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Archive for March, 2010

Moncrieff:  290-300; Treharne:  208-217

by Dennis Abrams

Bloch, still embarrassed and angry about knocking over the vase, contemplates leaving, but is convinced by Mme de Villeparisis to remain so that he can talk with M. de Norpois.  Bloch agrees to bring two actresses to perform in Mme de Villeparisis’ drawing room, and even offers to bring “a tragic actress ‘with sea-green eyes, fair as Hera,’ who would recite lyrical poetry with a sense of plastic beauty,” but upon learning that he was talking about Saint-Loup’s mistress Rachel, she declines the offer.  Mme de Villeparisis confides to Marcel that Saint-Loup and Rachel’s relationship is “on it’s last legs,” and denounces M. de Borodino for encouraging their relationship, “‘He’s a very bad man,”‘ said Mme de Villeparisis with that virtuous accent common to all the Guermantes, even the most depraved.  ‘Very, very bad…'”  Bloch speaks of his fondness for Saint-Loup, “dirty dog though he is…”   Bloch and his father’s admiration for Sir Rufus Israels.  Bloch’s bad manners:  asking about how much money Saint-Loup has, trying to talk Mme de Villeparisis into opening a window, despite her cold.  Bloch’s desire to talk to M. de Norpois and M. de Norpois’ miscalculation of the results of the Russo-Japanese war.  Mme de Villeparisis sends for M. de Norpois, who is working in her library; but to make it look like he’s coming in from the street, M. de Norpois picks up a hat from the vestibule (continuing the hat theme), a hat which turns out to be Marcel’s.  Bloch meets M. de Norpois.  Marcel is questioned about his writing by M. de Norpois, who once again attacks Bergotte, displeasing Mme de Guermantes.    Still hoping to get an invitation to Mme de Guermantes’, Marcel praises Elstir”s Bunch of Radishes to M. de Norpoise, who rejects Marcel’s description of it as a “masterpiece.”  Mme de Guermantes denigrates Rachel to Mme de Villeparisis, telling her “I don’t think you’ll miss much; she’s a perfect horror, you know, without a vestige of talent, and besides she’s grotesquely ugly,” while still remaining proud that she performed at her house before anyone else’s.

This scene just keeps getting better and better, as more and more parties continue to enter, and more and more conversations are being struck up.

I loved this passage describing Mme de Villeparisis speaking to Bloch regarding M. de Norpois.

“‘Just ask him anything you want to know.  Take him aside if its more convenient; he will be delighted to talk to you.  I think you wished to speak to him about the Dreyfus case,’ she went on, no more considering whether this would be agreeable to M. de Norpois than she would have thought of asking leave of the Duchesse de Montmorency’s portrait before having it lighted up for the historian, or of the tea before offering a cup of it.”

And I still  find myself both fascinated and appalled by Bloch.   In fact, I cringed when I read this:

“‘But tell me,’ Bloch asked me, lowering his voice, ‘how much money do you suppose Saint-Loup has?  Not that it matters to me in the least, you quite understand.  I’m interested from the Balzacian point of view.  You don’t happen to know what it’s in, French stocks, foreign stocks, or land or what?'”

And again, at Bloch’s attempts to make conversation and to impress, when he boasts of his family knowing Sir Rufus Israels,

“The end of this story sounded less shocking than its preface, for it remained incomprehensible to everyone in the room.  The fact was that Sir Rufus Israels, who seemed to Bloch and his father an almost royal personage before whom Saint-Loup ought to tremble, was in the eyes of the Guermantes world a foreign upstart, tolerated in society, on whose friendship nobody would have ever dreamed of priding himself — far from it.”

And, finally, a bit more about Bloch, continuing yesterday’s excerpt from Seth Wolitz’s The Proustian Community:

“Bloch is a young, third-generation Jew haunted, in the word of Van Praag, by Geltungbedrufnis. Bloch’s father is a typical second-generation business man whose office is in the heat of the Jewish ghetto in Paris at Rue des Blancs-Manteaux.  He has watched with pride his little Albert write a thesis on Philip II, and receive his agregation and a cum laude.  But whereas his father is content to remain among his own, Albert Bloch has higher pretensions.   He dreams of becoming a playwright, perhaps a la Henri Bernstein or Georges de Porto-Riche.  To be a writer brings fame (he does not need the fortune) ,social admittance, and acceptance — the one thing a rich Jew does not have.

[Hannah Arendt wrote in Origins of Totalitarianism] ‘Socially the Jewish intellectuals were the first, who, as a group, needed and wanted admittance to non-Jewish society.  Social discrimination, a small matter to their fathers who had not cared for social intercourse with Gentiles, became a paramount problem for them.

Searching for a road into society, this group was forced to accept social behavior patterns set by individual Jews (Swann) who had been admitted into society during the nineteenth century as exceptions to the rule of discrimination.  They quickly discovered the force that would open all doors, the ‘radiant Power of Fame’ (Stefan Zweig) which a hundred years’ idolatry of genius had made irrestiable.’

