Moncrieff: 228-240; Grieve: 167-176
by Dennis Abrams
The ‘winter-garden;’ passersby looking into drawings room at night, seeing flowers, a man in a frock-coat, a steaming samovar, and a seated lady. Mme Swann’s fondness of having people to tea, “You’ll find me at home any day, fairly late; come to tea…” “The things that one sees in the house of a respectable woman, things which may of course appear to her also to be of importance, are those which are in any event of the utmost importance to the courtesan.” Mme Swann and flowers. Chrysanthemums. Mme. Bontemps’ complaints, Mme Cottard’s attempts to get along. Another brief appearance by Albertine. Mme Bontemp goes on and on about the Ministry. “And she went on talking about the Ministry all the time as those it had been Mount Olympus.” M. Swann, after his marriage to Odette, forced her to break away from Mme Verdurin, allowing one exchange of visits per year. Mme Verdurin comes to tea.
A perfect section. From the glorious description of the winter-garden in the window, to the dissection of the dressing and floral habits of former courtesans, to the dialogue between Odette, Mme Bontemps and Mme Cottard (God bless her soul), to some of Mme Verdurin’s “regulars” sneaking over to Odette’s in the hopes of meeting Bergotte, this one had everything.
I was struck (going back to the question about why Marcel renounced Gilberte) with the following exchange:
“‘Aren’t we to see anything of your delicious daughter’ she [Mme Bontemps] wound up. ‘No, my delicious daughter is dining with a friend,’ replied Mme Swann, and then, turning to me: ‘I believe she’s written to you, asking you to come and see her tomorrow…’
I breathed a sigh of relief. These words of Mme Swann’s, which proved to me that I could see Gilberte whenever I chose, gave me precisely the comfort which at that time made my visits to Mme Swann so necessary. ‘No, I shall write her a note this evening. ‘Besides, Gilberte and I can no longer see one another,’ I added, pretending to attribute our separation to some mysterious cause, which gave me a further illusion of love, sustained as well by the affectionate way in which I spoke of Gilberte and she of me.
‘You know, she’s simply devoted to you,’ said Mme Swann. ‘Really, you won’t come tomorrow?’
Suddenly, I was filled with elation; the thought had just struck me — ‘After all, why not, since it’s her own mother who suggests it?’ But at once I relapsed into my gloom. I was afraid lest Gilberte, on seeing me, might think that my indifference of late had been feigned, and it would be wiser to prolong our separation.”
And, given the long discussion of Odette and flowers in today’s reading, I thought I’d share this from Howard Moss’ book, The Magic Lantern of Marcel Proust:
“Odette has from the beginning the excitement of the forbidden, a suggestion of evil, particularly since what makes her so is invisible to Marcel as a child, and becomes attached to the figure of Gilberte during his boyhood. Gradually joining Odette’s circle, one of the young men who pays court to her image rather than to herself, Marcel is caught up in the complication of her roles: the ‘fast’ woman of Combray…Swann’s wife in Paris, and the mother of Gilberte. Odette is a distillation of both the biological and social strands of the novel. She is the personification of a sexual secret, and she is fashionable. Proust creates a bouquet around her by associating her in a thousand ways with flowers: her winter garden, her chrysanthemums, her violets, her orchids. A courtesan’s life is lived in privacy — a privacy whose greatest compensation is luxury, and, to Odette, flowers are both luxuries and symbols of the luxurious. In a marvellous expansion of metaphor, Proust merges these various facets of Odette into a general observation on the relationship between flowers, trees, and women:
‘But most often of all, on days when I was not to see Gilberte, as I heard that mme Swann walked almost every day along the Allee des Acacias, round the big lake, and in the Allee de la Reine Marguerite, I would guide Francoise in the direction of the Bois de Boulogne. It was to me like one of those zoological gardens in which one sees assembled together a variety of flora…this, the Bois..was the Garden of Women; and like the myrtle-alley in the Aeneid, planted for their delight with trees of one kind only, the Allee de Acacias was thronged with the famous Beauties of the day.
‘…from a long way off…long before I reached the acacia-alley, their fragrance, scattered abroad, would make me feel that I was approaching the incomparable presence of a vegetable personality, strong and tender; then, as I drew near, the sight of their topmost branches, their lightly tossing foliage, in its easy grace, its coquettish outline, its delicate fabric, over which hundreds of flowers were laid, like winged and throbbing colonies of precious insects…’
Marvelous. More tomorrow.
Moncrieff: Page 240 “Odette was living, with respect to Mme Verdurin…” through Page 253 “…as having originated in ourselves.”
Grieve: Page 176 “As for Odette’s illusion about Mme Verdurin…” through Page 185 “…as having originated in ourselves.”