Moncrieff: 116-140; Treharne: 85-102
by Dennis Abrams
Marcel learns that Saint-Loup is a popular favorite among the other soldiers, “the attraction which they naturally felt towards what they knew of Saint-Loup’s character was reinforced by the glamour that attached in their eyes to the young man, whom on Saturday evenings, when they went on pass to Paris, they had seen supping in the Cafe de la Paix with the Duc d’Uzes and the Prince d’Orleans.” Saint-Loup’s purple waistcoat “with sort of palms on it — smashing!” After leaving the barracks, Marcel, full of vitality, would wander through the streets of Doncieres, “each step I took, after touching a paving-stone of the square, rebounded off it, I seemed to have the wings of Mercury growing on my hells.” Back in his hotel room before dinner, “to the yellow flame of the fire, the coarse blue paper of the sky on which the setting sun had scribbled corkscrews and whirligigs like a piece of red chalk, the curiously patterned cloth on the round table on which a ream of essay paper and an inkpot lay in readiness for me together with one of Bergotte’s novels..” Marcel goes to meet Saint-Loup and his friends for dinner, and becomes aware that he is thinking less and less about Mme de Guermantes, despite the fact that it was because of her that he went to visit Saint-Loup. “I suddenly felt a skirt brush past me, the violence of the pleasure which I then felt made it impossible for me to believe that the contact was accidental and I attempted to seize in my arms a terrified stranger.” Arriving at the restaurant, Marcel pulls Saint-Loup aside and asks him to put in a good word for him with his aunt, Mme de Guermantes, which he readily agrees to do, but when Marcel asks him if he can have his aunt’s photo, he demurs for reasons unknown, saying “No, I should have to ask her permission first,” and blushing. At dinner Saint-Loup gets great pleasure in showing Marcel off to his friends. “Now, at the same remarks of mine which ordinarily he enjoyed without showing it, he watched from the corner of his eye to see whether they produced on his friends the effect on which he had counted and which evidently corresponded to what he had promised them beforehand.” Saint-Loup denies having heard a story to encourage Marcel to tell it again, “…it had struck him that this story would give his comrades a good idea of my wit, and that it was for this reason that he had pretended not to know it. Such is the stuff of friendship.” Saint-Loup denies being engaged to Mlle d’Ambresac. One of Saint-Loup’s friends claims that Marcel is similar to a Major Duroc, but “Saint-Loup was not satisfied with this comparison. In an ecstasy of joy, no doubt intensified by the joy he felt in making me shine before his friends, with extreme volubility, he reiterated, stroking and patting me as though I were a horse that had just come first past the post: ‘You’re the cleverest man I know, do you hear?” He corrected himself, and added: ‘Together with Elstir. — You don’t mind my bracketing him with you, I hope?” The Dreyfus case.
A couple of notes…
1. I was struck by the remarkable aptness and beauty of Proust’s use of artists and art in his descriptions: “In a little curio shop a half-spent candle, projecting it’s warm glow over an engraving, reprinted it in sanguine, while, battling against the darkness, the light of a big lamp bronzed a scrap of leather, inlaid a dagger with glittering spangles…made in fact of the whole hovel, in which there was nothing but pinchbeck rubbish, a marvelous composition by Rembrandt.” “…”glimpses of glowing kitchens in which chickens were turning on spits, pigs were roasting, lobsters were being flung alive into what the landlord called the ‘everlasting fire,’ an influx (worthy of some Numbering of the People at Bethlehem such as the Old Flemish masters used to paint)…”
2. The way in which Marcel drew Saint-Loup aside to to speak to him under awkward conditions about what he felt were awkward topics, is something that I know I am apt to do. “It was precisely these awkward conditions that had given me courage to approach Robert; the presence of the others was for me a pretext that justified my giving my remarks a brief and disjointed form, under cover of which I could more easily dissemble the falsehood of my saying that I had forgotten his connexion with the Duchess…”
3. We also saw the continued use of the idea of witnessing life through windows, “And the streets of this town had not yet become for me what streets are in the place where one is accustomed to live, simply means of getting from one place to another. The life led by the inhabitants of this unknown world must, it seemed to me, be a thing of wonder, and often the lighted windows of some dwelling kept me standing for a long while motionless in the dark by laying before my eyes the actual and mysterious scenes of an existence into which I might not penetrate.”
And, the continuation of the aquatic theme we last saw at Marcel’s night at the theater. “”Sometimes I lifted my eyes to gaze at some huge old dwelling-house whose shutters had not been closed and in which amphibious men and women, adapting themselves anew each evening to living in a different element from their day-time one, floated to and fro in the rich liquid that after nightfall rose incessantly from the wells of the lamps to fill the rooms to the very brink of their outer walls of stone and glass, the displacement of their bodies sending oleaginous golden ripples through it.”
3. And, while this is something which is not directly connected to the section we’ve been reading about Marcel in Doncieres, it is an idea I’ve been playing around with (I’m not all together sure how I feel about it) and would love to get your thoughts. Confession time: I was watching The Real Housewives of New York the other night…(I know…I know…man can’t live on Proust alone), but still found myself thinking yet again about Proust. It occurred to me that “our” interest in such things as “The Real Housewives” is not all that different from Marcel’s fascination with the aristocracy, and with Mme de Guermantes in particular. (The differences between French aristocracy and American nouveau riche aside) But…while Marcel is interested in what he see as Mme de Guermantes’ “perfection” what interests us is seeing their imperfections. Any thoughts on this? Am I just way off base?
4. And finally, Eric Karpeles will be giving a talk on “Paintings in Proust” at Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts on Thursday, April 8th at 6:30 PM. I hope that everybody in Houston and the surrounding area who is reading along with us is able to make it! A Proustian inspired dinner is in the works for the evening of April 7th. I’ll post details as they become available.
Moncrieff: Page 140 “Partly out of courtesy to his friends…” through Page 154 “…he had remembered so well.”
Treharne: Page 102 “Out of respect for his friends…” through Page 113 “..the words themselves he remembered very well.”