Monday, February 28, 2011

This is a site that shows some fascinating photos and has audio bits from Proust's correspondence about "Balbec," based on his experiences at the Grande Hotel in Cabourg, France. I came upon it when I googled "Cabourg" and found this French tourism website. Take look and listen!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Comparing the English and French in Dr. Bouldon's praise of neurotics

Feel comfortable to be called a neurotic.
Supportez d’être appelée une nerveuse.

You belong to the splendid, pitiable family that is the salt of the earth.
Vous appartenez à cette famille magnifique et lamentable qui est le sel de la terre.

Everything we think of as great has come to us from neurotics.
Tout ce que nous connaissons de grand nous vient des nerveux.

They and they alone are the ones who have founded religions and created great works of art.
Ce sont eux et non pas d’autres qui ont fondé les religions et composé les chefs-d’œuvre.

The world will never realize how much it is indebted to them, particularly how much they have suffered in order to present it with their gifts.
Jamais le monde ne saura tout ce qu’il leur doit et surtout ce qu’eux ont souffert pour le lui donner.

We appreciate good music, fine paintings, a thousand exquisite things, without knowing what they cost those who created them in terms of insomnia, tears, fitful laughter, nettle rash, asthma, epilepsy, and worse still, a fear of dying.
Nous goûtons les fines musiques, les beaux tableaux, mille délicatesses, mais nous ne savons pas ce qu’elles ont coûté, à ceux qui les inventèrent, d’insomnies, de pleurs, de rires spasmodiques, d’urticaires, d’asthmes, d’épilepsies, d’une angoisse de mourir qui est pire que tout cela....

What Proust says about les grands nerveux

Marcel Proust on les grands nerveux:
 Feel comfortable to be called a neurotic. You belong to the splendid, pitiable family that is the salt of the earth. Everything we think of as great has come to us from neurotics. They and they alone are the ones who have founded religions and created great works of art. The world will never realize how much it is indebted to them, particularly how much they have suffered in order to present it with their gifts. We appreciate good music, fine paintings, a thousand exquisite things, without knowing what they cost those who created them in terms of insomnia, tears, fitful laughter, nettle rash, asthma, epilepsy, and worse still, a fear of dying.

—From The Guermantes Way, translated by Mark Treharne, p. 299.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Favorite Quote of Mine from Proust's last book

A favorite Proust quote of mine: Moncrieff translation, Vol II, p. 1001-2
 For instinct dictates the duty to be done and intelligence supplies the excuses for evading it. But in art excuses count for nothing; good intentions are of no avail; the artist must at every instant heed his instinct; so that art is the most real of all things, the sternest school in life and truly the Last Judgment. This book, the most difficult of all to decipher, is also the only one dictated to us by reality, the only one the ‘imprinting’ of which on our consciousness was done by reality itself.

No matter what idea life may have implanted with us, its material representation, the outline of the impression it has made upon us, is always the guarantee of its indispensable truth. The ideas formed by pure intellect have only a logical truth, a potential truth; the selection of them is an arbitrary act. The book written in symbolic characters not traced by us is our only book. Not that the ideas we form ourselves may not be logically correct, but we do not know whether they are true.

Only the subjective impression, however inferior the material may seem to be and however improbable the outline, is a criterion of truth, and for that reason it alone merits being apprehended by the mind, for it alone is able, if the mind can extract this truth, to lead the mind to a greater perfection and impart to it a pure joy. The subjective impression is for the writer what experimentation is for the scientist, but with the difference, that with the scientist the work of the intelligence precedes and with the writer it comes afterwards.

Anything we have not had to decipher and clarify by our own personal effort, anything that was clear before we intervened, is not our own. Nothing comes from ourselves but that which we draw out of the obscurity within us and which is unknown to others. And since art is a faithful recomposing of life, around these truths that one has attained within oneself there floats an atmosphere of poetry, the sweetness of a mystery, which is merely the semi-darkness through which we have come.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


While reading, I came across a phrase that struck me so strongly that I actually exclaimed "Oh!" out loud: "Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees". "Yes," I thought, "that's what Proust is trying to do - to see things directly." Then I thought, "No, he's obsessed with names." As usual I'm confused by Proust.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I've gathered some information about French military ranks and commissions from Google searches. I've not edited or commented, just consolidated what seems most relevant. The following link is the best information I found ( "Proust the Private Soldier"); some of you have probably already found this site.

Military Ranks


This Wikipedia article includes lots of detailed description of Napolean I and Napolean III’s armies. I’m not sure, but it seems to be implied that the French Army of 1900 (St Loup’s army) was similar to that of Napolean III. (jm)

Ranks of the Grande Armée: Unlike the armies of the Ancien Régime and other monarchies, advancement in the Grande Armée was based on proven ability rather than social class or wealth. Napoleon wanted his army to be a meritocracy, where every soldier, no matter how humble of birth, could rise rapidly to the highest levels of command, much as he had done (provided, of course, they did not rise too high or too fast). This was equally applied to the French and foreign officers, and no less than 140 foreigners attained the rank of Général.[48] By and large this goal was achieved. Given the right opportunities to prove themselves, capable men could rise to the top within a few years, whereas in other armies it usually required decades if at all. It was said that even the lowliest private carried a marshal's baton in his knapsack.

