A delicate relationship | The weekly country

It took me months to read a 450-page book in French. The problem was not French, which I read from a young age, nor the length, nor that it bored me. It was not a novel, not an essay, and the author had not written a line. It was about the oral memories, arranged with great talent by the journalist Georges Belmont in 1973, of someone who was not “important”: the maid, housekeeper, housekeeper or whatever you want to call her who was in the service of Marcel Proust during his last nine or ten years old and who happened to be his greatest confidant, his best friend and without a doubt the one who loved him the most. Her name was Céleste Albaret, and if the reading has taken me so long it has been because I felt so comfortable in the houses that the two of them lived in, in their time and in their company, that I did not want Monsieur Proust to finish me and lose them seen forever. Now, I have closed the volume, and I see that Rosa Montero wrote about it in EPS years ago, on the occasion of its publication in Spanish, by the editorial Captain Swing, if I’m not mistaken.

Céleste Albaret was hired by Proust when she was a very clever country girl who was about to marry the taxi driver who chauffeured the writer, Odilon. It doesn’t explain much about her marriage, but the truth is that she ended up living in Proust’s house, accommodated without complaint to his crazy hours. As is known, Proust lived at night and slept — little — in the morning. Either he worked tirelessly at home, or went out late to dinners, parties or soirées, or received a visitor, also at midnight. Afterwards, he used to call Céleste to tell her in detail how he had been, how the ladies were dressed, the nonsense they or the men had blurted out, who had flattered or scorned him, like that until dawn. Céleste was not listening to him fed up or yawning, but totally spellbound. Despite the whims of the writer, despite his “innocent” disregard, he professed an absolute adoration for him because he was always kind, funny, highly polite and smiling. After Proust’s death in 1922, she kept quiet for 50 years, and when she was 82, she agreed to meet Belmont to record 70 hours of conversations over five months. So many fallacies, inaccuracies, exaggerations, poisons, and fables had accumulated about the novelist that he wanted to face them all. The result is admirable, for the precision of his recollections, his honesty and the lack of conceit of whoever was closest to Proust, had the first news that In Search of Lost Time She had found the word “End”, she had been the ultimate depository of her trust and affection and she had decisively helped that masterpiece to exist.

There are few testimonies of the curious and sometimes deep friendship that is established between employer and employee, or between “sir and maid”, and this is unique of course. Proust was maniacal, capricious, orderly in his habits. But they gave him outbursts of impatience, and he was capable of sending Céleste, at two in the morning, to hand deliver a letter to a musician who had dazzled him (forcing him to get out of bed in his pajamas, incidentally). ), or to look for a gastronomic delight in the hotels that never closed. The latter was rare, since, in fact, it barely fed. In a whole day he had a coffee with milk and a croissant or two, much to the despair of Céleste, who, however, respected him so much that she did not dare to nag him or contravene his wishes. Throughout Monsieur Proust we witness the consolidation of the delicate friendship between one of the greatest novelists in history, an asthmatic and always fragile health, and the naive girl who never stopped being (neither naive nor entirely girl) .

Through her respectful words one sees that daily relationship that is exciting. She cared for him in his not long agony and consoled him in his grief: “My poor Céleste, what is wrong with me, if I can no longer suffice myself?” Or when, near the end, he thought he saw a “horrible, fat woman dressed in black” in the bedroom, and began to pick up the newspapers from the top of the bed, which led Céleste to remember that in her hometown peasants said: “The dying pick up, with their fingers”; and it was then that he lost the hope that he had maintained against all prognosis and diagnosis. And, once his companion of nights and days passed away, Céleste’s disinterest and dignity became clear: when the house was already being emptied, after a few months, Dr. Robert Proust, brother, asked him if he had any idea what He would have wanted to leave Marcel with him, because he would respect that. “Nothing, sir. Thank you. And I don’t want anything ”. Later, two friends of the deceased, Mme Straus and the banker Finaly, expressed their willingness to help her and asked what they could do for her. “Nothing,” Céleste also replied, and gave them infinite thanks. Then she was publicly silent for 50 years and then at last she spoke at length, when she was old, and memorable as loyal people often are. What he told is in this book that I have avoided saying goodbye to, even making it last for several months.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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