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Gilberte-Habit

Posted 7/16/2015 7:54am by Eugene Wyatt.

For the first time in Marcel Proust's novel, Habit is mentioned in the second volume with a capital H.

Now the memories of love are no exception to the general laws of memory, which in turn are governed by the still more general laws of Habit(1)

At Balbec on his first visit, and the journey there, the Narrator has relapses of l'amour fou for Gilberte—an intermittence of indifference—after two years. He finds himself loving her and suffering because he lacks her,

The self that had loved her, which another self had already almost entirely supplanted, would reappear, stimulated far more often by a trivial than by an important event (2)

On the sea-front at Balbec the Narrator was reminded that he'd overheard a conversation between Gilberte and her father in Paris mentioning the same trivial Ministry,

... I heard someone who passed me on the sea-front at Balbec refer to “the head of the Ministry of Posts and his family.” (3)

Hearing that, caused him to feel—once again—forlorn for Gilberte. What follows is much like the result of involuntary memory.

... but hidden from our eyes in an oblivion more or less prolonged.

It is thanks to this oblivion alone that we can from time to time recover the person that we were, place ourselves in relation to things as he was placed, suffer anew because we are no longer ourselves but he, and because he loved what now leaves us indifferent. (4)

Habit is neither good nor bad but "... is bound by a diversity of laws."

In Paris I had grown more and more indifferent to Gilberte, thanks to Habit. The change of habit, that is to say the temporary cessation of Habit, completed Habit’s work when I set out for Balbec. (5)

I love Proust's magical side when he equates faeries with women in houses, when he writes of metempsychosis and time gone-bye—and so much more—and this too:

... what best reminds us of a person is precisely what we had forgotten (because it was of no importance [it was trivial], and we therefore left it in full possession of its strength). (6)

(1) À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs by Marcel Proust 1919; translated as Within a Budding Grove by C. K. Scott Moncrieff 1923 et al, p. 300.

(2) Ibid, p. 299.

(3) Ibid, p. 299.

(4) Ibid, p. 300.

(5) Ibid, p. 301.

(6) Ibid, p. 300.