Moncrieff: 20-71; Grieve: 17-53
by Dennis Abrams
Francoise flexes her culinary muscles preparing dinner for M. de Norpois. Marcel enjoys the theater experience until the moment the curtain rises. “So long as I had not yet heard Berma speak, I still felt some pleasure.” Marcel’s disappointment in La Berma. “I could not even, as I could with her companions, distinguish in her diction and in her playing intelligent modulations or beautiful gestures. I listened to her as though I were reading Phedre, or as though Phaedra herself had at that moment uttered the words that I was hearing, without its appearing that Berma’s talent had added anything to all at them.” The Narrator interjects “One discovers the touch of genius in Berma’s acting either a week after one has heard her, from a review, or else on the spot, from the thundering acclamation of the stalls.” Marcel meets M. de Norpois. M. de Norpois, in his own way, approves of Marcel’s interest in literature, “but the very terms that he employed showed me Literature as something entirely different from the image that I had formed of it at Combray, and I realised that I had been doubly right in renouncing it…now M. de Norpois took away from me even the desire to write.” M. de Norpois condescends to Marcel’s father regarding Marcel’s investments. Marcel tells M. de Norpois of his disappointment in La Berma, and is convinced by him that he is wrong. “‘It’s true!’ I told myself, ‘what a beautiful voice, what an absence of shrillness, what simple costumes, what intelligence to have chosen Phedre! No, I have not been disappointed!'” Cold spiced beef with carrots. M. de Norpois approves of King Theodosius’ use of the word “affinities.” M. de Norpois disapproves of the Emperor of Germany. M. de Norpois finds Balbec “charming,” speaks slightingly of its church. M. de Norpois tells of his dinner at the Swann’s, speaks approvingly of the state of their marriage. We learn that Odette had threatened to not allow Swann to see their daughter unless he married her. Swann’s dream of marrying Odette and presenting her to the Duchesse de Guermantes, who befriends both her and Gilberte. We learn that this won’t happen until after Swann’s death. “The laborious process of causation which sooner or later will bring about every possible effect, including, consequently, those which one had believed to be least possible, naturally slow at times, is rendered slower still by our desire (which in seeking to accelerate only obstructs it), by our very existence, and comes to fruition only when we have ceased to desire, and sometimes ceased to live.” M. de Norpois does not approve of Bergotte, either as a writer or as a person. M. de Norpois does approve of Gilberte. M. de Norpois makes clear that he will not serve to introduce Marcel to Mme. Swann.
This was a long section. I hope it wasn’t too much to read over Christmas, but I couldn’t find any other way to break it up.
1. A few words on La Berma and Phedre. La Berma, obviously, is based at least in part on Sarah Bernhardt, “the Divine Sarah,” France’s greatest actress of the age. It was Victor Hugo who used the phrase “golden voice,” to describe her — “silvery” and “flute-like” were other terms used to describe her voice. My hunch is that while based on her silent film performances, her acting style, at least to our eyes, seems staggeringly melodramtic and overdone; at her peak, and in comparison to what had come before her, she brought what can only be called a dramatic purity to her acting.
Racine’s tragic play Phedre, which was written in alexandrine verse, tells the story (taken from Greek mythology) of Phedre, who, in the absence of her husband Thesee, declares her love for his son from a previous marriage, Hippolyte. The role was one of Bernhardt’s greatest, and when in 1905 she appeared in NYC in the play, the New York Times had this to say about her performance.
“In respect to plastic grace, power of emotion, and classic grandeur, Mme. Bernhardt’s Phedre, revealed yesterday afternoon at the Lyric, occupies a position which is unique…it is an acting achievement of the very highest order, and as such fully merits the enthusiastic praise which has been lavished on it for years…In attempting to do justice to such an achievement one is confronted by almost insurmountable difficulties, for pliant as the language of description may be, it cannot compare in expressiveness with the varying means employed by so great an artiste to illuminate such a role…There is perhaps no more difficult scene in poetic drama than the one in which Phedre confesses to Hippolyte the existance of her secret passion. Mme. Bernhardt gives the incident all possible value, but so discretely is her manifestation accomplished that the lines of dramatic propriety are never transcended. The passage following the discovery of Hippolyte’s revulsion at her disclosure is terrific in its intensity.”
So one of today’s questions. Why was Marcel, at least initially, disappointed?
2. One of my favorite paragraphs, describing Swann’s marriage to Odette.
“Almost everyone was surprised at the marriage, and that in itself was surprising. No doubt very few people understand the purely subjective nature of the phenomenon that we cal love, or how it creates, so to speak, a supplementary person, distinct from the person whom the world knows by the same name, a persom most of whose constituent elements are derived from ourselves.”
It is lines like those which, as marchhare said in response to my last post, have changed my life, by making me look at things through different eyes. Is the person I love not the person the rest of the world sees, but is he someone I in effect “created” for myself? And, if that’s the case, can we trust our feelings of love, if they’re not based in “reality?” Any thoughts on that?
3. And finally. given the sacrifices that Swann has made, and his touching yet almost at the same time comic dream of being able to present Odette to the Duchesse de Guermantes, how do you feel about M. Swann now?
Moncrieff: Page 71 “After M. de Norpois had gone my father…” through Page 85 “…and no longer loved her.”
Grieve: Page 53 “After M. de Norpois’s departure…” through Page 63…”and had stopped loving her.” (My apology to Grieve readers — the paragraph breaks for Moncrieff and Grieve do not always align.)