Grande Armée rank Modern U.S. equivalent

Commissioned officers

Maréchal Lieutenant General

Général de division Major General

Général de brigade Brigadier General

Colonel Colonel

Colonel en second Lieutenant Colonel

Chef de bataillon or Chef d'escadron Major

Capitaine Captain

Lieutenant First Lieutenant

Sous-lieutenant Second Lieutenant

Non-commissioned officers

Adjudant-Chef Warrant Officer

Adjudant Sergeant-Major

Sergent-Major or Maréchal des logis Chef] First sergeant

Sergent or Maréchal des Logis Sergeant

Caporal-Fourrier or Brigadier-Fourrier Company clerk/supply Sergeant

Caporal or Brigadier Corporal

Soldat or Cavalier(Cavalry) Private

Canonnier(Artillery) Private



Army of Emperor Napoleon III: 1850-1900

Promotion in the army was determined by a law that had been passed in 1832. Approx. 66 % of the officers were promoted on the basis of seniority, up to the rank of commandant.


Commissioned v Non-commissioned Officers

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A non-commissioned officer, called a sub-officer in some countries, is a military officer who does not have a high rank and who has not been given a commission. Non-commissioned officers (usually) obtain their position of authority by promotion from the lower ranks.

Commissioned officers generally receive training as leadership and management generalists, in addition to training relating to their specific military occupational specialty or function in the military. Most developed nations have set the goal of having their officer corps university-educated, although exceptions exist in some nations to accommodate officers who have risen from the non-commissioned ranks (e.g. the battlefield commission). Many advanced militaries require university degrees as a prerequisite for commissioning, even from the enlisted ranks.

A commission is a physical document issued to certify the appointment of a commissioned officer by a sovereign power. The more specific terms commissioning parchment or commissioning scroll are often used to avoid ambiguity, due to "commission" being a homonym which directs the individual in carrying out their duty regardless of what authority or responsibility they may have at any time. However the document is not usually in the form of a scroll and is more often printed on paper instead of parchment. Commissions are typically signed by the Head of State or other Commander-in-Chief.

The sale of commissions was a common practice in most European armies where wealthy and noble officers purchased their rank. Only the Imperial Russian Army and the Prussian Army never used such a system. While initially shunned in the French Revolutionary Army, it was eventually revived in the Grande Armée of Napoleon I (mainly in the French allied and satellite states). The British Army, which used this practice through most of its history, was last to abolish it. (Also has info on how titles are conferred)

....military commissions: in the Middle ages, the owner of a noble fief could be ennobled if he wasn't so, but after 1275 a condition that three consecutive generations hold the fief ("tierce foi") was added, and the privilege was abolished in 1579. The Edict of November 1750, when some military commissions were opened to non-nobles, it was decided that officers reaching the rank of general would automatically receive hereditary nobility. Officers of lesser rank who received the Order of Saint-Louis and fulfilled certain requirements were exempt from the taille (a tax on non-nobles); the third generation meeting the requirements received hereditary nobility.

Officers’ Servants - (couldn't find anything very relevant to Donciers)

A batman (or batwoman) is a soldier or airman assigned to a commissioned officer as a personal servant. The term is derived from the obsolete bat, "packsaddle" (from French bât, from Old French bast, from Late Latin bastum) + man. A batman's duties often include:

* acting as a "runner" to convey orders from the officer to subordinates

* maintaining the officer's uniform and personal equipment as a valet

* driving the officer's vehicle, sometimes under combat conditions

* acting as the officer's bodyguard in combat

* other miscellaneous tasks the officer does not have time or inclination to do

The action of serving as a batman was referred to as "batting". In armies where officers typically came from the upper class, it was not unusual for a former batman to follow the officer into later civilian life as a domestic servant. In the French Army the term for batman was ordonnance. Batmen were abolished after World War II.

[JRR Tolkien took the relationship of his characters Samwise Gamgee and Frodo Baggins from his observations during his military service during World War I of the relationship between a batman and his officer. [The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter]

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The following is a quote from an interview with Margarite Yourcenar that appeared in 1988 in the Paris Review. I think her comments on Proust and Phedre are intriguing -- as is the characterization of the way the French think of "love" etc.


Proust had this idea that Racine’s Phedre could be indentified with a man as well as a woman. But Racine’s Phedre is much more French than Greek: You will see it at once if you compare her to the Greek Phedre. Her passionate jealousy is a typical theme of French literature, just as it is in Proust. That is why even in Phedre, Racine had to find her a rival, Aricie, who is an insignificant character, like a bridal from a popular dress shop. In other words, love as possession, against someone. And that is prodigiously French. Spanish jealousy is quite different: It is real hatred, the despair of someone who has been deprived of his/her food. As for the Anglo-Saxon love, well, there is nothing more beautiful than Shakespeare’s sonnets, while German love has produced some wonderful poetry too.


I have this theory that the French do not understand Baudelaire and never have. They speak of his rhetoric, yet he is the least rhetorical of poets. He writes like an Oriental poet—dare I say like a Persian poet?


Baudelaire is a sublime poet. But the French don’t even understand Hugo, who is also a sublime poet. I have—as Malraux also did—taken titles from Hugo’s verses: Le Cerveau noir de piranèse, and others. Whenever I am passing by Place Vendôme in Paris I recall Hugo’s poem in which he is thinking of Napoleon, wondering if he should prefer “la courbe d’Hannibal et l’angle d’Alexandre au carré de César.” A whole strategy contained in one line of alexandrine! Of course there are times when Hugo is bad and rhetorical—even great poets have their off days—but nonetheless he is prodigious.

You can read the full interview at: