Davis: pages 178-191; Moncrieff: pages 245-264
by Dennis Abrams
The marriage of Dr. Percepied’s daughter. Marcel sees the Duchess de Guermantes. A pimple at the corner of her nose. “So that’s Mme. de Guermantes — that’s what she is, that’s all she is!” But Marcel reunites her with her past: “Glorious since before Charlemange, the Guermantes had the right of life and death over their vassals; the Duchesse de Guermantes is a descendant of Genevieve de Brabant. She does not know, nor would she consent to know, any of the people here.” Her gaze meets Marcel’s and he, once again, falls in love. The perception and perspective of the three steeples. His first writing. “And so the Meseglise way and the Guermantes way remain for me linked to many of the little events of that life which, of all the various lives we live concurrently, is the most abundant in vicissitudes, the richest in episodes, our intellectual life.” We end back where we started, with Marcel in bed, arranging and rearranging his mental landscape.
So much to think about and love in this section. I find myself reading and re-reading Marcel’s first “encounter” with Mme. de Guermantes, his description of the steeples and his need to write about his experience, and finally, his realization of the importance that the memories of Combray held throughout his life: “When on summer evenings the melodious sky growls like a wild animal and everyone grumbles at the storm, it is because of the Meseglise way that I am the only one in ecstasy, inhaling, through the noise of the falling rain, the smell of invisible, enduring lilacs.” What an extraordinarily evocative and beautiful line.
In our weekend’s reading, the Guermantes theme develops as Marcel watches (always the watcher) the duchess at the wedding of Dr. Percepied’s daughter. And, we see another example of the idea of “Proust’s complaint,” as the reality of the Duchesse de Guermantes collides with Marcel’s dreams of her:
“Suddenly during the wedding service, a movement made by the verger as he shifted his position allowed me to see, sitting in a chapel, a blond lady with a large nose, piercing blue eyes, a full tie of smooth, shiny, new mauve silk, and a little pimple at the corner of nose.” (I love that little extra note of the pimple.) “…I was very disappointed. My disappointment came from the fact that I had never noticed, when I thought of Mme. de Guermantes, that I was picturing her to myself in the colors of a tapestry of a stained-glass window, in another century, of a material different from that of other living people. I had never realized that she might have a red face, a mauve tie like Mme. Sazerat, and the oval of her cheeks reminded me so much of people I had seen at our house that the suspicion touched me, dissipating immediately, however, that this lady, in her generative principle, in all her molecules, was perhaps not essentially the Duchesse de Guermantes, that instead, her body, unaware of the name applied to it, belong to a certain female type that also included the wives of doctors and shopkeepers. ‘So that’s Mme. de Guermantes — that’s what she is, that’s all she is’ said the attentive and astonished expression with which I contemplated an image of course quite unrelated to those which under the same name of Mme. de Guermantes had appeared so many times in my daydreams…” (Davis)
Yet despite his initial disappointment, Marcel is able to rebuild his image of her, by carefully linking her to her noble ancestry. “And as my gaze stopped at her blond hair, her blue eyes, the fastening of her collar, and omitted the features that might have reminded me of other faces, I exclaimed in front of his sketch, deliberately incomplete: ‘How beautiful she is! How noble! What I see before me is indeed a proud Guermantes and a descendant of Genevieve de Brabant!'” (Davis)
And then, with one glance, “Recalling then, the gaze she had rested on me during the Mass, as blue as a ray of sunlight passing through Gilbert the Bad’s window, I said to myself: ‘Why, she’s actually paying attention to me.’ I believed that she liked me, that she would still be thinking of me after she had left the church, that because of me perhaps she would be sad that evening at Guermantes. And immediately I loved her…Her eyes turned as blue as a periwinkle which was impossible to pick, yet which she had dedicated to me; and the sun, threatened by a cloud but still beating down with all its strength on the square and in the sacristy, gave a geranium flesh tint to the red carpets that had been laid on the ground for the solemnities and over which Mme. de Guermantes advanced smiling, and added to their woolly weave a rosy velvet, an epidermis of light, the sort of tenderness, the sort of grave sweetness amid pomp and joy that characterize certain pages of Lohengrin, certain paintings by Carpaccio, and that explain why Baudelaire was able to apply to the sound of the trumpet the epithet delicious. (Davis)
I’m willing to work my way through any number of pages of descriptions of flowers growing on the banks of the Vivonne for the extraordinary pleasure of reading and re-reading passages like those I quoted above.
In tomorrow’s post, I’m going to have some things to say about the steeple scene from the weekend’s reading, which I think is a crucial passage; but I’d like to close today,as we begin reading “Swann in Love,” with a quote from Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature on the final paragraphs of the Combray section of Swann’s Way.
“The Combray part of the volume, which is about his childhood impressions, ends with a theme that started in the beginning — the reconstruction of his room in Combray, in which he would lie awake at night. In later life, when lying awake he would feel himself back in this room: ‘All these memories, following one after another, were condensed into a single substance, but it had not coalesced completed, and I could discern between the three layers (my oldest, my instinctive memories, those others, inspired more recently by a taste or ‘perfume,’ and those which were actually the memories of another, from whom I had acquired them second hand) not fissures, not geological faults, but at lest those veins, those streaks of colour which in certain rocks, in certain marbles, point to differences of origin, age, and formation.” Proust is here describing three layers of impressions: (1) simple memory as a deliberate act; (2) an old memory stirred by a sensation in the present repeating a sensation in the past; and (3) memorized knowledge of another man’s life, though acquired at second hand. The point is again that simple memory cannot be relied upon to reconstruct the past.
The Combray section has been devoted to Proust’s first two categories; it is the third that is the subject of the second main section of the volume, entitled “Swann in Love,” in which Swann’s passion for Odette leads to an understanding of Marcel’s for Albertine.”
Today’s reading, where we shall meet the dreaded Verdurins:
Davis: Page 195 “To belong to the “little set,”…through Page 204 “…in the passage where she is waiting for us.”
Moncrieff: Page 263 “”to admit you to the ‘little nucleus,”…through Page 277 “without hesitation at the appropriate passage.”