I did what all we grown men do when face to face with suffering and injustice: I ran up to the top of the house to cry by myself (Proust)

I did what all we grown men do when face to face with suffering and injustice: I ran up to the top of the house to cry by myself (Proust)

When these walks of my grandmother’s took place after dinner there was one thing which never failed to bring her back to the house: this was if (at one of those points when her circular itinerary brought her back, mothlike, in sight of the lamp in the little parlour where the liqueurs were set out on the card-table) my great-aunt called out to her: “Bathilde! Come in and stop your husband drinking brandy!” For, simply to tease her (she had brought so different a type of mind into my father’s family that everyone made fun of her), my great-aunt used to make my grandfather, who was forbidden liqueurs, take just a few drops. My poor grandmother would come in and beg and implore her husband not to taste the brandy; and he would get angry and gulp it down all the same, and she would go out again sad and discouraged, but still smiling, for she was so humble of heart and so gentle that her tenderness for others and her disregard for herself and her own troubles blended in a smile which, unlike those seen on the majority of human faces, bore no trace of irony save for herself, while for all of us kisses seemed to spring from her eyes, which could not look upon those she loved without seeming to bestow upon them passionate caresses.

This torture inflicted on her by my great-aunt, the sight of my grandmother’s vain entreaties, of her feeble attempts, doomed in advance, to remove the liqueur-glass from my grandfather’s hands—all these were things of the sort to which, in later years, one can grow so accustomed as to smile at them and to take the persecutor’s side resolutely and cheerfully enough to persuade oneself that it is not really persecution; but in those days they filled me with such horror that I longed to strike my great-aunt. And yet, as soon as I heard her “Bathilde! Come in and stop your husband drinking brandy,” in my cowardice I became at once a man, and did what all we grown men do when face to face with suffering and injustice: I preferred not to see them; I ran up to the top of the house to cry by myself in a little room beside the schoolroom and beneath the roof, which smelt of orris-root and was scented also by a wild currant-bush which had climbed up between the stones of the outer wall and thrust a flowering branch in through the half-opened window. Intended for a more special and a baser use, this room, from which, in the daytime, I could see as far as the keep of Roussainville-le-Pin, was for a long time my place of refuge, doubtless because it was the only room whose door I was allowed to lock, whenever my occupation was such as required an inviolable solitude: reading or day-dreaming, tears or sensual pleasure.

Alas! I did not realise that my own lack of will-power, my delicate health, and the consequent uncertainty as to my future, weighed far more heavily on my grandmother’s mind than any little dietary indiscretion by her husband in the course of those endless perambulations, afternoon and evening, during which we used to see her handsome face passing to and fro, half raised towards the sky, its brown and wrinkled cheeks, which with age had acquired almost the purple hue of tilled fields in autumn, covered, if she were “going out,” by a half-lifted veil, while upon them either the cold or some sad reflection invariably left the drying traces of an involuntary tear.

In Search of Lost Time, Volume I: Swann’s Way

Marcel Proust



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