Guermantes Way, 1920-21
Translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff & Terence
Kilmartin Revised by D. J. Enright
Part Two: Chapter One -
Death of Grandmother:
My mother spoke: "Oh, but then Mamma will be having
trouble with her breathing again."
The doctor reassured her: "Oh, no! The effect of the
oxygen will last a good while yet. We can begin again presently."
It seemed to me that he would not have said this of
a dying woman, that if this good effect was going to last it meant
that it was still possible to do something to keep her alive. The
hiss of the oxygen ceased for a few moments. But the happy plaint of
her breathing still poured forth, light, troubled, unfinished,
ceaselessly recommencing. Now and then it seemed that all was over;
her breath stopped, whether owing to one of those transpositions to
another octave that occur in the respiration of a sleeper, or else
from a natural intermittence, an effect of anaesthesia, the progress
of asphyxia, some failure of the heart. The doctor stooped to feel
my grandmother’s pulse, but already, as if a tributary had come to
irrigate the dried-up river-bed, a new chant had taken up the
interrupted phrase, which resumed in another key with the same
inexhaustible momentum. Who knows whether, without my grandmother’s
even being conscious of them, countless happy and tender memories
compressed by suffering were not escaping from her now, like those
lighter gases which had long been compress in the cylinders? It was
as though everything that she had to tell us was pouring out, that
it was us that she was addressing with this prolixity, this
eagerness, this effusion. At the foot of the bed, convulsed by every
gasp of this agony, not weeping but at moments drenched with tears,
my mother stood with the unheeding desolation of a tree lashed by
the rain and shaken by the wind. I was made to dry my eyes before I
went up to kiss my grandmother.
I thought she could no longer see," said my father.
"One can never be sure," replied the doctor.
When my lips touched her face, my grandmother’s
hands quivered, and a long shudder ran through her whole body — a
reflex, perhaps, or perhaps it is that certain forms of tenderness
have, so to speak, a hyperaesthesia which recognizer through the
veil of unconsciousness what they scarcely need senses to enable
them to love. Suddenly my grandmother half rose, made a violent
effort, like someone struggling to resist an attempt on his life.
Françoise could not withstand this sight and burst out sobbing.
Remembering what the doctor had just said I tried to make her leave
the room. At that moment my grandmother opened her eyes.
I thrust myself hurriedly in front of Françoise to hide her
tears, while my parents were speaking to the patient.
The hiss of the oxygen had ceased: the doctor moved
away from the bedside. My grandmother was dead.
An hour or two later Françoise was able for the last time, and
without causing it any pain, to comb that beautiful hair which was
only tinged with grey and hitherto had seemed less old than my
grandmother herself. But now, on the contrary, it alone set the
crown of age on a face grown young again, from which had vanished
the wrinkles, the contractions, the swellings, the strains, the
hollows which pain had carved on it over the years. As in the
far-off days when her parents had chosen for her a bridegroom, she
had the features, delicately traced by purity and submission, the
cheeks glowing with a chaste expectation, with a dream of happiness,
with an innocent gaiety even, which the years had gradually
destroyed. Life in withdrawing from her had taken with it
disillusionment of her life. A smile seemed to be hovering on my
grandmother’s lips. On that funeral couch, death, like a sculptor of
the Middle Ages, had laid her down in the form of a young girl.