Fête des mères

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madeleines
This Sunday is Mother’s Day in the UK. In France, Mothers Day is usually on the last Sunday in May, except if it coincides with Pentecost. In this case, Mother’s Day is shifted to the first Sunday of June.

On this occasion I would like to invite you to read a few lines by Marcel Proust (1871-1922) where the narrator mentions his mother. They are extracted from “Un amour de Swann” which is the second part of the book Du côté de chez Swann. Proust’s big novel, À la recherche du temps perdu, contains 7 volumes ( In Search of Lost Time); Du côté de chez Swann is the first one:

“Ma seule consolation, quand je montais me coucher, était que maman viendrait m’embrasser quand je serais dans mon lit. Mais ce bonsoir durait si peu de temps, elle redescendait si vite, que le moment où je l’entendais monter puis où passait dans le couloir à double porte le bruit léger de sa robe de jardin en mousseline bleue, à laquelle pendaient de petits cordons de paille tressée, était pour moi, un moment douloureux. Il annonçait celui qui allait le suivre, où elle m’aurait quitté, où elle serait redescendue, de sorte que ce bonsoir que j’aimais tant, j’en arrivais à souhaiter qu’il vient le plus tard possible, à ce que se prolongeât le temps de répit où maman n’était pas encore venue.” (Marcel Proust, Du côté de chez Swann, Gallimard)

English translation:

“My sole consolation when I went upstairs for the night was that Mamma would come in and kiss me after I was in bed. But this good night lasted for so short a time: she wentdown again so soon that the moment in which I heard her climb the stairs, and thencaught the sound of her garden dress of blue muslin, from which hung little tassels of  plaited straw, rustling along the double-doored corridor, was for me a moment of thekeenest sorrow. So much did I love that good night that I reached the stage of hoping that it would come as late as possible, so as to prolong the time of respite during whichMamma would not yet have appeared.” (https://fr.scribd.com/doc/4623584/Marcel-Proust-Swann-s-Way-Volume-1-of-Remembrance-of-Thin)

But the real tribute to the mother comes in the famous episode of the madeleine. The narrator in Un amour de Swann reveals how this little cake dipped in a cup of tea brings back all his memories from his childhood; the cakes that will be the material for the seven books. By giving a madeleine to the narrator, his mother will actually be at the origin of his writing process. That is to say that she gave him birth a second time, as a writer.

« Il y avait déjà bien des années que, de Combray, tout ce qui n’était pas le théâtre et le drame de mon coucher, n’existait plus pour moi, quand un jour d’hiver, comme je rentrais à la maison, ma mère, voyant que j’avais froid, me proposa de me faire prendre, contre mon habitude, un peu de thé. Je refusai d’abord et, je ne sais pourquoi, me ravisai. Elle envoya chercher un de ces gâteaux courts et dodus appelés Petites Madeleines qui semblent avoir été moulés dans la valve rainurée d’une coquille de Saint- Jacques. Et bientôt, machinalement, accablé par la morne journée et la perspective d’un triste lendemain, je portai à mes lèvres une cuillerée du thé où j’avais laissé s’amollir un morceau de madeleine. Mais à l’instant même où la gorgée mêlée des miettes du gâteau toucha mon palais, je tressaillis, attentif à ce qui se passait d’extraordinaire en moi. Un plaisir délicieux m’avait envahi, isolé, sans la notion de sa cause. Il m’avait aussitôt rendu les vicissitudes de la vie indifférentes, ses désastres inoffensifs, sa brièveté illusoire, de la même façon qu’opère l’amour, en me remplissant d’une essence précieuse: ou plutôt cette essence n’était pas en moi, elle était moi. (…) Tout Combray et ses environs, tout cela qui prend forme et solidité, est sorti, ville et jardins, de ma tasse de thé.”

English translation:

“Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, as I came home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason,changed my mind. She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petitesmadeleines,’ which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory—this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. (…) The whole of Combray and of its  surroundings, taking their proper shapes and growing solid, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.”

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