Moncrieff: 540-570; Treharne: 390-412
by Dennis Abrams
Marcel reflects on friendship and, once again, finds it lacking, even wondering how Nietzsche can “ascribe to it a certain intellectual merit,” while at the same time conceding that “…whatever might be my opinion of friendship…there is no brew so deadly that it cannot at certain moments become precious and invigorating by giving us just the stimulus that was necessary, the warmth that we cannot generate ourselves.” Marcel and Saint-Loup set off for the restaurant, reviving memories of previous inns and dinners. A foggy night, memories of Combray and “an enthusiasm which might have borne fruit had I remained alone and would thus have save me the detour of many wasted years which I was yet to pass…” Saint-Loup mysteriously informs Marcel that “I told Bloch that you didn’t like him all that much, that you found him rather vulgar at times. I’m like that, you see. I like clear-cut situations.” The cafe, with its two very distinct crowds: young aristocrats in search of a rich marriage and pro-Dreyfus intellectuals. While Saint-Loup gives instructions to the driver, Marcel enters the cafe through the revolving door, gets stuck, and because it is assumed that he’s a “nobody” is given a seat in the room with the Dreyfusards, next to “the door reserved for the Hebrews which, since it did not revolve, opened and closed every other minute and kept me in a horrible draught.” As new customers arrive, they each have stories about getting lost in the fog. M. le Prince de Foix, who got lost three time “imagine that!” and, because he’s still young, “belonged to an aristocratic group for whom the practice of rudeness, even at the expense of their fellow-nobles when these were not of the very highest rank, seemed to be the sole occupation,” a rudeness that dissipates when one discovers “that there are also such things as music, literature, even standing for parliament.” The group of 12-15 young men, always in debt, and thus in search of a wealthy girl to be their wives. The smaller group of four, more exclusive and inseparable, which includes Saint-Loup, known as the “four gigolos,” of whom “rumours were current as to the extent of their intimacy.” The cafe proprietor’s tendency to repeat the phrases he’d heard his customers say. Saint-Loup finally arrives, and the cafe manager is suddenly all kindness to Marcel, going so far as to block off the door of the Hebrews so that he wouldn’t be sitting in a draft. Marcel considers the other customers “they repelled — the Jews among them principally, the unassimilated Jews, that is to say, for which the other kind we are not considered…Generally speaking, one realised afterwards that, if it could be held against them that their hair was too long, their noses and eyes were too big, their gestures abrupt and theatrical, it was puerile to judge them by this, that they had plenty of wit and good-heartedness, and were men to whom, in the long run, one could become closely attached.” M. le Prince Foix asks if he can dine at the table adjoining Marcel and Saint-Loup, but Marcel prefers to have Saint-Loup to himself. Saint-Loup excuses himself and “While waiting for Saint-Loup to return I asked the restaurant proprietor for some bread. ‘Certainly, Monsieur le Baron!’ “I am not a baron,’ I gold him a tone of mock sadness. ‘Oh, beg pardon, Monsieur le Comte!’ I had not time to lodge a second protest which would certainly have promoted me to the rank of marquis…” Saint-Loup returns, having borrowed M. le Prince Foix’s shawl to keep Marcel warm, and unable to get directly to the table “he sprang lightly on to one of the red plush benches which ran round its walls…between the tables and the wall electric wires were stretched at a certain height; without the slightest hesitation Saint-Loup jumped nimbly over them like a steeplechaser over a fence…” Applause erupts over Saint-Loup’s graceful balancing act. Saint-Loup tells Marcel that Charlus wants to see him the next evening and, learning that Marcel will be dining at the Guermantes, warns Marcel not to tell Charlus that he’s going, but to be sure to see him after the dinner. Saint-Loup needs to talk to his aunt Oriane about helping him get a transfer from Morocco. Marcel, in retrospect, enjoys his time talking with Saint-Loup “And yet the friendship that I felt for him at this moment was scarcely, I feared (and felt therefore some remorse at the thought) what he would have liked to inspire.” Saint-Loup’s naturally aristocratic style, grace, and physicality as a work of art.
I’ll admit it: It was probably my mood, but at first I had a difficult time getting into this section. Too much fog, too much reflection — it wasn’t what I needed. However, once we arrived at the cafe…loved it.
A couple of things:
1. Why do you think Saint-Loup told Bloch that Marcel didn’t like him very much? It seems to go so much against Saint-Loup’s normal behavior…
2. Who knew could Proust could do the physical shtick of Marcel getting stuck in a revolving door?
3. Two lines that made me laugh out loud. One, when Marcel is discussing the Prince de Foix and the group of four and remarks, “A fifth (for in groups of four there are always more than four)…” and while discussing the propensity for the young aristocrats to go to their banker which “leaves him the poorer by a hundred thousand francs, which does not prevent the man about town from at once repeating the process with another. We continue to burn candles in churches and to consult doctors.” Brilliant.
4. And again, the mixed signals Marcel/the Narrator continues to give about Jews. The attitude today seemed to be one of , “well, they are kind of physically repulsive, with their big noses and hair and bad manners, but if you can look beyond that, they do have some redeeming features.” Any thoughts on this?
5. In the Moncrieff translation, note the paragraph that begins “A certainty of taste…” and go through “a marble frieze.” That’s one sentence that goes on for approximately 400 words. I have to confess I had to read it a few times to get its complete flow and meaning.
Monday’s Reading: We’re about to start another of Proust’s major set pieces, the dinner with the Guermantes that goes on for the next 200 pages. It’s a GREAT scene.
Moncrieff: Page 570 “The Duchess having made no reference to her husband…” through Page 580 “…thinking only of the impression they would make on me.”
Treharne: Page 412 “Since the Duchesse had made no mention of her husband…” through Page 420 “…he was thinking only of the impression they would make on me.”