Bloch falls squarely into this pattern.  And to Proust’s amusement, he picks Sir Rufus Israels as the image of the highest and most successful Jew whom he could imitate.”

—-

Wednesday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  Page 300 “She had just seen her husband enter the room…” through Page 313 “…have you been talking to him about the Dreyfus case?”

Treharne:  page 217 “She had just seen her husband enter the room…” through Page 226 “…have you been talking to him about the Dreyfus case?”

Enjoy.

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Moncrieff:  280-290; Treharne:  203-210

by Dennis Abrams

Marcel “had difficulty in rediscovering in the handsome but too human face of Mme de Guermantes the enigma of her name.”  Her words, also, do not match up with what his imagination had provided, “it would not have sufficed that those words should be shrewd, beautiful and profound, they would have had to reflect that amaranthine colour of the closing syllable of her name…”  Mme de Guermantes tells about having dinner at Blance Leroi’s, who is now “positively enormous.”  Mme de Villeparisis is proud that her guests get to receive a display of her niece’s wit.  Marcel is surprised to learn that Bergotte is considered by Mme de Guermantes to be witty, and regrets avoiding him at the opera, which he imagines would have provided him with an invitation into the “royal box.”  The Comte d’Argencourt, Charge d’Affaires at the Belgian Legation joins the salon, along with “two young men, the Baron de Guermantes, and H.H. the Duc de Chatellerault…Tall, slim, with golden hair and skin, thoroughly Guermantes in type, these two young men looked like a condensation of the light of the spring evening which was flooding the spacious room.”  The fashion of leaving one’s hat on the floor.  Prominent people are always found sitting next to the Duchess de Guermantes.  Legrandin continues to prasoe Mme de Villeparisis’ artistic talents to the skies  “I think I still plump for the silky, the living rosiness of your rendering of them.  Ah, you leave Pisanello and Van Huysum a long way behind, with their meticulous, dead herbals.”   Cherry blossoms, mayflowers, or apple blossoms?  Hay fever is now the fashionable complaint.  The historian comments toMme de Villeparisis that “with a talent like yours and your five languages,”she  could survive “even if we were to have another of those revolutions which have stained so much of our history with blood…”  Bloch knocks over the glass with the spray of apple blossom, and to cover his shame, responds angrily, “It’s not of the slightest importance; I’m not wet.”  Mme de Villeparsis treats her princely relatives “without any of the little courtesies which she showed to the historian, Cottard, Bloch, and myself, and they seemed to have no interest for her beyond the possibility of serving them up as food for our social curiosity.”

Again, sheer delight.  I loved this exchange between Mme de Villeparisis and Mme de Guermentes:

“Mme de Guermantes formed a smile by contracting the corner of her mouth as though she were biting her veil.

“We met her [the Queen of Sweden] at dinner last night at Blance Leroi’s.  You wouldn’t know her now, she’s positively enormous.  I’m sure she must be ill.’

‘I was just telling these gentlemen that you said she looked like a frog.’

Mme de Guermantes emitted a sort of raucous noise which meant that she was laughing for form’s sake.

‘I don’t remember making such a charming comparison, but if she was one before, now she’s the frog that has succeeded in swelling to the size of the ox.  Or rather, it isn’t quite that, because all her swelling is concentrated in her stomach:  she’s more like a frog in an interesting condition…It is purely arbitrary though,’ answered Mme de Guermantes, ironically detaching this selected epithet, as Swann would have done, ‘for I must admit I never saw a frog in the family way.  Anyhow, the frog in question, who, by the way, does not require a king, for I never saw her so skittish as she’s been since her husband died…'”

And, of course, this discussion of apple blossoms and hay fever:

“‘I never see them,’ said the young Duke, ‘because they give me hay fever.  Such a bore.’

‘Hay fever?  I never heard of that before,’ said the historian.

‘It’s the fashionable complaint just now,’ the archivist informed him.'”

Hmmm…hay fever and putting one’s hat on the floor — all the rage.

And…I loved the analysis of Mme de Villeparisis and her behavior with her relatives, both knowing that she couldn’t fool them into thinking that she had a higher role in society than she did, and knowing that “they had ceased to be anything more for her than a dead stock that would never bear fruit again, they would never introduce her to their new friends, or share their pleasures with her.”

I’d like to begin an examination/discussion of the character Bloch with this excerpt from Seth Wolitz’s study The Proustian Community.

“Bloch is the Jew par excellence of the novel. Whereas Swann represents the socially assimilated Jew, Bloch is the young unknown who dreams of breaking into French high society.  Proust portrays Bloch as an unpleasant brassy Jew who, though bright, aggressive, and ambitious is equally tactless, indiscreet, and tasteless, as well as a pompous intellectual.  Actually Bloch resembles a rich, third-generation Jewish-American snob who wishes quick access to the best of American society.  A strange and complex character, Bloch serves as Proust’s whipping boy of Jewish snobbery.

