Moncrieff: 434-448; Grieve: 319-329
by Dennis Abrams
Bloch, his misunderstandings and mispronunciations of English, and the Jewish colony at Balbec. Bloch accuses Marcel of snobbery, “Is it because you’ve taken a fancy to the minor aristocracy that you run after de Saint-Loup-en-Bray? You must be suffering from a severe attack of snobbery. Tell me, are you a snob? I think so, what?” Marcel: “Undoubtedly, it is not common sense that is the ‘commonest thing in the world’ it is human kindness…Even if this human kindness, paralysed by self-interest is not put into practice, it exists none the less, and whenever there is no selfish motive to restrain it, it will blossom, even in the heart of one who, coldblooded in real life, has retained a tender heart as a lover of serial romances, and turn towards the weak, the just and the persecuted.” “Each of our friends has his defects, to such an extent that to continue to love him we are obliged to console ourselves for them — by thinking of his talent, his kindness, his affection — or rather by ignoring them, for which we need to deploy all our good will.” Marcel’s (or the Narrator’s) description of Bloch: “Bloch was ill-bred, neurotic and snobbish, and since he belonged to a family of little repute, had to support, as on the floor of the ocean, the incalculable pressures imposed on him not only by the Christians at the surface but by all the intervening layers of Jewish castes superior to his own, each of them crushing with its contempt the one that was immediately beneath it.” Bloch apologizes for calling Marcel a snob. “‘Forgive me,’ he would say to me whenever we met, ‘I’ve distressed you, tormented you. I’ve been wantonly mischievous. And yet — man in general and your friend in particular is so singular an animal — you cannot imagine the affection that I, I who tease you so cruelly, have for you. It brings me often, when I think of you, to the verge of tears,’ And he gave an audible sob.” Marcel thinks he will never be introduced to M. Bloch, senior. M. Bloch, junior, speaks ill of Marcel to Saint-Loup, and speaks ill of Saint-Loup to Marcel. Nevertheless, “…I bore him no ill-will on that account, for I had inherited from my mother and grandmother their incapacity for rancour even against far worse offenders, and their habit of never condemning anyone…Besides, Bloch was not altogether a bad fellow: he was capable of being extremely nice.” Bloch plays the Jewish card. Bloch junior invites Saint-Loup to dinner, much to Bloch senior’s astonishment. “The Marquis de Saint-Loup-en-Bray! I’ll be jiggered.!” M. Bloch senior and his skill with a stereoscope.
For me, Albert Bloch is one of those characters who not only am I not sure how to read, but I’m not altogether certain what Proust’s intentions are when it comes to the character. Does Proust’s own supposed ambivalence regarding his Jewish background come through in his portrayal of Bloch and his family which at times, I have to admit, seems to tilt over into anti-semitic stereotypes? What are your thoughts on this?
On the other hand, the following passage seems to me to be so wise, so obvious yet so easily forgotten, that it bears constant reading and rereading. When Harold Bloom refers to certain writers as “wisdom writers,” I think it is passages such as this one that he has in mind.
“If, when we discover the true lives of other people, the real world beneath the world of appearance, we get as many surprises as on visiting a house of plain exterior which inside is full of hidden treasures, torture-chambers of skeletons, we are no less surprised if, in place of the image we have of ourselves as a result of all things that people have said to us, we learn from the way they speak of us in our absence what an entirely different image they have been carrying in their minds of us and of our lives.”
Tuesday’s Reading, where in we will be really meeting for the first time one of Proust’s (and literature’s) greatest creations, the Baron de Charlus.
Moncrieff: Page 448: “He had actually thought…” through Page 462 “With which he rejoined the Marquise.”
Grieve: Page 329: “M. Bloch, like a good father who wishes to do right by his son…” through Page 329 “He then rejoined the Marquise.”
Enjoy. Because I know you will.