Moncrieff: 489-516; Grieve: 359-380
by Dennis Abrams
Francoise’s disappointment that M. Bloch doesn’t live up to Marcel’s descriptions: “So, that’s M. Bloch! Well, really, you would never think it, to look at him.” Francoise the Royalist, is also disappointed at Saint-Loups Republicanism, “…it aroused in her the same ill-humour as if I had given her a box which she had believed to be made of gold, and had thanked me for it effusively, and than a jeweller had revealed to her that it was only plated,” but, upon reflection, decides “that he was just pretending, out of self-interest, for with the Government we had it might be a great advantage to him.” Saint-Loup’s attitude towards “common” people vs. “society.” Saint-Loup and his friend’s and family’s disapproval towards his mistress, the actress. Saint-Loup’s mistress turns against him on the advice of her friends, but continues to string him along, taking his money to “feather her nest.” Saint-Loup’s unhappiness. Saint-Loup offers to take Marcel’s grandmother’s picture, much to Marcel’s displeasure. “I saw that she had put on her nicest dress for the purpose and was hesitating between various hats, I felt a little annoyed at this childishness, which surprised me on her part. I even wondered whether I had not been mistaken in my grandmother, whether I did not put her on too lofty a pedestal, whether she was as unconcerned about her person as I had always supposed, whether she was entirely innocent of the weakness which I had always thought alien to her, namely vanity…But my grandmother,. noticing that I seemed put out, said that if her sitting for her photograph offended me in any way she would give up the idea. I would not year of it…but, thinking to show how shrewd and forceful I was, added a few sarcastic and wounding words calculated to neturalise the pleasure which she seemed to find in being photographed, with the result that, if I was obliged to see my grandmother’s magnificent hat, I succeeded at least in driving from her face that joyeful expression which ought to have made me happy. Alas, it too often happens, while the people we love best are still alive, that such expressions appear to us as the exasperating manifestation of some petty whim rather than as the precious form of the happiness which we should clearly like to procure for them.” With Saint-Loup obliged to spend his days at Doncieres, Marcel spends his time alone, watching the promenade along the shore. The first appearance of the gang of “five or six young girls.” Their physicality, and their scorn for the other walkers. Marcel finds it difficult to individualise any of them. “Except for one, whose straight nose and dark complexion singled her out from the rest, like the Arabian king in a Renaissance picture of the Epiphany, they were known to me only by a pair of hard, obstinate and mocking eyes, for instance, or by cheeks whose pinkness had a coppery tint reminiscent of geraniums; and even these features I had not yet indissolubly attached to any one of these girls rather to another…” The girls are bound together by their common “grace, suppleness, and physical elegance.” Marcel observes as “the eldest of the little band began to run; she jumped over the terrified old man, whose yachting cap was brushed by her nimble feet, to the great delight of the other girls, especially of a pair of green eyes in a doll-like face, which expressed, for that bold act, an admiration and a merriment in which I seemed to discern a trace of shyness, a shamefaced and blustering shyness which did not exist in the others. “Oh, the poor old boy, I feel sorry for him; he looks half dead,” said a girl in a rasping voice…” The girl’s features “had ceased to be indistinct and jumbled.” “I passed the dark one with the plump cheeks who was wheeling a bicycle,. I caught her smiling, sidelong glance, aimed from the center of that inhuman world which enclosed the life of this little tribe, an inaccessible, unknown world wherein the idea of what I was oculd never penetrate or find a place.” The dark cyclist is not the one Marcel likes best. Marcel wonders “Was, then, the happiness of knowing these girls unattainable?” “They were, of the unknown and potential happiness of life, an illustration of the unknown and potential happiness of life, an illustration so delicious and in so perfect a state that it was almost for intellectual reasons that I was sick with despair at the thought of being able to sample, in unique conditions which left no room for any possibility of error, all that is most mysterious in the beauty which we desire…”
Patterns upon patterns upon patterns. Saint-Loup’s relationship with his mistress, so similar (and yet so unlike) Swann’s with Odette. And, opening up a huge new part of his life, Marcel witness what he sees as the unattainable, desperately wanting to be allowed in to the life of the girls, much as he did with Gilberte and her friends playing in the Champs-Elysees.
And once again, I was struck by the seeming agelessness of Marcel, who one moment is mocking his grandmother and the next, when she has been ignoring him and not giving him the three knocks on his wall, “would lie there for a while, my heart throbbing as in my childhood, listening to the wall which remained silent, until I cried myself to sleep.”
And another amazing passage:
“But had I not loved Gilberte herself principally because she had appeared to me haloed with that aureole of being the friend of Bergotte, of going to look at cathedrals with him? And in the same way could I not rejoice at having seen this dark girl look at me (which made me hope that it would be easier for me to get to know her first), for she would introduce me to the pitiless one who had jumped over the old man’s head, to the cruel one who had sais “I feel sorry for the poor old boy,’ to all these girls in turn of whom she enjoyed the prestige of being the inseparable companion? And yet the supposition that I might some day be the friend of one or other of these girls, that these eyes, whose incomprehensible gaze struck me from time to time and played unwillingly upon me like an effect of sunlight on a wall, might ever, by some miraculous alchemy, allow the idea of my existence, some affection for my person, to interpenetrate their ineffable particles, that I myself might some day take my place among them in the evolution of their course by the sea’s edge — that supposition appeared to me to contain within it a contradiction as insoluble as if, standing before some Attic frieze or a fresco representing a procession, I had believe it possible for me, the spectator, to take my place, beloved of them, among the divine participants.”
Is there anyone among us who, while watching the world go by in one way or another, has seen a group, a cliche of high-spirited, attractive people, and hasn’t imagined themselves, of just for a moment, becoming part of that group? I know I did when I was Marcel’s age, and frankly, I still do.
But, although this was a rather serious section of the book, I did thoroughly enjoy the Narrator’s rather comic description of Saint-Loup’s mistress at the house of one of aunts, “one of whom he had prevailed to allow his mistress to come there, before a large party, to recite some fragments of a symbolist play in which she had once appeared in an avant-garde theatre, and for which she had brought him to share the admiration that she herself professed.”
“But when she appeared in the room, with a large lily in her hand, and wearing a costume copied from the Ancilla Domini which she had persuaded Saint-Loup was an absolute ‘vision of beauty,’ her entrance had been greeted, in that assemblage of clubmen and duchesses, with smile which the monotonous tone of her sing-song, the oddity of certain words and their frequent repitition, had changed into fits of giggles, stifled at first but presently so uncontrollable that the wretched reciter had been unable to gon. Next day Saint-Loup’s aunt had been universally censured for having allowed so grotesque an actress to appear in her drawing-room. A well-known duke made no bones about telling her that she had only herself to blame if she found herself critisied. ‘Damn it all, people really don’t come to see turns like that! If the woman had talent, even; but she had none and never will have any. ‘Pon my soul. paris is not so stupid as people make out. Society does not consist exclusively of imbeciles. This little lady evidently believed that she was going to take Paris by surprise. But Paris is not so easily surprised as all that, and there are still some things that they can’t make us swallow.”
Moncrieff: Page 516 “I went indoors…” through Page 527…”with the latest list of visitors.”
Grieve: Page 380 “I had to back to the hotel…” through Page 388 “…bring me the latest list of newcomers.”