Most critics, Carmen Castro, for instance, feel that Proust used Bloch for comic relief:  “[Bloch} remains in the novel the role of a stupendously comic clown.”  Ronald Donze, in his book Le Comique Dans L’Oeuvre de Marcel Proust sees Bloch as “a comic failure” perhaps because of his Jewish background, but unfortunately he never pursues this point.  Actually most of Bloch’s gaffes are not funny:  they are generally pathetic and vulgar.  Whereas Moliere brings sympathy to his description of the vulgarity of M. Jourdain {from Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme}, Proust brings none.  Proust, for all his usual delicacy, is rather heavy-handed in destroying Bloch’s social pretensions.”

So my question is this:  At this point in the novel (and, obviously in Proust’s world, nobody is ever quite what they seem), what is your take on Bloch?  Comic figure?  Tragic figure?  A figure to be disliked?  Let me know what you think…

Tuesday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  Page 290 “Bloch got up to go.” through Page 300 “‘Hallo, I suppose I ought to go now,’ she added, without moving.”

Treharne:  Page 210  “Bloch got up to go.” through Page 217 “‘Oh well, I supposed I’d better be going,’ she added, without moving.”

Enjoy.

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Moncrieff:  255-280; Treharne:  185-203

by Dennis Abrams

Mme de Villeparisis tells Bloch a story about the King and her grandfather, pointing out to him that “I never saw my father carry his hat in the house, except of course when the King came, because the King being at home wherever he is, the master of the house is then only a visitor in his drawing room.”  Mme de Villeparisis tells a story to the historian, “leaving her guests under the impression that a visit from the Queen of Sweden was in itself nothing unusual for their hostess.”  The difference between the salons of Mme de Villeparisis and Mme Leroi.  “Perhaps Mme Leroi also knew these European celebrities.  But as an agreeable women who shunned anything that smacked of the bluestocking, she would as little have thought of mentioning the Eastern Question to a Prime Minister as of discussing the nature of love with a novelist or a philosopher.”    As did Mme de Guermantes, she contented herself with “settling them down to play poker.”  The entrance of the woman with the Marie-Antoinette hair; one of the three women, including Mme de Villeparisis, whose role in society had been greatly reduced — “the three fallen goddesses.”  The portrait of the Duchesse de Montmorency, “abbess of one of the most famous chapters in the east of France,”  many of those chapters were so exclusive, that even the daughters of the King were not admitted because of an unfortunate misalliance between the Bourtons and the Medicis.  The woman with Marie Antoinette hair claims that she had brought Liszt to meet Mme de Villeparisis, who then insists that she had known Liszt prior to that, “I had met him on number of times at dinner at Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein’s,” winning the round on points.  The Duchesse de Guermantes arrives, “who had taken advantage of the independence of her torso to throw it forward with an exaggerated politeness and bring it nearly back to a position of rest without letting face or eyes appear to have noticed that anyone was standing before them…”  Legrandin arrives, and despite mocking Marcel earlier that same day about his social aspirations, spends his time bombarding Mme de Villeparisis with a flurry of compliments, all the while looking angrily at Marcel for witnessing his hypocrisy.  Mme de Villeparisis and Mme de Guermantes agree that Mme de Cambremer is a wretched woman, and that people should not use the word ‘scrivener,’ “…it’s a horror of a word.  it’s enough to make your wisdom teeth drop out. ”  Marcel speaks to LeGrandin “Well, Monsieur, I am almost excused for being in a salon when I find you here too,” infuriating Legrandin who “concluded from these words…that I was a thoroughly spiteful young wretch who delighted only in doing mischief.”  The face of Mme de Guermantes’ does not reflect the name Guermantes.  Mme de Guermantes looks around the room, first at the people, then at the settees and chairs, seemingly giving them all the same level of attention.   Mme de Guermantes “liked to entertain certain eminent men,” but never their wives, who “would have been a blot on a salon in which there never any but the most fashionable beauties of Paris.”  While Mme de Guermantes respected writers, and had the type of mind “illustrated by Merimee and Meilhac and Halevy,” she generally did not speak to her writer guests about art, but instead would ask as they sat down to lunch, “Do you like this way of doing eggs?”  On a rare occasion, however, she would offer a quote from Hugo or Lamartine, or “would give some dramatist and Academician a piece of sage advice, would make him modify a situation or alter an ending.”

