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Modern Philology


Near the midway point of La prisonnière (1923), Proust's narrator interrupts his obsessive account of the love, jealousy, deception, and suffering that link him to Albertine in order to recount the death of Bergotte, the novelist whom Marcel admired as a boy and came to know socially as a young man. In the years leading up to the novelist's death, we learn that "Bergotte had ceased to go out of doors." But despite belonging to the sodality of Proustian shut-ins that includes Aunt Leonie and Marcel at the time during which La prisonnière takes place, Bergotte nevertheless keeps his soul, otherwise "in danger of becoming stagnant," in motion by buying the visits of "women--girls, one ought rather to say." These visitors provoke his sensual and erotic interest, although it is implied that he is impotent: the "girls" are "ashamed to receive so much in return for so little." Bergotte justifies his prodigality by reasoning that he is getting something in return: "And so Bergotte said to himself: 'I spend more than a multimillionaire on girls, but the pleasures or disappointments that they give me make me write a book which brings me in money [l'argent].' Economically, this argument was absurd, but no doubt he found some charm in thus transmuting gold into caresses and caresses into gold" (3:181).


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