The Manneport, Reflections of Water, Claude Monet 1885
This week’s theme is ‘What makes your heart sing?’ and is inspired by a quote by Marcel Proust: ‘Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.’
Proust is most famous for his reflections on memory and time. In his major work, A La Recherché do Temps Perdu (literally, In Search of Lost Time but rendered by his first translator as A Remembrence of Things Past) the narrator strives to recall the past but is unable to in detail until triggered by a sensation – the celebrated madeleine dunked in tisane, but also the feeling of an uneven flagstone under his feet and the sound of a “little phrase” of music.
But there is much more than musings on memory in the work. Summarising Proust is a famously perilous undertaking and one that I am not remotely qualified to attempt – however one of his major themes seems very relevant to us and that is art. Proust contemplates art and our relationship to it, both as creators and consumers, directly but he also uses fictional artists as foils, principally: Elstir, a painter, Bergotte, a novelist, Vinteuil, a composer and the actress, Berma. Elstir is, to some extent, modelled on Claude Monet who painted extensively on the coast of Normandy. Proust’s narrator (usually, called Marcel though he is not named in the book) encounters Elstir in the second volume, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (translated by Scott Moncrieff as Within a Budding Grove) when he visits the fictional Normandy seaside resort of Balbec. At Balbec he visits Elstir’s studio and talks about the impressionistic seascapes
Sometimes in my window in the hotel at Balbec, in the morning whenFrançoise undid the fastenings of the curtains that shut out the light, in the evening when I was waiting until it should be time to go out with Saint-Loup, I had been led by some effect of sunlight to mistake what was only a darker stretch of sea for a distant coastline, or to gaze at a belt of liquid azure without knowing whether it belonged to sea or sky. But presently my reason would re-establish between the elements that distinction which in my first impression I had overlooked. In the same way I used, in Paris, in my bedroom, to hear a dispute, almost a riot, in the street below, until I had referred back to its cause—a carriage for instance that was rattling towards me—this noise, from which I now eliminated the shrill and discordant vociferations which my ear had really heard but which my reason knew that wheels did not produce. But the rare moments in which we see nature as she is, with poetic vision, it was from those that Elstir’s work was taken. One of his metaphors that occurred most commonly in the seascapes which he had round him was precisely that which, comparing land with sea, suppressed every line of demarcation between them. It was this comparison, tacitly and untiringly repeated on a single canvas, which gave it that multiform and powerful unity, the cause (not always clearly perceived by themselves) of the enthusiasm which Elstir’s work aroused in certain collectors.
Marcel also describes the scene from his hotel bedroom window, in particular the sea which is ever changing as tide, waves and most of all light are always different. It seems to me that Proust is attempting to use words here in a way that is intentionally analogous to the way that impressionist artists use paint. If true, this is hardly a brilliant observation as he gives a big clue in the descriptions of Elstir/Monet’s paintings quoted above. But, so you can judge for yourself I will put a much bigger extract than usual up. I am eager to hear what others think of this and am just sorry that my French is never going to be nearly good enough to read it in the original.
Window in which I was, henceforward, to plant myself every morning, as at the pane of a mail coach in which one has slept, to see whether, in the night, a long sought mountain-chain has come nearer or withdrawn—only here it was those hills of the sea which, before they come dancing back towards us, are apt to retire so far that often it was only at the end of a long and sandy plain that I would distinguish, miles it seemed away, their first undulations upon a background transparent, vaporous, bluish, like the glaciers that one sees in the backgrounds of the Tuscan Primitives. On other mornings it was quite close at hand that the sun was smiling upon those waters of a green as tender as that preserved in Alpine pastures (among mountains on which the sun spreads himself here and there like a lazy giant who may at any moment come leaping gaily down their craggy sides) less by the moisture of their soil than by the liquid mobility of their light. Anyhow, in that breach which shore and water between them drive through all the rest of the world, for the passage, the accumulation there of light, it is light above all, according to the direction from which it comes and along which our eyes follow it, it is light that shifts and fixes the undulations of the sea. Difference of lighting modifies no less the orientation of a place, constructs no less before our eyes new goals which it inspires in us the yearning to attain, than would a distance in space actually traversed in the course of a long journey. When, in the morning, the sun came from behind the hotel, disclosing to me the sands bathed in light as far as the first bastions of the sea, it seemed to be shewing me another side of the picture, and to be engaging me in the pursuit, along the winding path of its rays, of a journey motionless but ever varied amid all the fairest scenes of the diversified landscape of the hours. And on this first morning the sun pointed out to me far off with a jovial finger those blue peaks of the sea, which bear no name upon any geographer’s chart, until, dizzy with its sublime excursion over the thundering and chaotic surface of their crests and avalanches, it came back to take shelter from the wind in my bedroom, swaggering across the unmade bed and scattering its riches over the splashed surface of the basin-stand, and into my open trunk, where by its very splendour and ill-matched luxury it added still further to the general effect of disorder.
Prompts: What makes your heart sing? If it is something or someone physical try describing them or it as if painting with your words. If not… well try thinking of an image that represents the thing that makes your heart sing and paint a verbal picture of that.
Alternatively describe a visit to the beach
Sur les planches de Trouville, Claude Monet 1870