Moncrieff: 25-38, Treharne: 20-30
by Dennis Abrams
Francoise’s exasperation at the thin toast requested by Marcel’s father. The family waits for Francoise and the servants to finish their lunch so that they can eat. Marcel learns from Francoise that the Guermantes had taken occupancy of their mansion recently. The name “Guermantes” takes on a new light for Marcel when he learns of the Duchess that “She has the highest position in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, hers is the leading house in the Faubourg Saint-Germain.” And so, to Marcel “…it became all the more essential that I should be able to explore in the ‘salon’ of Mme de Guermantes, among her friends, the mystery of her name, since I did not find it in her person when I saw her leave in the morning on foot, or in the afternoon in her carriage.” For Marcel, the life of the Duchess must be different than anything he had ever known. “The life which I supposed them to lead there flowed from a source so different from anything in my experience, and must, I felt be so out of the ordinary, that I would not have imagined the presence at the Duchess’s parties of people in whose company I myself had already been, of people who really existed.” The Guermantes’ doormat “was in a shocking state” but seen as the entryway to a mysterious world. Marcel envisions small parties at the Guermantes, utterly transforming the guests. “Even for small and intimate gatherings it was from among them only that Mme de Guermantes could choose her guests, and in the dinners for twelve, assembled around the dazzling napery and plate, they were like the golden statues of the apostles in the Sainte-Chapelle, symbolic, dedicative pillars before the Lord’s Table. M. de Guermantes, who looked upon his tenants as “peasants, yokels, appropriators of national assets, whose opinion was of no account, shaved himself every morning in his nightshirt at the window…” makes use of Marcel’s father. The connection of the Norpois family to the Guermantes. M. de Guermantes is insulted by Jupien’s addressing the Baron de Norpois as M. de Norpois. “‘Monsieur Norpose indeed! Oh, that really is good. Just wait a little! This individual will be calling you Citizen Norpois next!’ exclaimed M. de Guermantes, turning to the Baron. He was at last able to vent his spleen against Jupien who addressed him as ‘Monsieur’ instead of ‘Monsieur le Duc.'” Marcel hopes to meet the Duchess (although she just lives downstairs from him) at the house of Mme de Villeparisis, but his father felt “that I was still a little young to go into society, and as the state of my health continued to cause him disquiet he was reluctant to allow me unnecessary occasions for renewed outings.” From one of Mme de Guermantes’ footmen, through Francoise, Marcel learns of the Duchess’s social life: turning down invitations from the Princesse de Parme but sitting at her box at the Opera, spending time at the villa of the Duc d’ Aumale. Marcel envisions her life, “That villa, that opera-box, into which Mme de Guermantes transfused the current of her life, must it seemed to me, be places no less magical than her home.”
Once again, Marcel observes a woman, her life, and longs to become a part of it.
And for those of you who were wondering about the location of the Hotel de Guermantes, a brief section from Cynthia Gamble’s essay, “From Belle Epoque to First World War.”
“In contrast to Mme Verdurin, the large Guermantes family, hostile to the bourgeoisie, have the strongest position in the aristocratic world of Belle Epoque Paris society, generally known as the Faubourg Saint-Germaine. Geographically, the Faubourg Saint-Germain is the area comprising the 7th arrondissement, on the left bank of the Seine. Why, therefore, does Proust situate the Guermantes salon on the right bank? This is a source of puzzlement to the young Narrator…’It is true that my mind was perplexed by certain difficulties, and the presence of the body of Jesus Christ in the host seemed to me no more obscure a mystery than this leading house in the Faubourg being situated on the right bank of the river.’ An examination of a fragment of Proust’s manuscript not included in the main body of the published text of A la recherche du temps perdu reveals that the ‘leading house’ is in fact situated partly in the Faubourg Saint-Germaine and partly elsewhere. “…’the entrance to our staircase, two yards from the hotel Guermantes, was a long way from the Faubourg Saint-Germain, whereas the doormat at the entrance to their house…was firmly part of the genuine Faubourg Saint-Germaine.’ This is an indicator of how the old Faubourg Saint-Germain is changing and extending both socially and geographically, spilling onto the Right Bank and the Faubourg Saint-Honore, a phenomenon which Proust charts throughout his novel.
The Faubourg Saint-Germain is both a state of mind and an exclusive group generally comprising royalists, nationalists, Catholics and anti-Dreyfusards, that many, including the Narrator of A la recherche du temps perdu at the beginning, aspire to join, believing it to be the pinnacle of society.
Moncrieff: Page 38 “My father had a friend at the ministry…” through Page 49 “…soft, glittering and velvety.”
Treharne: Page 30 “My father had a friend at the ministry…” through Page 38 “…soft, glittering, and velvety.”