Moncrieff: 448-562; Grieve: 329-339
by Dennis Abrams
M. Bloch, senior, considers sending for the stereoscope, but doesn’t have to when the dinner is canceled, due to Saint-Loup awaiting the arrival of his uncle, Palamede. “Saint-Loup told me that even in the most exclusive aristocratic society his uncle Palamede stood out as being particularly unapproachable, scornful, obsessed with his nobility…” Saint-Loup tells Marcel about his uncle’s early life, and the women he took to his bachelor establishment. Marcel has a strange encounter with an older man outside the Casino, who gives him a series of strange looks and gestures, and finally adjusts his face “into an expression that was at once indifferent, harsh, and almost insulting. So much so that I took him at one moment for a thief and at another for a lunatic.” The stranger turns out to be Saint-Loup’s uncle, the nephew of Mme de Villeparisis, the younger brother of the Duc de Guermantes, Prince des Laumes, Duke of Brabant, Squire of Montargis, Prince d’Oloron, of Carency, Viareggio, and of the Dunes; the Baron de Charlus. Mme de Villeparisis, by virtue of her very close relation to the Guermantes, “suddenly went through one of those fantastic rises in value, parallel to the no less unforeseen depreciations of other objects in our possession — which — rise and fall alike — introduce in our youth, and in those period of our life in which a trace of youth persists, changes as numerous as the Metamorphoses of Ovid.” The simplicity of the title “Baron de Charlus.” Saint-Loup denies that Charlus was ever Odette’s lover. Marcel’s grandmother is delighted with M. de Charlus. The importance of “nobility” in all senses to Charlus, whether in women, nobility, or art. Charlus asks Marcel and his grandmother to have tea with him and his aunt, Mme de Villeparisis, in her room.
I’d like to remind you of the first time we encountered Charlus, in the “Combray” section of Swann in Love. It’s the scene when the young Marcel is walking with his grandfather and father, who, taking advantage of the supposed absence of Swann and his family are exploring their gardens at Tansonville. There, Marcel spies Gilberte for the first time, who makes an “indelicate gesture” towards him. And then…
“‘Gilberte, come along; what are you doing?” called out in a piercing tone of authority a lady in white whom I had not seen until that moment, while, a little way behind her, a gentleman in a suit of linen ‘ducks,’ whom I did not know either, stared at me with eyes which seemed to be starting from his head…For a moment (as we moved away and my grandfather murmured: ‘Poor Swann, what a life they are leading him — sending him away so that she can be alone with her Charlus — for it is he, I recognised him at once! And the child, too: at her age, to be mixed up in all that!”)
I don’t want to give away too much too early, but I would like to share with you Edmund Wilson on Charlus, taken from Wilson’s study of the imaginative literature of 1870-1930, Axel’s Castle.
“…though Proust has been compared to Henry James, who was deficient in precisely those gifts of vividness and humor which Proust to such an astonishing degree, possessed, we shall look in vain for anything like them outside the novels of Dickens. We have already been struck…with the singular relief into which the characters were thrown as soon as they began to speak or act. And it seems plain that Proust must have read Dickens: and that his sometimes grotesque heightening of character had been partly learned from him. Proust, like Dickens, was a remarkable mimic: as Dickens enchanted his audiences by dramatic readings from his novels, so, we are told, Proust was celebrated for impersonations of his friends; and both, in their books, carried the practice of caricaturing habits of speech and of inventing things for their personages to say which are outrageous without ever ceasing to be lifelike to a point where it becomes impossible to compare them to anybody but each other. As, furthermore, it has been said of Dickens that his villains are so amusing — in their fashion, so enthusiastically alive — that we are reluctant to see the last of them, so we acquire a curious affection for even the most objectionable characters in Proust:…this generous sympathy and understanding for even the monstrosities which humanity produces, and Proust’s capacity for galvanizing these monstrosities into energetic life, are at the bottom of the extraordinary success of the tragi-comic hero of Proust…M. de Charlus. But Charlus surpasses Dickens and, as has been said, is almost comparable to Falstaff. In a letter in which Proust explains that he has borrowed certain traits of Charlus from a real person, he adds that the character in the book is, however, intended to be ‘much bigger,’ to ‘contain much more of humanity” and it is one of the strange paradoxes of Proust’s genius that he should have been able to create in a character so special a figure of heroic proportions.”
And finally, I don’t think it necessary to do anything more than to point out the description of the scene in which Saint-Loup describes his uncle and his friends attacking the man who made advances on Charlus, and Saint-Loup’s additional comment that “My uncle would never go in for such drastic methods now — in fact you can’t imagine the number of working men he has taken under his wing, only to be repaid often with the basest ingratitude — though he’s so haughty with society people. It may be a servant who has looked after him in a hotel, for whom he will find a place in Paris, or a farm-labourer whom he will pay to have taught a trade. It’s a really rather nice side of his character, in contrast to his social side.”
Moncrieff: Page 462 “Although it was Sunday…” through Page 474 “…but by the lift boy.”
Grieve: Page 340 “Though it was a Sunday…” through Page 349 “…to take back to him.”