What a cornucopia of riches!  The battle of oneupmanship between Mme de Villeparisis and the woman with the Marie Antoinette hair.  Legrandin’s social climbing and his unhappiness at having it seen by Marcel.    Mme de Guermantes’ contempt for poor Mme de Cambremer, who, as you may recall, wants nothing more than to receive Mme de Guermantes before she dies her early death.  The horror of the word “scrivener.”  The Duc de Guermantes’ justification as to why, with few exceptions, women are not invited to be entertained by Mme de Guermantes.  And finally, Mme Leroi’s line, “‘Love?’ she had once replied to a pretentious lady who had asked for her views on love, ‘I make it often but I never talk about it.'”  So much…so much…

This is all just wonderful, as we watch Marcel’s attention go round the room, taking it all in, catching a bit of dialogue here, another bit there. I hope you’re enjoying this scene as much as I am.  It is, as I have said, one of the major set pieces in the book, and  we’ll all be observers at the salon for another hundred pages!

I’m currently doing research for my next book, a biography of Coco Chanel, and I came across this in Chanel:  A Woman of her Own,” by Axel Madsen.

“{Chanel} became a friend of the aging Countess Laure de Chevigne, whose azure eyes, ruby hairpiece, arched nose, hoarse voice, birdlike profile, and mannerisms so enchanted Marcel Proust that he turned her into the Duchess de Guermantes.  The dowager took little interest in writing, and was particularly uninterested in A la Recherche du temps perdu, which she pronounced intolerably tedious, but she loved to exchange gossip with Chanel.”

—-

Monday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  Page 280 “If, in the drawing-room of Mme de Villeparisis,” through Page 290 “…boxes for interesting shows.”

Treharne:  Page 203 “If, in the salon of Mme de Villeparisis,” through Page 210 “…boxes for entertainment of special interest.”

Enjoy.

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Moncrieff:  244-255; Treharne:  177-185

by Dennis Abrams

Mme de Villeparisis’ afternoon reception, and her declining position in society.  “Mme de Villeparisis was one of those women who, born of an illustrious house, entering by marriage into another no less illustrious, do not for all that enjoy any great position in the social world, and, apart from a few duchesses who are their nieces or sisters-in-law, perhaps even a crowned head or two, have their drawing-rooms patronised only by third-rate people, drawn from the middle classes or from a nobility either provincial or tainted in some way, whose presence there has long since driven away all such smart and snobbish folk as are not obliged to come to the house by ties of blood or the claims of friendship too old to be ignored.”  The long relationship between Mme de Villeparisis and M. de Norpois, which explains why she knew so much about Marcel’s father’s tour of Spain.  What had happened to lower her social status?  Had their been a scandal?  Had her sharp tongue make enemies?  Mme de Villeparisis’ Memoirs “on any page an apt epithet.”  Being snubbed by Mme Leroi, “who may perhaps have left a card on her when she went to call on the Guermantes, but never set foot in her house for fear of losing caste among all the doctors’ or solicitors’ wives whom she would find there.”  Mme de Villeparisis’ ambitions.  “…if at some point in her youth Mme de Villeparisis, surfeited with the satisfaction of belonging to the flower of the aristocracy, had somehow amused herself by scandalising the people among whom she lived, and deliberately impairing her own position in society, she had begun to attach importance to that position once she had lost it.”  Queen Marie-Amelie had once said to Mme de Villeparisis that “You are just like a daughter to me.”  But now, “Remember as she might the words of the Queen, Mme de Villeparisis would have bartered them gladly for the permanent capacity for being invited everywhere which Mme Leroi possessed…”  Despite this, the absence of Mme Leroi was not noted by the visitors to her salon, who “never doubted that Mme de Villeparisis’s receptions were, as the readers of her Memoirs today are convinced that they must have been, the most brilliant in Paris.”  Her drawing room, hung with yellow silk, Guermantes and Villeparisis portraits “side by side” with those of Queen-Marie Amelie, the Queen of the Belgians, the Prince de Joinville, and the Empress of Austria, “gifts from the sitters themselves.”  Mme de Villeparisis, sitting at her desk along with her brushes, “her palette and an unfinished flower-piece in water-colour,” surrounded by flowers, dressed in “an old fashioned bonnet of black lace.”  The arrival of Bloch, now a “rising dramatist,” who Mme de Villeparisis wants to “secure the gratuitous services of actors and actresses at her next series of afternoon parties.”  Mme de Villeparisis’ lack of interest in the Dreyfus Affair:  “It was true that the social kaleidoscope was in the act of turning and that the Dreyfus case was shortly to relegate the Jews to the lowest rung of the social ladder.  But for one thing, however fiercely the anti-Dreyfus cyclone might be raging, it is not the first hour of a storm that the waves are at their worst.  In the second place, Mme de Villeparisis, leaving a whole section of her family to fulminate against the Jews, had remained entirely aloof from the Affair and never gave it a thought.”   Bloch as Jew, and as representative of an artistic, exotic, vision of the Jew.

