Moncrieff: 1-11; Treharne: 3-10
by Dennis Abrams
Due to his grandmother’s ill health, the family moves from their old house to a flat “forming part of the Hotel de Guermantes.” Francoise, originally unhappiness about having “to leave a house in which one was ‘so well respected on all sides,”” and Marcel’s lack of sympathy. But after having to return to the old house to retrieve some clothes, “Francoise, with true feminine inconstancy, came back saying that she had really thought she would stifle on our old boulevard, that she had found it quite a day’s journey to get there, that never had she seen such stairs, that she would not go back to live there for a king’s ransom, not if you were to offer her millions — gratuitous hypotheses — and that everything (everything, that is to say to do with the kitchen and ‘usual offices’) was much better fitted up in our new home.” The name “Guermantes” and that of Mme de Guermantes, begin to lose their lifelong poetic connotations, in part from information by Saint Loup — the sense of the Guermantes’ past in Combray is replaced with the current life and parties held by the Guermantes in Paris. “What shape was projected in my mind’s eye by ths name Guermantes when my wet-nurse — knowing no more, probably than I know today in whose honour it had been composed — sang me to sleep with that old ditty, Gloire a la Marquise de Guermantes…A two-dimensional castle, no more indeed than a strip of orange light, from the summit of which the lord and his lady disposed of the lives and deaths of their vassals…then it had been the ancient heritage, the poetic domain from which the proud race of Guermantes, like a mellow, crenellated tower that traverses the ages had risen already over France…I saw again the escutcheons blazoned beneath the windows of the Combray church…Then in the depths of this name the castle mirrored in its lake faded, and what now became apparent to me, surrounding Mme de Guermantes as her swelling, had been her house in Paris, the Hotel de Guermantes, limpid like its name, for no material and opaque element intervened to interrupt and occlude its transparency…this Hotel de Guermantes comprised all those who shared the life of the Duchess, but these intimates on whom I had never set eyes were for me only famous and poetic names, and, knowing exclusively persons who themselves too were only names, served to enhance and protect the mystery of the Duchess by extending all round her a vast halo which at the most declined in brilliance as its circumference increased.”
1. I have a question for the group. I have a hard time visualizing architecture — can anyone give me a hand in picturing the layout of the Hotel de Guermantes — the courtyard, the apartments, and where the Duchess herself lives? This might be easier after Tuesday’s reading.
2. And, an excerpt regarding the structure of The Guermantes Way from the introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Proust, by Richard Bales:
“…Le Cote de Guermantes, for instance, is divided into two parts: part I, consisting of about 300 pages, has no sub-headings. But part II, some 280 pages long, is subdivided into two chapters, each if which is prefaced by a summary of its contents: chapter one is only about thirty pages long; chapter two, some 240. Why this imbalance? And why does the short part II, chapter one get a list of contents when the much longer part I gets none. A mystery. but even when the contents are supplied, the result is scarcely what one might today call ‘user-friendly’. Take, for example, the summary of part II, chapter two:
[A visit from Albertine — Prospect of rich brides for certain friends of Saint-Loup — The wit of the Guermantes as displayed before the Princesse de Parme — A strange visit to M. de Charlus — His character puzzles me more and more — The duchess’s red shoes.] (Omitted from the current English editions; translation taken from earlier editions.)
What a curious way to signpost 240 pages of text!
After registering initial bafflement, the reader can at least cling onto the names of characters with whom he or she is becoming familiar; but even so, how their activities are to fill out so many pages, given the thinnest imaginable indications, is impossible to predict. And the registers of each notation are puzzling disparate: what oculd be less helpful than ‘A visit from Albertine’? Why not an element of evaluation such as occurs when the Narrator intriguingly anticipates about Charlus? And what about the ridiculously bathetic effect of ‘The duchess’s red shoes’? But by now the alert reader knows not to expect short-cuts from an author who has hitherto abundantly displayed his greater interest in respecting the idiosyncratic unfolding of the impressions than in providing an initial explanatory framework. In this respect, the confused opening pages of A la recherche du temps perdu stand as a sort of motto for the whole novel. So the innocuous-sounding ‘Visit from Albertine’ is probably going to reveal very much deeper involvement on the part of the Narrator than the bland words convey; and the ‘more and more’, qualifying puzzlement about Charlus, looks as if with him the Narrator is further advanced on the path of acquaintanceship, if not of knowledge. But how? As for ‘The duchess’s red shoes’, those who know the anecdote alluded to will draw in breath at the mere reading of these words: their perfunctoriness masks one of the great episodes of the novel, a scene where Proust’s characters, in their interaction, provide one of the hardest-hitting analyses of human behaviour, of an exceptional degree of profundity.”
Moncrieff: Page 11 “In the house in which we had now come to live…” through Page 25 “Everything has to be done on the run.”
Treharne: Page 9 “In the house to which we had moved…” through Page 20 “It’s all big one rush in this place.”