Moncrieff: 93-105; Treharne: 69-77
by Dennis Abrams
The problem of sound; sounds and silence. Marcel hopes he can stay in Saint-Loup’s rooms, and is pleased beyond belief that Saint-Loup’s Captain has given his permission, pronouncing “Oh! I adore him,” while turning away to hide his tears. Saint-Loup sends all visitors away, wanting Marcel all to himself. Saint-Loup describes his friends as “absolutely uncouth people who can talk of nothing but racing or stable shop,” with the exception of “a major here who’s an admirable man. He’s given us a course in which military history is treated like a demonstration, like a problem in algebra. Even from the aesthetic point of view, there’s a curious beauty, alternatively inductive and deductive, about it which you couldn’t fail to appreciate.” Marcel studies Saint-Loup’s photograph of Mme de Guermantes, noting the similarities between Saint-Loup and his aunt. “The features of the Duchesse de Guermantes, which were pinned to my vision of Combray, the nose like a falcon’s beak, the piercing eyes, seemed to have served also as a pattern for the cutting out — in another copy analogous and slender, with too delicate a skin — of Robert’s face, which might almost be superimposed upon his aunt’s.” The hill seen from Saint-Loup’s window. On the second night, Marcel stays at the hotel, but “As it happened…I had no time to be sad, for I was not alone for a moment…The fact of the matter was that there remained of the old palace a surplus refinement of structure and decoration, out of place in a modern hotel which, released from any practical assignment, had in its long spell of leisure acquired a sort of life: passages winding about in all directions, which one was continually crossing in their aimless wanderings, lobbies as long as corridors and as ornate as drawing-rooms, which had the air rather of dwelling there themselves then of forming part of the dwelling, which could not be induced to enter and settle down in any of the rooms but roamed about outside mine and came up at once to offer me their company — neighbours of a sort, idle but never noisy, menial ghosts of the past who had been granted the privilege of staying quietly by the doors of the rooms which were let to visitors, and who whenever I came across them greeted me with a silent deference.”
I want to stay at that hotel.
And, I’d like to go back a bit, and give you a little more from Seth Wolitz’s The Proustian Community: his description and analysis of Marcel’s evening at the theatre, and the audience hierarchy. I think what he has to say is spot-on, and well worth reading.
“We come now to the last rank of guests, the mortals, the bourgeois, who are seated in the orchestra. In this social group are the extremely wealthy, the nouveaux riches of finance and industry, and several rich snobs: ‘A certain number of orchestra stalls had been offered for sale at the box office and bought, out of snobbishness or curiosity, by such as wished to study the appearance of people whom they might not have another opportunity of seeing at close quarters. And it was indeed a fragment of their social life ordinarily kept secret, that one could examine here in public.
The social snob in the theatre is not the same as the dreamy underwater character of Marcel’s image. Whereas Marcel, in the springtime of his snobbery, admires this seemingly unattainable world of the Guermantes, the frustrated snobs seated next to him, ‘some common people’ attack the outfits and people they recognize and cannot join. Thus Marcel sees the Princesse de Guermantes as ‘a mighty goddess who presides from far aloft over the sports of lesser deities,’ while neighbors completely reject his envy: ‘That’s the Princesse de Guermantes,’ said my neighbour to the gentleman beside her, taking care to begin with the ‘Princesse’ with a string of P’s to show that a title like that was absurd. “She hasn’t been sparing with her pearls. I’m sure if I had as many as that, I wouldn’t make such a display of them: it doesn’t look at all well, not to my mind.'”
Proust also distinguishes the captains of industry and finance from the social elite. While a nouveau riche appears with “a sharp, haughty tone in speaking to an inferior, the great gentleman, affable, pleasant, smiling, had the air of considering, practicing an affectation of humility and patience…as a privilege of his good breeding.” Thus Proust places the aristocrats above the bourgeois in the physical setting of the theater and he underlines their differences by describing their manners and dress.
Lost amid this glittering society is the art to which the theater is supposedly dedicated. Everyone is supposed to be anxiously awaiting the great interpretations of La Berma, but the ‘budding genius who had taken a stall in order to hear La Berma thinks only of not soiling his gloves,’ and the bourgeois neighbors are airing their frustrations in caustic comment; La Berma’s enemy has come to boo her; Mme de Cambremer and other unprominent aristocrats are too concerned with the impression they are making on their benefactor, the Princesse de Parme; and the great mondains who are perfectly comfortable in this setting and have no material or social preoccupations, are too lazy or too stupid to cultivate a taste for music. So much for dedication to culture.
It is not without purpose that Proust has Marcel discover the great beauty of La Berma’s art at this juncture. As Marcel’s snobbery develops, the true world of art is also revealed. Thus the false external world at its most brilliant is place directly against the immortal world of art, reminding us of the stay at Balbec. While Marcel is excited to make the acquaintance of Mme de Villeparsis, Charlus, and Saint-Loup as his social climbing begins, the visit to Elstir’s studio reveals how art can be the fullest experience of existence. Once again Proust has made a typical social institute of the age, an integral part of the novel: should Marcel go toward the world of art or climb into the world of high society?
Moncrieff: Page 105 “Before going to bed I left the room…” through page 116 “These thoughts carried me far.”
Treharne: Page 77 “Before going to bed, I felt the need to leave my room…” through Page 85 “These thoughts carried me far.”