A couple of things…

1.  I was simultaneously enthralled and again, slightly appalled by Proust’s depiction of Bloch:

“Lastly, a young man like Bloch whom no one knew might pass unnoticed, whereas leading Jews who were representative of their side were already threatened.  His chin was now decorated with a goatee beard, he wore a pince-nez and a long frock-coat, and carried a glove like a role of papyrus in his hand.  The Roumanians, the Egyptians, the Turks may hate the Jews.  But in a French drawing-room the differences between those people are not so apparent, and a Jew making his entry as though he were emerging from the desert, his body crouching like a hyena’s, his neck thrust forward, offering profound “salaams,’ completely satisfies a certain taste for the oriental.  Only it is essential that the Jew in question should not be actually ‘in’ society, otherwise he will readily assume the aspect of a lord and his manners become so Gallicised that on his face, a refractory nose, growing like a nasturtium in unexpected directions, will be more reminiscent of Moliere’s Mascarille than of Solomon.   But Bloch, not having been limbered up by the gymnastics of the Faubourg, nor enobled by a crossing with England or Spain, remained for a lover of the exotic as strange and savoury a spectacle, in spite of his European costume, as a Jew in a painting by Decamps.”

How do you interpret this?  On the one hand, he seems to place Bloch firmly in the region of every stereotypical vision of the Jew, yet he also says that “we feel, on encountering in a Paris drawing-room Orientals belonging to such and such a group, that we are in the presence of supernatural creatures whom the forces of necromancy must have called into being.”

There is, I think, a definite ambivalence in his picture of Bloch (as there is in his depiction of nearly every character in the book to be fair)…what are your feelings?  What do you think Proust is doing here?

And finally, two paragraphs from Sean Wolitz’s study, The Proustian Community, on the importance of the salon to Parisian society.

“The salon was the social institution par excellence in Proust’s society, as well as in the novel.  Everyone from the Marquise of the Public Restrooms to the most pretentious duchess operates a salon.  Descriptions of salon scenes account for more pages than are devoted to any institution in the work.  the salon scenes, which last at most an evening, permit great concentration on individuals and allow further commentary on the past and future and on individuals, groups, and institutions.  The salon reception, like a ride in the Bois, or an appearance at the opera, is another prancing ground for vanity.

Proust records the changing relations of man, the passing of time, and the changes in social structure as well as in social customs through his portraits of various salons.  Events in the world affect the makeup of the salon as well as its traditions, yet the salon retains a certain structural unity:  it is a defined pattern of manners and etiquette.  Proust is especially interested in individual mannerisms because they reveal inner thought or lack of it.  Though many salons exist on different class levels, the purpose and construction of all of them remain more or less the same, as in a theme and variations.  People are brought together from common backgrounds, common points of view or interests.  Each salon is a distinct entity with its heroes and enemies, likes and dislikes, realities and pretensions.”

The Weekend’s Reading:

Moncrieff:   Page 255 “Oh, ministers, my dear sir,”…through Page 280 “…would make him modify a situation or alter an ending.”

Treharne:  Page 185 “Good gracious, ministers, my dear sir…” through Page 203 “…or change the ending of his play.”

Enjoy.  And enjoy your weekend.

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Moncrieff:  228-244; Treharne:  166-177

by Dennis Abrams

Marcel, Saint-Loup, and Rachel arrive at the theater.  Marcel has a new view about actors, no longer seeing them as “exclusively the depositories, in their diction and playing, of an artistic truth,” and instead see them as humans, reacting to the audience, and who by the time they leave the theater, “have already disintegrated into an actor who is no longer in the situation which was his in the play, into a text which no longer shows the actor’s face, into a coloured powder which a handkerchief wipes off, who have returned, in short, to elements that contain nothing of them…”  Rachel and her coterie laugh a singer, “possessed of an unduly, almost grotesquely prominent rump and a pretty but too slight voice….” off the stage.   On stage, Rachel transforms into somebody else.  “Standing beside her one saw only a nebula, a milky way of freckles, of tiny spots, nothing more.  At a respectable distance, all this ceased to be visible and, from cheeks that withdrew, were reabsorbed into her face, there rose like a crescent moon a nose so fine and pure that one would have liked to be the object of Rachel’s attention, to see her again and again, to keep her near one, provided that one had never seen her differently and at close range.”  For Saint-Loup, who had first seen Rachel in the same way, on stage at a distance, that was the woman for whom “he had asked himself how he might approach her, how get to know her, a whole miraculous world had opened up in his imagination…”  Backstage at the theater, where Marcel “felt the need to begin a spirited conversation with Saint-Loup.  In this way my demeanour, since I did not know which one to adopt in a setting that was new to me, would be entirely dominated by our talk, and people would think that I was so absorbed in it, so unobservant of my surroundings, that it was quite natural for me not to be wearing the facial expressions proper to a place in which, by what I appeared to be saying, I was barely conscious of standing…”  Rachel flirts with a dancer, infuriating Saint-Loup.  Saint-Loup and Rachel have a bitter argument, Saint-Loup threatens to withhold the necklace, Rachel accuses Saint-Loup of being “Jewish,” and when a journalist refused to put out his cigar, after Saint-Loup asks him to out of concern for Marcel’s health, Saint-Loup slaps him.  Storming out of the theater with Marcel, Saint-Loup is accosted by an “impassioned loiterer,” who “seeing the handsome young soldier that Saint-Loup was, had made a proposition to him.”  Saint-Loup responds badly, pummeling the “shabbily dressed gentleman who appeared to be losing at once his self-possession, his lower jaw and a quantity of blood.”  Saint-Loup “could not get over the audacity of this ‘clique’ who no longer even waited for the shades of night to venture forth…”  But, as the Narrator/Marcel points out, “And yet the recipient of his blows was excusable in one respect, for the trend of the downward slope brings desire so rapidly to the point of enjoyment that beauty in itself appears to imply consent.”  Still angry at Rachel, Saint-Loup sends Marcel on ahead to visit Mme de Villeparisis, promising to meet him there later.

