Moncrieff: 402-424; Treharne: 290-306
by Dennis Abrams
Returning home, Marcel finds his family’s butler and the Guermantes’ family butler arguing over the Dreyfus case. Marcel’s grandmother is not well, “It is in sickness that we are compelled to recognise that we do not live alone but are chained to a being from a different realm, from whom we are worlds apart, who has no knowledge of us and by whom it is impossible to make ourselves understood: our body.” Dr. Cottard had visited, and asked if his grandmother’s illness was “not what they call a diplomatic illness?” infuriating the family. The thermometer is brought out, registering a fever of 101. Based on Bergotte’s recommendation of years past, Dr. du Boulbon is brought in. Dr. du Boulbon examines grandmother by looking into her eyes, asking her about books and herself, and tell her that there is nothing wrong with her, and recommends that she go with Marcel for a walk to the Champs-Elysees, “to the clump of laurels which your grandson loves.” Grandmother denies that she’s anything like Aunt Leonie. Marcel and his mother cry with relief that grandmother is fine. Marcel receives an odd letter from Saint-Loup, which apologizes for the bad-timing but goes oto say that “…I should not be speaking the truth were I say to you, if only by preterition, that I shall never forget the perfidy of your conduct, or that there can ever be any forgiveness for so scoundrelly a betrayal.” Marcel, wanting to meet friends in the Champs-Elysees to arrange a later dinner in the country, arranges to take his grandmother there for a walk. Marcel grows impatient at the length of time it takes her to get ready, “…and now that I knew that she was not ill, with that strange indifference which we feel towards our relations so long as they are alive, and which makes us put everyone else before them, I thought it very selfish of her to take so long and to risk making me late when she knew that I had an appointment with my friends and was dining at Ville d’Avray.” Grandmother, flushed and obviously not feeling well, stops at the public restroom run by the “Marquise.” Half an hour later, although she tries to hide it, Marcel discovers that his grandmother had suffered a small stroke.
A couple of comments.
1. “Everything we think of as great has come to us from neurotics. It is they and they alone who found religions and create great works of art. the world will never realise how much it owes to them, and what they have suffered to bestow their gifts on it…we do not know what they cost those who wrought them in insomnia, tears, spasmodic laughter, urticaria, asthma, epilepsy, a terror of death which is worse than any of these, and which you perhaps have experienced.” When Proust wrote these words for Dr. du Boulbon, do you think he might have himself in mind?
2. The scene between the “Marquise” and the gardener, followed by the scene with Marcel and the “Marquise” and the “Marquise” and the “shabbily dressed woman” was rather extraordinary. I think you might enjoy this analysis of the scene from the essay “Proust and Social Spaces,” by Edward J. Hughes, found in The Cambridge Companion to Proust.
“We can consider…the keeper of the public convenience at the Champs-Elysees, whom Francoise, exaggerating the extent of the keeper’s daughter’s marriage into higher society, calls ‘une marquise.’ Dismissing the tale as a ludicrous figment of Francoise’s imagination, the Narrator goes on to demonstrate with searing wit how this bizarre figure, plastered in make-up and wearing a wig, is herself an expert in social inclusion and exclusion. Hence her indulgence for the [young] Narrator as, gesturing to one her her cubicles, she encourage him: …”Won’t you go inside for a minute? Look, here’s a nice clean one, and I shan’t charge you anything”; while a poorly dressed woman, desperate to relieve herself, is fiercely turned away by the keeper. Triumphantly, the keeper reflects: ‘That’s not the sort we want here, either; they’re not clean, don’t treat the place with respect. it’d be me who’d have to spend the next hour cleaning up after her ladyship. I’m not sorry to lose her couple of sous.’ That the episode entails a humorous recycling of the social rivalries of the novel’s privileged classes is confirmed by the Narrator’s ailing grandmother, who, having followed the conversation from one of the cubicles, concludes: ‘Could anything have been more typical of the Guermantes, or the Verdurins and their little clan?’ Thus, in the scenarios of domination sketched by the novel, the norms of the dominant class are valorised by being reproduced within the lower social strata. that the keeper’s musings are cheap substitutes for the ‘real tying’ (she refers to her underground cubicles as her salone or parlours) is underlined by the milieu in which she operates, the system of primitive bodily functions that she oversees pointing directly to the subversion of social mystique in A la recherche. For in the conflation of salon and public convenience, snobbery and veiled scatology, the clear inference is that hierarchy, like the notions of taste and value that underpin it, invades every social space. What we are left with is a sense of rigid social conformity, what Bourdieu in another context sees as a call to order, in which the expectations of the dominant group are internalised and reinforced by the subordinate group.”
Moncrieff: Page 425 “We made our way back along the Avenue Gabriel…” through Page 426 “…sees everything in the blackest of colours.”
Treharne: Page 309 “We made our way back along the Avenue Gabriel…” through Page 317 “…sees everything in the blackest of terms.”