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.”
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?”