—–

1.  I loved this passage:

“The numbers of pawns on the human chessboard being less than the number of combinations that they are capable of forming, in a theatre from which all the people we know and might have expected to find are absent, there turns up one whom we never imagined that we should see again and who appears so opportunely that the coincidence seems to us providential, although no doubt some other coincidence would have occurred in its stead had we been not in that place but in some other, where other desires would have been born and another old acquaintance forthcoming to help us to satisfy them.”

2.  Again, we have a lovely example of Proust and optics:  the difference between the long view and the close-up. The difference in Marcel’s impression of Rachel up-close and as seen from the stage, and “the stage sets, still in their place, among which I was passing, seen thus at close range and deprived of those effects of lighting and distance on which the eminent artist whose brush had painted them had calculated, were a depressing sight, and Rachel, when I came near her, was subjected to a no less destructive influence.”  Thoughts?

3.  And finally, we are about to enter one of the great “set pieces” of the series, the afternoon reception at Mme de Villeparisis’.  I’d like to share with you Howard Moss’ thoughts, from his book The Magic Lantern of Marcel Proust, on how Proust uses parties through out the books.

“Parties are Proust’s main device for exhibiting social behaviour; they are set like lozenges in the midst of the adolescent reverie, psychological analysis, and metaphyical speculation that form the greater part of the book.  Each one is a solid block of realistic and satirical observation, contrasting sharply in style with the ‘interior’ Proust.  Innumerable minor social occasions are scattered throughout Remembrance of Things Past, and eight major ones of considerable length.  Two of these occur during Swann’s courtship of Odette; the other six belong to the narrator.  They take place in the following order:

Swann

A dinner at the Verdurins’

An evening at Mme de Saint-Euverte’s

Marcel

An afternoon reception at Mme de Villeparisis’s

A dinner at the Duchesse de Guermantes’s

An evening reception at the Princesse de Guermante’s

A dinner party at La Raspeliere (the Verdurins’ country estate)

A musicale at Quai Conti (the Verdurins’ house in Paris)

An afternoon reception at the Princesse de Guermantes’s

The non-Verdurin parties — they cannot quite be called the Guermantes parties, since Mme de Saint-Euverte, the hosess of the first, does not belong to that illustrious family — ascend the social scale in a definite order:  Saint-Euverte, Villeparisis, the Duchesse de Guermantes, the Princesse de Guermantes.  They indicate again that Marcel and Swann are two facets of a single character, for this progression has social significance within the structure of the novel, and the first party, at Mme de Saint-Euverte’s, is attended by Swann, while the second, at Mme de Villeparisis.”

You are going to love this section.

Thursday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  Page 244 “As I had supposed before making the acquaintance…” through Page 255 “Take care of my top hat.”

Treharne:  Page 177 “As I had imagined before making the acquaintance…” through Page 185 “Take care of my top hat.”

Enjoy.

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Moncrieff:  218-228; Treharne:  158-166

by Dennis Abrams

Saint-Loup is jealous of Aime (the waiter from Balbec), because “among his coarser colleagues Aime exuded not only a modest distinction but, quite unconsciously of course, that air of romance which emanates for a certain number of years from fine hair and a Grecian nose, features thanks to which he stood out among the crowd of other waiters.”  Aime is unaware of his attractiveness.  Saint-Loup berates Rachel for eying Aime so closely.  “‘Anything specially interesting about that wiater, Zezette?’ he inquired, after sharply dismissing Aime.  ‘One would think you were making a study of him.'”  Rachel discusses literary matters with Marcel, whose opinions are very similar to hers.  Rachel “would have been genuinely entertaining had she not affected to an irritating degree the jargon of the coteries and studios.”  Rachel’s malicious tongue when discussing her rivals of the theatre, with the exception of her backhanded defense of Berma.  “But, with this simple exception, Saint-Loup’s mistress spoke of the best-known actresses in a tone of ironical superiority which annoyed me because I believed — quite mistakenly, as it happened — that it was she who was inferior to them.”  The look of the restaurant’s waiters.  Rachel makes eyes at a young student at the next table.  M. Charlus comes to the restaurant searching for his nephew, but is told that nobody knows him there.  Rachel continues making eyes at the young student, infuriating Saint-Loup, who storms off to a private room to dine alone.  Rachel defends her interest in Aime to Marcel.  “He has an amusing expression, hasn’t he?  You see, what would amuse me would be to know what he really thinks about things, to have him wait on me often, to take him traveling.  But that would be all…It’s silly of Robert to imagine things.  It all begins and ends in my head:  Robert has nothing to worry about…Do look what dark eyes he has.  I should love to know what goes on behind them.”  Saint-Loup sends word for Rachel to join him in the private room.  When Marcel joins them he finds that peace has returned, and, drinking champagne with them, becomes intoxicated.

