“Les tenants de l’apparence restent fidèles à l’imitation. Ceux qui recherchent une réalité cachée derrière l’apparence définissent une doctrine de l’invention, de la création.”
Jean-Yves Tadié, Marcel Proust, L’artiste selon Ruskin
(The advocates of appearance stay loyal to imitation. Those who look for some reality behind appearances define a doctrine of invention, of creation.)
I have heard some dreadful accusations lately, and I wish to affirm that some people, yes people, are rather cheeky. They say, us, narrators, are voyeurs, that we spy on, and even abuse the characters in a novel: how’s that for defamation? What have we done, and specifically, what I have done, to deserve such treatment?
I do not, ever, prey on those characters, however vulnerable, or emotionally unstable, or, as my friend Jo-Anne (herself a delicious narratrice) says, exotic. Rather I try to convey their tragedy, sometimes the ironic side of their lives, as a good narrator should. Sometimes, I admit to a degree of curiosity. Let us read again this observation of Jean-Yves Tadié, the biographer of Marcel Proust, à propos La Prisonnière, perhaps the most poignant chapter of La Recherche:
“Le narrateur prend enfin congé d’Odette: ‘J’aurais voulu la serrer dans mes bras: j’aurais voulu lui dire que je l’aimais… Les larmes m’étranglaient. Je parcourus ce long vestibule, ce jardin délicieux dont le gravier des allées ne devait, hélas! plus jamais grincer sous mes pas.’
Que signifient cette jeune fille à jamais punie par le destin, la maladie incurable, cette distance entre elle et le narrateur, ce sentiment du temps qui a presque tout détruit? Marcel projette-t-il un amour impossible?”
(The narrator finally says farewell to Odette: ‘I would have held her in my arms: I would have told her I loved her… Tears were choking me. I walked down the long corridor, through the delicious garden and paths whose pebbles I would never again tread on.’ What is the meaning of this young woman for ever punished by fate, of the incurable illness, of the distance between her and the narrator, of that feeling of time destroying almost everything? Does Marcel evoke an impossible love?)
Distance indeed. Monsieur Tadié reveals the true position of the narrator in La Recherche: he is Marcel, the young man whose love for Odette is impossible (for reasons I would not comment on in this post). And yet this narrator, a full participant in the story, keeps his distance. You may argue that they are reasons for Marcel, and hence, the narrateur, not to get closer to Odette.
So do I. I admit a feeble sentiment for Melissa (and indeed for Odette too): I think she’s sinned against more than a sinner, and possibly innocent, but I don’t say anything: this is not what her author intends – as far as I can tell… In one word I try and keep away from the plot, from the lives of the characters, I just… well… narrate.
The role of narrator is at time painful: think about it, events unravel, according to the author’s fancy, characters love, suffer, fall ill, maybe even die. And what are we to do? Unless the author decides to get one of his creatures – will they forgive me for saying “creatures”? I somehow doubt it – to tell the tale herself, we have to present the facts to the reader, in the most interesting and honest way. Yes, I know, the case of a narrator also participant, from Marcel to the creations of Monsieur Murakami, is even more complicated. So is life.
Image: courtesy Maries Laurencin at http://films7.com/art/arts/marie-laurencin-jeunes-filles-proust-beaute-desir