Moncrieff: 313-328; Treharne: 226-237
by Dennis Abrams
Bloch and M. de Norpois discuss the Dreyfus case, but Bloch is unable to determine whether Norpois is a Dreyfusard or an anti-Dreyfusard. Norpois, being the diplomat that he is, congratulates Bloch for not being of his age. M. de Guermantes is highly displeased that his nephew, Robert Saint-Loup is a defender of Dreyfus, thereby risking his membership in the Jockey Club and possibly hurting the Guermantes name. The Duchess interrupts the Duke, pointing out that his cousin Gilbert, has “always maintained that all the Jews ought to be sent back to Jerusalem,’ angering her husband who “hated to be interrupted, and was moreover in the habit of being rude to her at home.” The Duke proclaims his lack of racial prejudice because “all that sort of thing seems to me to be out of date, and I do claim to move with the times; but damn it all, when one goes by the name of Marquis de Saint-Loup one isn’t a Dreyfussard. I’m sorry, but there it is.” But then, as the Narrator points out, “he knew very well that it was a far greater thing to go by that of Duc de Guermantes. ” Since Saint-Loup’s mother is an anti-Dreyfussard, it becomes apparent to all that Saint-Loup is under the influence of the “mentality” of Rachel. Mme de Villeparisis “dreaded what [the archivist] would say were he to find out that she had asked to her house a Jew more or less affiliated to the ‘Syndicate.'” The Duke de Guermantes makes notes of new words or phrases in his little pocket book, but still misuses them. Talentuous. The Duke puts down the historian, pointing out that he has not had the honor of belonging to the Ministry of Education, “with a feigned vanity so intense that his lips could not refrain from curving in a smile…My only clubs are the Union and the Jockey — you aren’t in the Jockey, I think, sir?” The Duchesse de Guermantes points out that “It can’t make any difference to me as far as the Jews are concerned, for the simple reason that I don’t know any of them and I intend to remain in that state of blissful ignorance,” while bemoaning that because of the Dreyfus case she’s being forced to meet people she would never have had to meet before, simply because they are against Dreyfus. The Duke declares that he’s not feudal like his cousin Gilbert, and that he would “go about with a negro if he was a friend of mine..” The Duchesse points out that if Dreyfus is innocent, “he hasn’t done much to prove it. What idiotic, turgid letters he writes from his island!” once again doing her husband proud with her display of wit.
I’m curious about Oriane’s declaration that she doesn’t know any Jews. What about Swann? Does she not know that he is Jewish? Or, because he’s an “assimilated” Jew, does she consider him French and not Jewish? Any thoughts on this?
And since today’s section had a good deal to do with the Dreyfus affair, I thought this might be a good time to give you all a brief summation of the case, taken from Patrick Alexander’s Marcel Proust’s Search for Lost Time.
“”Like the effects of the Vietnam War or the Iraqi war on the U.S.A., the Dreyfus Affair ripped French society down the middle and created enmities and cultural divisions which were to last decades. Like political divisions in current society, such as that between pro-life and pro-choice, the underlying differences reflect much broader issues of religion, culture and class. Reflecting the reality of their society, most of the characters in the novel are either for or against Dreyfus, and the evolution of the Affair is an important sub-theme throughout the novel.
On December 22, 1894, a Jewish army officer, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, was convicted of treason for passing military secrets to the Germans. After being stripped of his uniform, his sword was ceremoniously broken and Dreyfus, protesting his innocence, was deported to Devil’s Island in the Caribbean. The central evidence against Dreyfus was a handwritten letter which had been discovered by Major Hubert Henry. In 1896, Lt. Colonel lGeorges Picquart discovered different evidence, which proved Dreyfus innocent and implicated Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy. Following a court-martial, Picquart was dismissed from the army and Esterhazy was acquitted.
The Affair became a major public issue in 1898 when France’s leading novelist, Emile Zola, published an open letter entitled “J’Accuse‘ which indicted the French army of a cover-up. Zola’s letter burst upon the public stage and split French society in two. The socialist ‘Dreyfusards’ saw the Affair as a cover-up, a grave miscarriage of justice and a blatant example of anti-Semitism. The ‘Anti-Dreyfusards’, mainly nationalists and Catholics, saw the Affair as a sinister attack on both the French military and the establishment. Proust’s father was a member of the establishment, with many friends in the government, and he was horrified when his son organized the ‘Petition of the Intellectuals’ in favor of Dreyfus. Like Mme Verdurin, Proust attended court every day in support of Zola during his trial. Zola was found guilty of libel and sentenced to a year in jail, which he avoided by moving to England, which was presumably preferable to prison. As Proust shows, many prominent people, either because they were Jews or supported Dreyfus, were excluded from smart society, and many people who were previously unacceptable were warmly embraced because of their anti-Dreyfus views. The opposite was also true: Mme Sazerat from Combray snubbed Marcel’s father because he was anti-Dreyfus (even though she herself was also anti-Semtic.)”
The Weekend’s Reading:
Moncrieff: Page 328 “You aren’t going to Mme de Sagan’s ball this evening?” through Page 357 “Hallo, here’s my uncle Palamede.”
Treharne: Page 237 “You’re not going to Mme de Sagan’s ball this evening?” through Page 257 “Hello, there’s my uncle Palamede.”
Enjoy. And enjoy your weekend.