Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Marcel, Aunt Leonie, and Involuntary Memory

I have been struggling with Marcel as a character. I find him to be an awkwardly pretentious adolescent, who is far too timid with it come to social situations. Marcel’s likeness to his Aunt Leonie is an interesting parallel to me; he strives to be an intellectual character and yet he has more in common with a prying, bedridden woman. The similarity between Marcel and Aunt Leonie is ironic to me because Marcel writes about Swann in such a way as to make a reader think that Swann is the real idol to which Marcel looks.

Looking over the text, involuntary memory is associated with the Madeleine for both Marcel and his aunt. When Marcel speaks of the Madeleine his tone changes; he is transformed from the past into the present as he remembers the sensations of the spoonful of tea and the softened Madeleine touching his lips for the first time.

A delicious pleasure had invaded me, isolated me, without my having any notion as to its cause. It had immediately rendered the vicissitudes of life unimportant to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory, acting in the same way that love acts, by filling me with a precious essence: or rather this essence was not merely inside of me, it was me (45).

Perhaps I have lived a sheltered life, but I have never had an inanimate object (let alone a cookie) give me that much insight into my life. An adolescent is not supposed to use such flowery language; they are not supposed to concern themselves with finding who they are at heart. Perhaps what I find most interesting about the scene with the Madeline is that all of the insight that was granted to Marcel upon his first experience with the Madeline is displaced to the memory of his Aunt Leonie. The Madeleine becomes the tradition of Sunday mornings. To me, the profound moment of the first taste of the Madeleine is lost in the sharing as well as the routine.

The way the Marcel longs for his mother and her goodnight kiss parallels the yearning that his Aunt Leonie has for her dead husband. In class, the oedipal complex readily came to mind as we analyzed the first section of Marcel at Combray. After reading more of the book, I really feel that Proust wants readers to associate the relationship between Marcel and his mother in the hopes that it will be under close scrutiny, but after continuing to read will realize there is more than what is on the surface. I see it as a technique to keep the reader interested, yearning for more information that will give us insight into the character of Marcel. This is definitely where the idea of the elusive object comes into play. Marcel can never have his mother in the way that he did as when he was younger, nor can he have her in the way that his father does; just as his Aunt Leonie will never again have the physical presence of her husband.

The greatest commonality between Marcel and his Aunt Leonie is the way that Marcel peers into windows and the way his aunt peers out of her window in order to make themselves a part of something bigger. (Perhaps it is Marcel’s “’Peeping Tom” quality that I deplore most.) Marcel looks into windows in the same capacity that he reads; to escape the world around him. Reading and “peeping” seem to be the only two things that he is truly sure of in his life as an adolescent. I think that Aunt Leonie looks out her window in order to still be a part of the world that she purposely left behind. By looking into windows Marcel takes command of the world that he really doesn’t have a grip on and his Aunt is allowed to continue existing.

Using the quote we examined in class: “We are familiar only with the passions of others, and what we come to know about our own, we have been able to learn only from them” (132). It seems to me that Marcel acknowledges that he is like his aunt even though he would like to be more like the ever elusive Swann. Marcel understands himself more because of the involuntary memory with the Madeleine and characters live through this involuntary memory, but Marcel still yearns for the unattainable.

So, I think that my problems with Marcel as a character lie in my desire for him to get what he yearns for the most. (Everyone deserves success in one form or another.) I want him to be more like Swann and less like Aunt Leonie. Furthermore, my visual image of Marcel (pale and sickly) does not match up with the recollections of the older Marcel.

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