It’s been a long time since my last post. I could offer excuses for my long silence, even valid reasons, but I doubt anyone is interested so I won’t. Among other things, I have been offline and searching for lost time.
I finished reading Proust’s masterpiece a couple of weeks ago, and although I skipped a few bits where his introspection got on my nerves (especially in the Albertine episodes), I have to say that on the whole I enjoyed it and I am very glad that I finally made the effort. I am feeling pleased and proud of myself for having persevered and achieved something worthwhile. It’s a good book!
Having reached the “Fin”, where the whole thing comes full circle and all the loose ends are tied up, I realized why I had so dismally failed with it first time around, and now I feel the need to go back to the beginning and read it all again. That’s one of the greatest compliments I can pay any author. I am also still looking for a complete set of the seven-tome novel at a reasonable price; some of the volumes were in a second-hand bookshop here, but at 12 € apiece, that is more than I am prepared to fork out for something that sits unread and dusty in so many French homes. I’m in France at present. I remain optimistic.
Proust’s theme of memory – voluntary and involuntary – has recurred, aptly enough, in my own life during these last few weeks. I have been spending time with my daughter in our Brittany home, where the pace is slow and time is governed by the tides.
We have had some very sad moments, owing to the need to have my daughter’s lovely and very lovable little dog put to sleep. That isn’t something you want to have to do during your holidays, and obviously it has cast a pall over the last weeks. It also led to a time of sharing doggy memories and stories, as she had been part of our lives for over fourteen years and had caused a great deal of merriment and amusement in that time. Other pets came back to life for us, too, re-surfacing in old photos that I have been sorting through.
And not only pets: people also.
After we cleared out my mother’s house last year, we decided to keep some of her furniture and had it shipped to this house in Brittany, where it fits in very well. Also in the consignment were several boxes, bags and suitcases containing photos, letters and other papers that my mother had carefully preserved, some of them now over a century old, and since we have had a few dull days recently I took the opportunity of starting to go through these. What a revelation! And what memories were evoked – including some events that I had entirely forgotten, and others that my daughter was unaware of. All fitting in with my Proustian mood, of course.
My mother never threw away letters or cards. We had to get rid of hundreds of Christmas and birthday cards last year, but had kept some that we decided had sentimental merit for us, for instance, correspondence from my grandparents, all my twenty-first birthday cards, and the cards my parents sent each other with tender and humorous little messages in them. There are also documents relating to happenings in my parents’ youth that are interesting for our family history.
But Mom had also kept all my letters home throughout my years away at university and from when I was a young bride and mother in Germany. Since I am in this respect a chip off the old block, I had kept the letters from my parents to me over this same period, and at some point must have given them back to my mother for safekeeping (my ex-husband was the opposite: he trashed everything that he didn’t see an immediate use for, so my mother’s later letters have vanished).
Thus we have a dialogue covering the entire decade of the 1960’s, plus incidental commentaries on events in the seventies, eighties and nineties, although these are sparser because I don’t have my mother’s replies, and anyway by that time we spent more time talking on the phone than writing to one another so the narrative is interrupted.
How strange to find myself suddenly back in the persona of the young woman I inhabited more than fifty years ago, reliving all the stress, drama and agony as well as all the fun and happiness of my late teens and twenties! The world turns, times change, and so do we. In some ways, although I recollect most of the events and my feelings then, I have difficulty in identifying with that “me”.
I have little sympathy for that young woman who irritates and annoys me. I don’t really like her and feel ashamed that I was so stupid, crass and egoistic. There are photos to go with the letters, and although I know it’s me, I feel she’s almost a stranger. I judge her very harshly, especially as I re-read my mother’s kind, sensible words and reflect on how fortunate I was to have such a wise and loving adviser – whilst at the time, I stubbornly pursued my own wilful ways. We alter gradually and imperceptibly, like everything else in nature.
Would I have acted differently if I had known how things were going to turn out? I look at my daughter – kind, loving, sensible and wise – and realise what a silly question that is. Change one moment, and everything goes out of kilter. No Things have turned out exactly as they were supposed to. I need to forgive that silly, heedless, selfish girl I used to be. Whoever I am now, she is part of me and I have to accept her. What would she have made of me, I wonder?
(Oh dear, in my daughter’s opinion, I haven’t really changed as much as I thought!)