Proust Book Group – loss of innocence in ‘Combray’ by Connie
Like the rest of the group, I was struggling to find the “loss of
innocence” theme in Combray when I was reading this week.
Obviously we all found something in the end and had plenty to talk about.
Talking is what brings the book alive for me and fires me up to go
back and read some more, which is what I did afterwards – I confess
that part of me wanted to catch up a bit as I was falling behind.
And almost immediately I found a passage which is so obviously about sexual awakening.
It was buried in the middle of a long passage – I could so easily
have missed it rushing to get through it in time for our bookgroup.
Did anyone mention it today and I didn’t notice? Quite likely.
It begins with a description of the walks he is now old enough to
make alone and the strong feelings the landscape evokes in him, which are mixed up with a vague sexual yearning for the “peasant-girl” he wishes for. Back home in Combray, at the top of the house he stands “in the little room that smelt of orris root”, looks out at the Castle of Roussainville which he has just seen on his walk, and ” with the heroic misgivings of as traveller setting out on a voyage of exploration or of a desperate wretch hesitating on the verge of self-destruction, faint with emotion, I explored, across the bounds of my own experience, an untrodden path which for all I knew was deadly – until the moment when a natural trail like that left by a snail smeared the leaves of the flowering blackcurrant that drooped around me.”
(page 172 Penguin, Kilmartin translation)
This is clearly a sexual exploration and with it he evokes the intense
fear and excitement he felt then, but described in a mock-heroic light by the narrator as experienced adult. Part of the fear must surely stem from a feeling of religious transgression.
There are many references to his sexual and romantic longings and no single moment of loss of innocence, but this seems to be an important moment – one where he takes a big step into the adult world.