Moncrieff: 570-580; Treharne: 412-420
by Dennis Abrams
Marcel arrives at the Guermantes’, where he is greeted kindly by M. de Guermantes, “And the Duke was such a bad husband, so brutal even (people said), that one felt grateful to him, as one feels grateful to wicked people for their occasional kindness of heart.” M. de Guermantes charms Marcel as “a survival of habits many centuries old, habits of the seventeenth century in particular.” Marcel/the Narrator observes that, because “the people of bygone ages seem infinitely remote from us…we are amazed when we come upon a sentiment akin to what we feel today in a Homeric hero, or a skillful tactical feint by Hannibal during the battle of Cannae…it is as though we imagined the epic poet and the Carthaginian general to be as remote from ourselves as an animal seen in the zoo.” “The past is not fugitive, it stays put.” Marcel asks to see the Guermantes’ Elstirs, and is obliged by the Duke, who leaves him to see the paintings in peace. “Among these pictures, some of those that seemed most absurd to people in fashionable society interested me more than the rest because they re-created those optical illusions which prove to us that we should never succeed in identifying objects if we did not bring some process of reasoning to bear on them.” Time changes the way we view art: “Nor did these society people add to Elstir’s work in their mind’s eye that temporal perspective which enabled them to like or at least to look without comfort at, Chardin’s painting. And yet the older among them might have reminded themselves that in the course of their lives they had gradually seen, as the years bore them away from it, the unbridgeable gulf between what they considered a masterpiece by Ingres and what they had supposed must for ever remain a ‘horror’ (Manet’s Olympia, for example), shrink until the two canvases seemed like twins.” The painting of the seaside festival, “the river, the women’s dresses, the sails of the boats, the innumerable reflexions of one thing and another jostled together enchantingly in this little square panel of beauty which Elstir had cut out of a marvelous afternoon.” The difference in Elstir’s periods. Lost in Elstier’s art, Marcel hears a bell calling him back, and enters the drawing room to discover that his absence has delayed dinner for forty five minutes, but, to his surprise, the Duc de Guermantes is still all kindness. The difference between the salons Marcel had previously attended and the Guermantes’, where he finds himself surrounded by women, “their neck and shoulders entirely bare (the naked flesh appearing on either side of a sinuous spray of mimosa or the petals of a full-blown rose), accompanied their salutations with long, caressing glances, as though shyness alone restrained them from kissing me.” M. de Guermantes lavishes his attention on Marcel.
I loved this:
Just as, in one of the pictures I had seen at Balbec, the hospital, as beautiful beneath its lapis lazuli sky as the cathedral itself, seemed (more daring than Elstir the man of taste, the lover of things mediaeval) to be intoning: ‘There is no such thing as Gothic, there is no such thing as a masterpiece, a hospital with no style is just as good as the glorious porch,’ so I now heard: ‘The slightly vulgar lady whom a man of discernment wouldn’t bother to look at as he passed her by, whom he would exclude from the poetical composition which nature has set before him — she is beautiful too; her dress is receiving the same light as the sail of that boat, everything is equally precious; the commonplace dress and the sail that is beautiful in itself are two mirrors reflecting the same virtue is all in the painter’s eye.’ This eye had succeeded in arresting for all time the motion of the hours at the luminous instant when the lady had felt hot and had stopped dancing, when the tree was encircled with a perimeter of shadow, when the sails seemed to be gliding in a golden glaze. But precisely because that instant impressed itself on one with such force, this unchanging canvas gave the most fleeting impression: one felt that the lady would presently go home, the boats drift away, the shadow change place, night begin to fall; that pleasure comes to an end, that life passes and that instants, illuminated by the convergence at one and the same of so many lights, cannot be recaptured.”
“The luminous instant when the lady had felt hot and had stopped dancing.” Brilliant.
Moncrieff: Page 580 “At the very outset, indeed, there was a little twofold imbroglio,” through Page 592 “…and explain some of them.”
Treharne: Page 420 “And the very thing that happened was a miniature twofold imbroglio,” through Page 428 “…and explain some of them.