Moncrieff: 154-166; Treharne: 113-121
by Dennis Abrams
Despite his pleasure with the company of Saint-Loup and his fellow officers, Marcel begins to long for Mme de Guermantes. “There were evening when, as I passed through the town on my way to the restaurant, I felt so keen a longing for Mme de Guermantes that I could scarcely breathe; it was as though part of my breast had been cut out by a skilled anatomist and replaced by an equal part of immaterial suffering, by its equivalent in nostalgia and love.” Saint-Loup and his mistress have a quarrel, leading to estrangement. Saint-Loup’s suffering and jealousy. The power of his mistress. “It has been said that silence is strength; in a quite different sense it is a terrible strength in the hands of those who are loved. It increases the anxiety of the one who waits. Nothing so tempts us to approach another person as what is keeping us apart; and what barrier is so insurmountable as silence?” Saint-Loup’s longing for a letter, and the pain of uncertainty. “He suffered in anticipation, without missing a single one, all the griefs and pains of a rupture which at other moments he might somehow contrive to avoid…At all events, this hope that his mistress would return gave him courage to persevere in the rupture, as the belief that one may return alive from the battle helps one to face death.” Saint-Loup’s dream. At last, Saint-Loup’s mistress send a letter, asking him to forgive her. But, in order to “protect her equanimity,” she asks him not to come to Paris at the New Year, but to go abroad with her instead. Because of this, Saint-Loup will not be going to Paris until Easter, dashing Marcel’s hopes of an introduction to Mme de Guermantes, since he will be returning to Balbec by then. Marcel, coming up with a pretext, tells Saint-Loup that since he will be seeing Elstir at Balbec at Easter, it would be nice if he could first see the early paintings by Elstir that are owned by Mme de Guermantes — Saint-Loup promises that it will be done. Although he had originally turned down Saint-Loup’s request for leave, Captain de Borodino, in debt to the town’s principal hairdresser who sing’s Saint-Loup’s praises, changes his mind and gives Saint-Loup leave to accompany his mistress on her annual All Souls’ Day visit to Bruges.
Once again, jealousy rears its head as we begin to get deeper into the relationship between Saint-Loup and his mistress. I loved watching the seemingly unshakable Saint-Loup fall apart by the uncertainty caused by his mistresses’ silence. And, I loved Saint-Loup’s description of her:
“She is violent simply because she’s too frank, too headstrong in her feelings. But she’s a sublime creature. You can’t imagine the poetic delicacy there is in her. She goes every year to spend All Souls’ Day at Bruges. Rather good, don’t you think? If you ever meet her you’ll see what I mean: she has a sort of greatness…” And, as he was infected with certain of the linguistic mannerisms current in the literary circles in which the lady moved: “There’s something astral about her, in fact something vatic. You know what I mean, the poet merging into the priest.”
I’d also like to share with you this excerpt from Seth Wolitz’s book The Proustian Community, in which he discusses the importance of this section at Doncieres, which, at first read, appear to be unrelated to the book’s main concerns. But, as we shall see, virtually nothing in Proust’s world.
“Doncieres, the next stop in Marcel’s travels is usually bypassed by most critics as tangential to the work, or just not very interesting. Marcel’s stay in Doncieres, however, has an important function in the work because Proust depicts the life of the military stationed in a little town. France was gravely concerned about her military after 1870 because it was the only bulwark France had against the hated enemy, Germany, as well as the only force they could use for revenge. it was, however, both honored and feared, for the military could always instigate a coup d’etat against the fledgling republic (witness the near attempt by Boulanger). it was the stronghold of the monarchists, whether Legitimists, Orleanists, or Bonapartists. (Marcel in fact offers nuanced comparisons between the imperial and legitimist nobilities in the army.) But Doncieres is important to the work not only because Proust can give us glimpses of military life but also because he could present the various shades in the military concerning the Dreyfus Affair, the events of which were to cause such a social upheaval in Proust’s fictional world.
Furthermore, Proust bathes Doncieres in a poetic glow as he depicts Marcel’s search for friendship during his stay there. Marcel felt he could find it in Saint-Loup, the image of the ideal nobleman and military officer. But even friendship could not equal his estimate of it.
Marcel’s life at Doncieres is also like his life at Combray in other ways. Doncieres too is a small town. A regimental parade is held on Sunday just as one was in Combray. Marcel even enjoys the long walks to watch the regiment in the field, since they bring back memories of the long walks at Combray. His hotel room in Doncieres figures in his dreams and causes him discomfort in a new place, just as he was affected by his room at Balbec, but the room comes to symbolize his inner world here, as at Balbec and elsewhere. It is a place of retreat, but primarily it serves as a departure point to the outside world.
At Doncieres the outside world is the dining room at a hotel where Saint-Loup and others board. Here we get the first real glimpse of Marcel participating in society and it reveals his esprit at table, which understandably aids his swift rise in the Guermantes circle. Donceires, then, is important in the novel. It is an echo of Combray, a social study of the military and the nobility, a preparation for Marcel’s social climb, an image of France divided over the Dreyfus Affair, and a study of the illusion of friendship.”
Moncrieff: Page 166 “All Robert’s friends assured me…” through Page 175 “…lips for ever turned to dust…”
Treharne: Page 121 “All of Robert’s friends made it clear to me…” through Page 128 “…lips forever turned to dust.”