Moncrieff: 149-163; Grieve: 110-120
by Dennis Abrams
M. and Mme Swann’s pride in Gilberte. Gilberte’s desire to make her father happy. “I’m sure you could no more live without your papa than I could, which is quite natural after all. How can one ever forget a person one has loves all one’s life?” Mme Swann answers Marcel’s question who her playmates Gilberte liked best, “But you ought to know a great deal better than I do, since you’re in her confidence, the great favourite, the crack as the English say.” Marcel’s previous existence outside that of the Swann’s is now nearly inconceivable. “For years I had believed that the notion of going to Mme Swann’s was a vague, chimerical dream to which I should never attain; after I had spent a quarter of an hour in her drawing-room, it was the time when I did not yet know her that had become chimerical and vague like a possibility which the realisation of an alternative possibility had destroyed.” The charm of the drawing room, in which the Chinese ornaments “which she now felt to be rather sham” are being replaced by “little chairs and stools and things draped in old Louis XVI silks…” Odette’s pleasure in Marcel’s plea for her not to change out of her housecoat and into “outdoor” clothes for their outing to the zoo. Marcel’s pride in walking with Mme Swann, “And now, were we to meet one or other of Gilberte’s friends, boy or girl, who greeted us from afar, it was my turn to be looked upon by them as one of those happy creatures whose lot I had envied, one of those friends of Gilberte who knew her family and had a share in that other part of her life, the part which was not spent in the Champs-Elysees.” The Princesse Mathilde, her dry sense of humor, and Mme Swann’s graciousness and ease in talking with her. Mme Swann urges Marcel to visit the Princesse. “‘You should go and write your name in her book one day this week,’ Mme Swann counselled me. “one doesn’t leave cards upon these ‘Royalties,’ as the English call them, but she will invite you to her house if you put your name down.” Gilberte’s resistance to her father’s wishes and anger at Marcel for taking her father’s side.
I’m going to confess that I found pages 151 -155, Marcel’s thoughts on his changed relationship with the Swanns and the meaning of their possessions a little rough going. But, everything after that — the stroll through the zoo, the conversation with Princesse Mathilde, Gilberte’s surprising petulance towards her father and Marcel — marvelous.
A bit about the Princesse Mathilde. She was, of course, a real-life character, Mathilde Laetitia Wilhemine Bonaparte, Princesse Francaise, the daugher of Napoleon’s brother Jerome Bonaparte and his second wife, Catharina of Wurttenberg. Born in Trieste, Mathilde was raised in Florence and Rome, and married a rich Russian tycoon, Anatole Demidov, on November 1, 1840 in Rome. Anatole was raised to the station of Prince by the Grand Duke of Tuscany just before the wedding as per the wishes of Mathilde’s father and to allow Mathilde to remain Princess, although Anatole’s title was never recognized in Russia.
Princess Mathilde’s mother was Emperor Nicholas I’s first cousin, so the Emperor supported Mathilde in her constant clashes with her husband, although he was a Russian subject, albeit one who lived much of his life outside Russia.
The marriage between the two strong personalities was not successful. Demidoff insisted on keeping his mistress, Valentine de St. Aldegonde, much to Mathilde’s displeasure. In the end, Mathilde fled the Prince for Paris, along with her own lover, Emilien de Nieuwerkerke, and Anatole’s jewelry.
Mathilde was awarded annual alimony of 200,000 francs, and although Anatole attempted to have his jewelry returned to him, Mathilde and her circle of literary friends used the media to thwart him at every turn. She spent the remainder of her life living in a mansion in Paris, where she was a leading member of the aristocracy both during and after the Second French Empire, reveling in her role as hostess to men of arts and letters. Referring to her uncle Napoleon I, she once told Marcel Proust, “If it weren’t for him, I’d be selling oranges in the streets of Ajaccio.”
This remarkable woman dies on January 2, 1904, at the age of 83.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I was struck by the section that discusses the change in Swann’s feelings about the Vinteuil sonata. If in “Swann in Love,” the little passage seemed to Swann to not only encapsulate and represent his and Odette’s love, but almost to offer an entrance to the Infinite, had transformed itself into something different, still offering him transport, but in an entirely different way, less transcendent, more down-to-earth.
“‘Isn’t it beautiful, that Vinteuil sonata?’ Swann asked me. The moment when night is falling among the trees, when the arpeggios of the violin call down a cooling dew upon the earth. You must admit it’s lovely; it shows all the static side of moonlight, which is the essential part. It’s not surprising that a course of radiant heat such as my wife is taking should act on the muscles, since moonlight can prevent the leaves from stirring. That’s what is expressed so well in that little phrase, the Bois de Boulogne plunged into a cataleptic trance.”
…”‘It’s rather a charming thought, don’t you think…that sound can reflect, like water, like a mirror. And it’s curious too, that Vinteuil’s phrase now shows me only the things to which I paid no attention then. Of my troubles, my loves of those days, it recalls nothing, it has swapped things around.’ ‘Charles, I don’t think that’s very polite to me, what you’re saying.’ ‘Not polite? Really, you women are superb! I was simply trying to explain to this young man that what the music shows — to me, at least — is not the ‘triumph of the Will’ or ‘In tune with the Infinite,’ but shall we say old Verdurin in his frock-coat in the palmhouse in the Zoological Gardens. Hundreds of times, without my leaving this room, the little phrase has carried me off to dine with it at Armenonville…”
From “Watching Swann’s face while he listened to the phrase, one would have said that he was inhaling an anaesthetic which allowed him to breathe more freely. And the pleasure which the music gave him, which was whortly to create in him a feal need, was in fact akin at such moments to the pleasure which he would have derived from experimenting with perfumes, from entering into contact with a world for which we men were not made, which appears to us formless because our eyes cannot perceive it, meaningless because it eludes our understanding, to which we may attain by way of one sense only,” to “old Verdurin in his frock-coat in the palmhouse in the Zoological Gardens.”
Moncrieff: Page 163 “A favour still more precious…through Page 176 “…soared above their heads.”
Grieve: Page 120 “An even greater boon than to be taken…” through Page 129 “…soared above their heads.”