Moncrieff: 208-218; Treharne: 151-159
by Dennis Abrams
Marcel thinks about Rachel’s life as a prostitute and his own lack of interest in her, contrasted with Saint-Loup’s love. “I realised that many women for the sake of whom men live, suffer, take their own lives, may be in themselves or for other people what Rachael was for me. The idea that anyone could be tormented by curiosity with regard to her life amazed me.” Marcel contemplates the power of the imagination when it comes to love. “I realised then how much a human imagination can put behind a little scrap of a face, such as this woman’s was, if it is the imagination that has come to know it first…I saw that what had appeared to me to be not worth twenty francs when it had been offered to me for twenty francs in the brothel…might be worth more than a million, more than family affection, more than all the most coveted positions in life, if one had begun by imagining her as a mysterious being, interesting to know, difficult to seize and hold.” Saint-Loup and Marcel see Rachel in very different ways. ‘No doubt it was the same thin and narrow face that we saw, Robert and I. But we had arrived at it by two opposite ways which would never converge, and we would never both see it from the same side.” Saint-Loup, in love, willing to pay one million francs in order to have what others had for just twenty francs. “It was not ‘Rachel when from the Lord,” who seemed to me of little significance, it was the power of the human imagination, the illusion on which were based the pains of love, that I found so striking.” Arriving at the train station to return to Paris, Rachel is greeted by a “pair of common little ‘tarts’ like herself, who first of all, thinking that she was alone, called out: ‘Hello, Rachel, why don’t you come with us? Lucienne and Germaine are in the train, and there’s room for one more. Come on, we’ll all go to the rink together,” but then realizing that she’s with other people, apologize and say good-bye. For a brief moment, Saint-Loup sees Rachel, and the possibilities of her other life, in a new way. “He not only glimpsed this life, but saw also in the thick of it a Rachel quite different from the one he knew, a Rachel like those two little tarts, a twenty-franc Rachel. In short, Rachel had for the moment duplicated herself in his eyes; he had seen, at some distance from his own Rachel, the little tart Rachel, the real Rachel, if it can be said that Rachel the tart was more real than the other.” Saint-Loup’s unwillingness to confess to friends that he pays for Rachel’s favors, for her love. Saint-Loup imagines Rachel going with the two tarts if he hadn’t been there, and what would have happened afterwards. Rachel as a literary Dreyfussard. Saint-Loup’s jealousies at in public places, imagining Rachel’s interests in other men, interests caused in part by Saint-Loup’s suspicions of those men. “And sometimes she found that Robert had shown such good taste in his suspicions that after a while she even left off teasing him in order that he might calm down and consent to go off by himself on some errand which would give her time to enter into conversation with the stranger, often to make an assignation, sometimes even to bring matters to a head right there.”
1. Am I the only one who, when reading about the difference between Marcel and Saint-Loup’s perspectives on Rachel, found himself thinking about Picasso?
2. And, if Proust’s depiction of the pre-marriage relationship between Swann and Odette was balanced between comedy and tragedy, how, at least so far, would you describe the depiction of the relationship between Saint-Loup and Rachel?
3. And again, of course, in the different Rachels seen by Marcel and Saint-Loup, we see the impossibility of seeing anybody truly all the way around. “Rachel when from the Lord” the twenty-franc prostitute, or Rachel, the avant-garde actress of Saint-Loup’s dreams. Neither Marcel or Saint-Loup is correct in their assessment of her, yet, on the other hand, neither is incorrect either.
I’d like to share with you the first half (I’ll post the rest tomorrow) of Wayne Kosterman’s essay “I Went By a Devious Route,” from the collection The Proust Project, regarding Marcel’s adoration (I don’t think that’s too strong a word) of Mme de Guermantes:
“Adoration, complicated, takes a few thousand pages to explain. Proust, describing Marcel’s momentary infatuation with the Duchesse de Guermantes, who waves at him from an opera box and who nods to him, later, from her carriage, proves that idol worship is not a dead end. Sometimes, the idol smiles back. Reciprocation, however, can kill ardor.
Mirror-minded, Marcel worships the Duchesse de Guermantes, mostly because of her storied name. Voyeur, he sees her enter an opera box; her white chiffon dress dominates the eye. With a white-gloved hand, she waves at him; singled out from the anonymous crowd, he receives the individuating shower of her gaze. The next day, he starts stalking her; he follows her while she does errands across town. Unflattering detail: he notices red blotches on her face.
And then a woman in a carriage nods at him. Only after a moment does he realize that this respectful stranger is the Duchesse de Guermantes, but now her carriage has already passed, and he has failed to acknowledge her greeting. Does she secretly reciprocate his passion? Or is she irritated at his shadowing obsequiousness?
When I first read Proust, in the summer of 1986 or 1987, these duchess-besotted passages reinforced my own love for upper-class mavens with imposing, stiff hairdos (Jacqueline Onassis) and for sopranos (Anna Moffo) Proust gave me leave to pursue infatuation as a calling: he legitimated fandom, and made it appear poetic, not pathetic. Anatomizing adoration, subjecting it to detailed analysis, seemed, Proust’s example suggested, not only a solipistic exercise but a high-toned quest, an act of self-ethnography. Joseph Cornell practiced it. So did Gide, Genet, and Leiris. They treated their abject crushes (on stars, ballerinas, aristocrats, shopgirls, convicts, sailors) with exegetical intensity.”
The rest will follow tomorrow.
Moncrieff: Page 218 “I could see as soon as we entered the restaurant…” through Page 228 “…Hallo, you!”
Treharne: Page 159 “I could see as soon as we entered the restaurant…” through Page 166 “…Hello, you!”