Moncrieff: 11-25; Treharne: 20-30
by Dennis Abrams
The Duchess, Mme de Guermantes, lives at the end of the courtyard. Francoise’s interest in the comings and goings of the Guermantes’ household. “But the moment in the life of the Guermantes which excited the keenest interest in Francoise, gave her the most complete satisfaction and at the same time the sharpest annoyance, was that at which, the carriage gates having been flung open, the Duchess stepped into her barouche. The uninterruptability of the servants’ midday dinner and Francoise’s displeasure if it is interrupted. “The last rites accomplished…” Francoise, against Madame’s orders, opens the window to watch the goings on in the courtyard. Francoise’s homesickness for Combray. Francoise’s friendship with the one-time tailor and current government employee M. Jupien. Jupien’s niece and her tailoring business in the courtyard. Marcel’s initial distrust of M. Jupien, caused by the discord between his look and his speech, changes once Marcel “discerned in him a rare intelligence, one of the most spontaneously literary that it has been my privilege to come across, in the sense that, probably without education, he had assimilated, with the help only of a few books hastily perused, the most ingenious turns of speech. The most gifted people that I had known had died young. And so I was convinced that Jupien’s life would soon be cut short. He was kind and sympathetic, and had the most delicate and the most generous feelings. ” Francoise’s view of wealth and virtue: “…virtue without wealth was not her ideal either. Wealth was for her, so to speak, a necessary condition failing which virtue would lack both merit and charm. She distinguished so little between them that she had come in time to invest each with the other’s attributes, to expect some material comfort from virtue, to discover something edifying in wealth.” Francoise and the feminine suffix. Francoise’s conversation with the new footman who refers to her as the “housekeeper” much to her pleasure. Francoise reminisces about Combray and Meseglise, even speaking kindly about Eulalie and Mme Octave.
Ah…Francoise. How can one not love her? I love this passage from Tuesday’s reading, taking her from longing for Combray to anger at Marcel to resignation at her fate in just a short time:
“Ah, Combray, when will I see you again, poor old place? When will I spend the whole blessed day among your hawthorns, under our own poor lilac trees, hearing the finches sing and the Vivonne making a little noise like someone whispering, instead of that wretched bell from our young master, who can never stay still for half an hour on end without having me run the length of that confounded corridor. And even then he makes out I don’t come quick enough; you’d need to hear the bell before he rung it, and if you’re a minute late, he flies into the most horrible rage. Ah, poor Combray! maybe I’ll only see you when I’m dead, when they drop me like a stone into a hole in the ground. And so, nevermore will I smell your lovely hawthornes, so white. But in the sleep of death I dare say I shall still hear those three peels of the bell which will already have driven me to damnation in this world.”
Roger Shattuck had this to say about Francoise in his book Proust’s Way”
“…a personage painted as superstitious, stubborn, unresponsive to reason, prejudiced, and overbearing. Yet that personage is also deeply intelligent and a great artist. This person has never been troubled by any opposition between intelligence and sensibility. For she incarnates their collaboration, their natural hybrid. I am referring to the only character who stays the course of the novel, Francoise.
This servant of peasant stock, about whom one cannot use the word “humble,’ has her own code of conduct and her own vision of the world. Despite her limited education, Proust accords her full status as an artist, in cuisine and in coutoure, and an almost perfect equinamity in maintaining her place in society and before God. At one point, Proust seems to want to explain to us that she illustrates a special case of the collaboration of intelligence and sensibility.
‘One would not refer to thinking in respect to Francoise. She knew nothing, in that sense in which ‘knowing’ nothing means understanding nothing, except the rare truths which the heart is capable of attaining directly. The immense world of ideas did not exist for her. But under her clear gaze…one could wonder if there do not exist, among that humble stock, the peasants, some beings…who belong to the Holy Family, and are thus related, though remaining in childhood, to beings of the highest intelligence.’ Within a Budding Grove, 309-310
Proust here links Francoise both to heart, a term encompassing sensibility, feeling and intuition, and to intelligence, through a distinctly evangelical connection. In her, we see only simplicity and obtusensss toward sophisticated ideas, until we glimpse the deeper intelligence underlying her dignified behavior. Proust sets befors us an immense cast of characters, including some stunning wits and penetrating intelligences. But a passage like this one, reinforced by the overall movement of the narrative, which at the end leaves almost everyone else behind, allows one to include that, when it comes to character and to mental faculties, Proust bet on Francoise, for she is a member of the Holy Family. Among such beings, heart and reason work as one.”
Moncrieff: Page 25 “What exasperated her more than anything…” through Page 38 “…as though between the glossy pearl-pink valves of a shell.”
Treharne: Page 20 “What exasperated her most…” through Page 30 “…as though between the lustrous pearl-pink valves of a shell.”