Moncrieff: 228-244; Treharne: 166-177
by Dennis Abrams
Marcel, Saint-Loup, and Rachel arrive at the theater. Marcel has a new view about actors, no longer seeing them as “exclusively the depositories, in their diction and playing, of an artistic truth,” and instead see them as humans, reacting to the audience, and who by the time they leave the theater, “have already disintegrated into an actor who is no longer in the situation which was his in the play, into a text which no longer shows the actor’s face, into a coloured powder which a handkerchief wipes off, who have returned, in short, to elements that contain nothing of them…” Rachel and her coterie laugh a singer, “possessed of an unduly, almost grotesquely prominent rump and a pretty but too slight voice….” off the stage. On stage, Rachel transforms into somebody else. “Standing beside her one saw only a nebula, a milky way of freckles, of tiny spots, nothing more. At a respectable distance, all this ceased to be visible and, from cheeks that withdrew, were reabsorbed into her face, there rose like a crescent moon a nose so fine and pure that one would have liked to be the object of Rachel’s attention, to see her again and again, to keep her near one, provided that one had never seen her differently and at close range.” For Saint-Loup, who had first seen Rachel in the same way, on stage at a distance, that was the woman for whom “he had asked himself how he might approach her, how get to know her, a whole miraculous world had opened up in his imagination…” Backstage at the theater, where Marcel “felt the need to begin a spirited conversation with Saint-Loup. In this way my demeanour, since I did not know which one to adopt in a setting that was new to me, would be entirely dominated by our talk, and people would think that I was so absorbed in it, so unobservant of my surroundings, that it was quite natural for me not to be wearing the facial expressions proper to a place in which, by what I appeared to be saying, I was barely conscious of standing…” Rachel flirts with a dancer, infuriating Saint-Loup. Saint-Loup and Rachel have a bitter argument, Saint-Loup threatens to withhold the necklace, Rachel accuses Saint-Loup of being “Jewish,” and when a journalist refused to put out his cigar, after Saint-Loup asks him to out of concern for Marcel’s health, Saint-Loup slaps him. Storming out of the theater with Marcel, Saint-Loup is accosted by an “impassioned loiterer,” who “seeing the handsome young soldier that Saint-Loup was, had made a proposition to him.” Saint-Loup responds badly, pummeling the “shabbily dressed gentleman who appeared to be losing at once his self-possession, his lower jaw and a quantity of blood.” Saint-Loup “could not get over the audacity of this ‘clique’ who no longer even waited for the shades of night to venture forth…” But, as the Narrator/Marcel points out, “And yet the recipient of his blows was excusable in one respect, for the trend of the downward slope brings desire so rapidly to the point of enjoyment that beauty in itself appears to imply consent.” Still angry at Rachel, Saint-Loup sends Marcel on ahead to visit Mme de Villeparisis, promising to meet him there later.
1. I loved this passage:
“The numbers of pawns on the human chessboard being less than the number of combinations that they are capable of forming, in a theatre from which all the people we know and might have expected to find are absent, there turns up one whom we never imagined that we should see again and who appears so opportunely that the coincidence seems to us providential, although no doubt some other coincidence would have occurred in its stead had we been not in that place but in some other, where other desires would have been born and another old acquaintance forthcoming to help us to satisfy them.”
2. Again, we have a lovely example of Proust and optics: the difference between the long view and the close-up. The difference in Marcel’s impression of Rachel up-close and as seen from the stage, and “the stage sets, still in their place, among which I was passing, seen thus at close range and deprived of those effects of lighting and distance on which the eminent artist whose brush had painted them had calculated, were a depressing sight, and Rachel, when I came near her, was subjected to a no less destructive influence.” Thoughts?
3. And finally, we are about to enter one of the great “set pieces” of the series, the afternoon reception at Mme de Villeparisis’. I’d like to share with you Howard Moss’ thoughts, from his book The Magic Lantern of Marcel Proust, on how Proust uses parties through out the books.
“Parties are Proust’s main device for exhibiting social behaviour; they are set like lozenges in the midst of the adolescent reverie, psychological analysis, and metaphyical speculation that form the greater part of the book. Each one is a solid block of realistic and satirical observation, contrasting sharply in style with the ‘interior’ Proust. Innumerable minor social occasions are scattered throughout Remembrance of Things Past, and eight major ones of considerable length. Two of these occur during Swann’s courtship of Odette; the other six belong to the narrator. They take place in the following order:
A dinner at the Verdurins’
An evening at Mme de Saint-Euverte’s
An afternoon reception at Mme de Villeparisis’s
A dinner at the Duchesse de Guermantes’s
An evening reception at the Princesse de Guermante’s
A dinner party at La Raspeliere (the Verdurins’ country estate)
A musicale at Quai Conti (the Verdurins’ house in Paris)
An afternoon reception at the Princesse de Guermantes’s
The non-Verdurin parties — they cannot quite be called the Guermantes parties, since Mme de Saint-Euverte, the hosess of the first, does not belong to that illustrious family — ascend the social scale in a definite order: Saint-Euverte, Villeparisis, the Duchesse de Guermantes, the Princesse de Guermantes. They indicate again that Marcel and Swann are two facets of a single character, for this progression has social significance within the structure of the novel, and the first party, at Mme de Saint-Euverte’s, is attended by Swann, while the second, at Mme de Villeparisis.”
You are going to love this section.
Moncrieff: Page 244 “As I had supposed before making the acquaintance…” through Page 255 “Take care of my top hat.”
Treharne: Page 177 “As I had imagined before making the acquaintance…” through Page 185 “Take care of my top hat.”