Official cause of death – ugly curtains
Usually when an artist of any kind dies in a hotel room, there’s drugs, booze, hookers and/or goats involved. Our lad Proust is staying at the Grand Hôtel of Balbec (fictional place based on Cabourg) with his granny, and having such a horrible time he feels sure he is close to death. He is intimidated by the other guests, and tries to speak to an organist whilst playing, to tell them how great their work is, but is ignored. which isn’t surprising, that’s rather like speaking to a bus driver, they aren’t there for conversation. Stand behind the line.
His feeling of doom is not because of a wedding going on until 3 a.m, a blocked toilet or inedible food. It is largely due to the fact it is not home. There is a clock, it ticks. It doesn’t sound the same as Proust’s clock at home (how dare it!), and he can’t ignore it. There is a tall cheval-glass that he claims must be taken away if he is ever to have any kind of calm. He is becoming feverish. He can’t go on much longer. But then, Grandma Proust comes back from a shopping expedition, and her face, and the peace and confidence she brings, is enough to soothe them. He begins to undo the buttons of his clothes to take some rest, and she says “Please! Let Me! Your old grandma loves to do it.” and he (at what, 17 or 18 years of age) allows granny to undress him, and tuck him into bed. Her room is next door, and she asks he knock on the wall whenever he needs help, and after a few days of intense grandmother-nursing, he is well again.
Most fascinatingly to come out of all of this, is an actual nugget of thought that reminds me why I’m reading Proust in the first place. After the initial turmoil is over, again he writes of death, but not due to the pattern on the curtains, but due to acclimatising to it. The moving of the glass and quietening of the clock, and losing the part of himself that minded. That we can also the lose the part of ourselves that doesn’t like a person, a place, or even adapt to a bereavement. That we can get over things, and he’s not seeing that as a gain, but the death of the part of us that made us a certain way at a certain time. Death immediately followed by a resurrection of a new self, but a changed one. It’s like he really wasn’t cut out for actual living and life’s infinite and certain shifts.
Adaptation is obviously a good thing, necessary healing, otherwise the world would be full of Miss Havershams, we’d forever be in the throes of a candelabra shortage and there wouldn’t be enough sympathetic grandmothers to go round.
If a stay at the lavish Grand Hôtel has this effect, I would very much like to see how Proust would have got on at a Premier Inn, a Travel Lodge, and especially a youth hostel. There’s a reality show in that somewhere.