1.   A couple of questions.  Let’s consider the differences between the relationship between Swann and Odette vs. Saint-Loup and Rachel.  Would Swann have gone storming off, or would he have suffered in silence.  And, given Rachel’s explanation above regarding her interest in Aime, how are she and Marcel similar?

2.  I loved Marcel’s description of viewing himself drunk in the mirror, the mirror that would “give to the drinker, even when alone, the idea that the surrounding space was multiplying itself simultaneously with his sensations, heightened by intoxication, and that, shut up by himself in this little cell, he was reigning nevertheless over something far more extensive in its indefinite luminous curve than a passage in the “Jardin de Paris.”

“Being then myself at this moment the said drinker, suddenly,looking for him in the glass, I caught sight of him, a hideous stranger, staring at me.  The joy of intoxication was stronger than my disgust; from gaiety or bravado, I gave him a smile which he returned.  And I felt myself so much under the ephemeral and potent sway of the minute in which our sensations are so strong, that I am not sure whether my sole regret was not at the thought that the hideous self whom I had caught sight of in the glass was perhaps on his last legs, and that I should never meet that stranger for the rest of my life.”

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And, finally, the remainder of Wayne Kosterman’s essay (which I posted the first half of in yesterday’s post), “I Went By a Devious Route,” from the highly recommended collection The Proust Project

“It’s not much that Marcel loves the duchess.  He loves what she does to his mind; she rearranges perception.  She is a walking piece of installation art avant la lettre.  Her ineffability paralyzes him; she conveniently epitomizes a milieu.  Marcel’s extreme consciousness requires the ballast of a motionless, heraldic, feminine object.  The duchess could be Vivien Leigh, or Arletty, or Catherine Deneuve, or Kim Novak in Vertigo, a figment one never stops searching for; the duchess is any women you have idealized for reasons that sensible people would call silly or superficial.  Proust’s Search is full of love objects, and the duchess is not the central one.  And yet, in my biased estimation, Marcel’s brief love for the duchess — her name, her remoteness, her station, her beauty, her nose, her pronunciation, her chiffon — stands out as the most poignant.

Once upon a time, a famous woman said to me, ‘Give me a call.’  I gave her a call.  Nothing happened.  She’d lost interest in me.  Just as well.  I can’t bear nearness to fame:  overmuch eminence humiliates the glare-blinded bystander.  And yet when this famous woman, my Duchesse de Guermantes, said ‘Give me a call,’ futurity opened its counterfeit gates, and, like Marcel, I believed that I had stumbled upon immanence.

The duchess’s thaw — suddenly acknowledging Marcel’s existence — epitomizes certain aesthetic experiences:  recall how a difficult piece of music (Schoenberg?) eventually unlocks its latent melody and yields a thwarted warmth.  Such temperature oscillations — the duchess’s quick shift from indifference to interest — remind us that, when packing for a trip to the Proustian uncanny, we should bring bathing suits and parkas.”

I love it.

Wednesday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  Page 228 “Since actors had ceased to be…” through Page 244 “…spent half the day already with me.”

Treharne:  Page 166 “Ever since I had ceased to see actors…” through Page 177 “…had already spent part of the afternoon in my company.”

Enjoy.

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Moncrieff:  208-218; Treharne:  151-159

