Moncrieff: 408-434; Grieve: 299-319
by Dennis Abrams
Mme de Villeparisis discusses Chateaubriand, Vigny, Balzac and Victor Hugo, but not in the best of terms: Chateaubriand always giving the same speech about the moon; Vigny “The man who said: ‘I am the Comte Alfred de Vigny!’ One is either a count or one isn’t; it is not of the slightest importance,’ Balzac, ‘whom she was surprised to find her nephews admiring, for having presumed to describe a society ‘in which he was never received’ and of which his descriptions were wildly improbable,’ and Hugo, of whom her father had “attended the first performance of Hernani, had been unable to sit through it, so ridiculous had he found the verse of that gifted but extravagant writer who had acquired the title of ‘major poet’ only by virtue of having struck a bargain, and as a reward for the not disinterested indulgence that he showed towards the dangerous aberrations of the socialists.” The polite manners, shrewdness, and tact of Mme de Villeparisis. The Duchesse de la Rouchefoucauld. Marcel and Grandmother have a discussion brushing on her mortality his inability to live without her. Mme de Villeparisis’ nephew comes to spend a few weeks leave with her, and Marcel dreams of becoming his friend. The first appearance of M. de Saint-Loup. Marcel’s disappointment at Saint-Loup’s lack of interest in meeting him, and see him as being insolent and hard. Marcel meet him Saint-Loup, they shake hands “an abrupt gesture which seemed to be due rather to a reflex action of his muscles than to an exercise of will.” The next day Saint-Loup sends his card, the two speak of literature and “declared after a long talk that he would like immensely to spend several hours with me every day.” Marcel now has a new impression of Saint-Loup, “I saw this disdainful creature become the most friendly, the most considerate young man that I had ever met.” Saint-Loup’s views on literature. Saint-Loup “made a conquest of my grandmother, not only by the incessant kindness which he went out of his way to show to us both, but by the naturalness which he put into it as into everything else.” Saint-Loup’s blushes. Marcel worries about friendship, and feels that he’s happier when he’s by himself than with others. Marcel is happy viewing Saint-Loup as a work of art worthy of study. Bloch is overheard making anti-semitic statements.
A couple of thoughts at the first appearance of one of the book’s major characters, Robert Saint-Loup-en-Bray, son of the Comte and Comtesse de Marsantes, nephew of the Duc et Duchesse de Guermantes and the Baron de Charlus and great nephew of Mme de Villeparisis. An absolute charmer, Proust gives him a grand entrance, as Marcel describes his first impression:
“One afternoon of scorching heat I was in the dining room of the hotel, plunged in semi-darkness to shield it from the sun, which gilded the drawn curtains through the gaps between which twinkled the blue of the sea, when along the central gangway leading from the beach to the road I saw approaching, tall, slim, bare-necked, his head held proudly erect, a young man with penetrating eyes whose skin was as fair and his hair as golden as if they had absorbed all the rays of the sun. Dressed in a suit of soft, whitish material such as I could never have believed that any man would have the audacity to wear, the thinness of which suggested no less vividly than the coolness of the dining room the heat and brightness of the glorious day outside, he walking fast. His eyes, from one of which a monocle kept dropping, were the colour of the sea. Everybody look at him with interest as he passed, knowing that this young Marquis de Saint-Loup-en-Bray was famed for his elegance.”
Wonderful. And how wonderful is that little line “His eyes, from one of which a monocle kept dropping?” A little later, Proust adds, “He strode rapidly across the whole width of the hotel, seeming in pursuit of his monocle, which kept darting away in front of him like a butterfly.”
But on the other hand, whenever I read Marcel’s thoughts on friendship, they always strike me as being nearly unbearably sad:
“It was promptly settled between us that he and I were to be great friends for ever, and he would say ‘our friendship’ as though we were speaking of some important and delightful thing which had an existence independent of ourselves, and which he soon called — apart from his love for his mistress — the great joy of his life. These words filled me with a sort of melancholy and I was at a loss for an answer, for I felt when I was with him, when I was talking to him — and no doubt it would have been the same with anyone else, — none of that happiness which it was possible for me to experience when I was by myself. Alone, at times, I felt surging from the depths of my being one or other of those impressions which gave me a delicious sense of well-being. But as soon as I was with someone else, as soon as I was talking to a friend, my mind as it were faced about, it was towards this interlocutor and not towards myself that it directed its thoughts, and when they followed this outward course they brought me no pleasure…I told myself that I had a good friend, that a good friend was a rare thing, and I savoured, when I felt myself surrounded by assets that were difficult to acquire, what was precisely the opposite of the pleasure that was natural to me, the opposite of the pleasure of having extracted from myself and brought to light something that was hidden in my inner darkness…”
Is Marcel/Proust/Narrator (which one is it?) right? Is the pleasure of friendship only a distraction from the pleasure and satisfaction that can be gained by turning one’s attention inward? Especially, since, I’m guessing that friendships, like other relationships in Marcel’s world, are essentially doomed to end in failure?
Moncrieff: Page 434 “Personally, I was not particularly anxious that Bloch should come to the hotel,” through Page 448 “Now he’ll have something else to look forward to.”
Grieve: Page 319 “I was none too please at the thought that Bloch…” through Page 329 “Then he’ll still have something to look forward to.” (My apologies — this break is right in the middle of a paragraph in this translation.)