything else in life, evolves rapidly towards a farewell. (475)

The bluff may also be blended with sincerity, may alternate with it, and what was yesterday a game may become a reality tomorrow. (489)

This letter from my mother brought me back to earth. "Why do I go on seeking after a mysterious soul, interpreting a face, and feeling myself surrounded by presentiments which I dare not explore?" (490)

Love is space and time made perceptible to the heart. (519)

It is inconceivable that a piece of sculpture or a piece of music which gives us an emotion that we feel to be more exalted, more pure, more true, does not correspond to some definite spiritual reality, or life would be meaningless. (504)

The further the desire advances, the further does real possession recede. So that if happiness, or at least the absence of suffering, can be found, it is not the satisfaction, but the gradual reduction and the eventual extinction of desire that one should seek. (607)

The bonds between ourselves and another person exist only in our minds. Memory as it grows fainter loosens them, and notwithstanding the illusion by which we want to be duped and with which, out of love, friendship, politeness, deference, duty, we dupe other people, we exist alone. Man is the creature who cannot escape from himself, who knows other people only in himself, and when he asserts the contrary, he is lying. (607)

I know that one can never read a novel without giving its heroine the form and features of the woman one loves. But however happy the book's ending may be, our love has not advanced an inch and, when we have shut it, she whom we love and who has come to us at last in its pages, loves us no better in real life. (610)

And it is perhaps one of the causes of our perpetual disappointments in love, this perpetual displacement whereby, in response to our expectation of the ideal person whom we love, each meeting provides us with a person in flesh and blood who yet contains so little trace of our dream. (612)

For if the fulfillment, if the achievement of happiness, appears of small account only in the light of certainty, nevertheless it is an unstable element from which only sorrows can arise. And those sorrows will be all the greater the more completely our desire will have been fulfilled, all the more impossible to endure when our happiness has been, in defiance of the law of nature, prolonged for a certain time, when it has received the consecration of habit. (620–1)

...but I turned sharply away under the impact of the painful discharge of one of the thousand invisible memories which incessantly exploded around me in the darkness. (646)

Whatever our social position, however wise our precautions, when the truth is confessed we have no hold over the life of another person. (683)

But I saw now that we are not free to refrain from forging the chains of our own misery, and that however well we may know our own will, other people do not obey it. (684)

It is the tragedy of other people that they are merely showcases for the very perishable collections of one's own mind. (751)

At times the reading of a novel that was at all sad carried me suddenly back, for certain novels are like great but temporary bereavements, abolishing habit, bringing us back into contact with the reality of life, but for a few hours only, like a nightmare, since the force of habit, the oblivion it creates, the gaiety it restores through the powerlessness of the brain to fight against it and to re-create the truth, infinitely outweigh the almost hypnotic suggestion of a good book, which like all such influences, has very transient effects. (757–8)

The creation of the world did not occur at the beginning of time, it occurs every day. (909)

Personally, I found it absolutely immaterial from a moral point of view whether one took one's pleasure with a man or with a woman, and only too natural and human that one should take it where one found it. (933)

Time Regained

The logic of passion, even if it happens to be in the service of the best possible cause, is never irrefutable for the man who is not himself passionate. 123

In the people whom we love, there is immanent, a certain dream which we cannot always clearly discern but which we pursue. 216

...the true paradises are the paradises that we have lost. 261

The impression is for the writer what experiment is for the scientist, with the difference that in the scientist the work of intelligence precedes the experiment and in the writer it comes after the impression. What we have not had to decipher, to elucidate by our own efforts, what was clear before we looked at it, is not ours. From ourselves comes only that which we drag forth from the obscurity which lies within us, that which to others is unknown. 276

Indeed, nothing is more painful than this contrast between the mutability of people and the fixity of memory, when it is borne in upon us that what has preserved so much freshness in our memory can no longer possess any trace of that quality in life, that we cannot now, outside ourselves, approach and behold again what inside our mind seems so beautiful, what excites in us a desire (a desire apparently so individual) to see it again, except by seeking it in a person of the same age, by seeking it, that is to say, in a different person. 438