by Dennis Abrams

Marcel thinks about Rachel’s life as a prostitute and his own lack of interest in her, contrasted with Saint-Loup’s love.  “I realised that many women for the sake of whom men live, suffer, take their own lives, may be in themselves or for other people what Rachael was for me.  The idea that anyone could be tormented by curiosity with regard to her life amazed me.”  Marcel contemplates the power of the imagination when it comes to love.  “I realised then how much a human imagination can put behind a little scrap of a face, such as this woman’s was, if it is the imagination that has come to know it first…I saw that what had appeared to me to be not worth twenty francs when it had been offered to me for twenty francs in the brothel…might be worth more than a million, more than family affection, more than all the most coveted positions in life, if one had begun by imagining her as a mysterious being, interesting to know, difficult to seize and hold.”   Saint-Loup and Marcel see Rachel in very different ways.  ‘No doubt it was the same thin and narrow face that we saw, Robert and I.  But we had arrived at it by two opposite ways which would never converge, and we would never both see it from the same side.”  Saint-Loup, in love, willing to pay one million francs in order to have what others had for just twenty francs.   “It was not ‘Rachel when from the Lord,” who seemed to me of little significance, it was the power of the human imagination, the illusion on which were based the pains of love, that I found so striking.”  Arriving at the train station to return to Paris, Rachel is greeted by a “pair of common little ‘tarts’ like herself, who first of all, thinking that she was alone, called out:  ‘Hello, Rachel, why don’t you come with us?  Lucienne and Germaine are in the train, and there’s room for one more.  Come on, we’ll all go to the rink together,” but then realizing that she’s with other people, apologize and say good-bye.  For a brief moment, Saint-Loup sees Rachel, and the possibilities of her other life, in a new way.  “He not only glimpsed this life, but saw also in the thick of it a Rachel quite different from the one he knew, a Rachel like those two little tarts, a twenty-franc Rachel.  In short, Rachel had for the moment duplicated herself in his eyes; he had seen, at some distance from his own Rachel, the little tart Rachel, the real Rachel, if it can be said that Rachel the tart was more real than the other.”   Saint-Loup’s unwillingness to confess to friends that he pays for Rachel’s favors, for her love.  Saint-Loup imagines Rachel going with the two tarts if he hadn’t been there, and what would have happened afterwards.  Rachel as a literary Dreyfussard.  Saint-Loup’s jealousies at in public places, imagining Rachel’s interests in other men, interests caused in part by Saint-Loup’s suspicions of those men.  “And sometimes she found that Robert had shown such good taste in his suspicions that after a while she even left off teasing him in order that he might calm down and consent to go off by himself on some errand which would give her time to enter into conversation with the stranger, often to make an assignation, sometimes even to bring matters to a head right there.”

1.  Am I the only one who, when reading about the difference between Marcel and Saint-Loup’s perspectives on Rachel, found himself thinking about Picasso?

2.  And, if Proust’s depiction of the pre-marriage relationship between Swann and Odette was balanced between comedy and tragedy, how, at least so far, would you describe the depiction of the relationship between Saint-Loup and Rachel?

3.  And again, of course, in the different Rachels seen by Marcel and Saint-Loup, we see the impossibility of seeing anybody truly all the way around.  “Rachel when from the Lord” the twenty-franc prostitute, or Rachel, the avant-garde actress of Saint-Loup’s dreams.  Neither Marcel or Saint-Loup is correct in their assessment of her, yet, on the other hand, neither is incorrect either.

I’d like to share with you the first half (I’ll post the rest tomorrow) of Wayne Kosterman’s essay “I Went By a Devious Route,” from the collection The Proust Project, regarding Marcel’s adoration (I don’t think that’s too strong a word) of Mme de Guermantes:

“Adoration, complicated, takes a few thousand pages to explain.  Proust, describing Marcel’s momentary infatuation with the Duchesse de Guermantes, who waves at him from an opera box and who nods to him, later, from her carriage, proves that idol worship is not a dead end.  Sometimes, the idol smiles back.  Reciprocation, however, can kill ardor.

Mirror-minded, Marcel worships the Duchesse de Guermantes, mostly because of her storied name.  Voyeur, he sees her enter an opera box; her white chiffon dress dominates the eye.  With a white-gloved hand, she waves at him; singled out from the anonymous crowd, he receives the individuating shower of her gaze. The next day, he starts stalking her; he follows her while she does errands across town.  Unflattering detail:  he notices red blotches on her face.

And then a woman in a carriage nods at him.  Only after a moment does he realize that this respectful stranger is the Duchesse de Guermantes, but now her carriage has already passed, and he has failed to acknowledge her greeting.  Does she secretly reciprocate his passion?  Or is she irritated at his shadowing obsequiousness?

When I first read Proust, in the summer of 1986 or 1987, these duchess-besotted passages reinforced my own love for upper-class mavens with imposing, stiff hairdos (Jacqueline Onassis) and for sopranos (Anna Moffo)  Proust gave me leave to pursue infatuation as a calling:  he legitimated fandom, and made it appear poetic, not pathetic.  Anatomizing adoration, subjecting it to detailed analysis, seemed, Proust’s example suggested, not only a solipistic exercise but a high-toned quest, an act of self-ethnography.  Joseph Cornell practiced it.  So did Gide, Genet, and Leiris.  They treated their abject crushes (on stars, ballerinas, aristocrats, shopgirls, convicts, sailors) with exegetical intensity.”

The rest will follow tomorrow.

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Tuesday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  Page 218 “I could see as soon as we entered the restaurant…” through Page 228 “…Hallo, you!”

Treharne:  Page 159 “I could see as soon as we entered the restaurant…” through Page 166 “…Hello, you!”

Enjoy.

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