Moncrieff: 580-592; Treharne: 420-428
by Dennis Abrams
Marcel is introduced to a woman who “had begun to flash at me continuously from her large, soft, dark eyes the sort of knowing smiles which we address to an old friend who perhaps has not recognized us. As this was particularly the case with me and I could not for the life of me remember who she was…” Because M. de Guermantes bungles the introduction, Marcel does not know who he is talking to, despite the fact that she speaks to him of how sorry her son would be to have missed seeing him, asks whether his father was working too hard, and, after inquiring about his health, “pushed forward a chair for me herself, putting herself out in a way to which I had never been accustomed by my parents’ other friends.” Finally, after the Duke murmurs into his ear, ‘She thinks you’re charming,” Marcel realizes, remembering hearing the same phrase years before from the Princesse de Luxembourg, that he is speaking with royalty. “She was a royal personage. She had never heard of either my family or myself, but, a scion of the noblest race and endowed with the greatest fortune in the world (for, a daughter, of the Prince de Parme, she had married an equally princely cousin), she sought always, in gratitude to her Creator, to testify to her neighbour, however poor or lowly he might be, that she did not look down upon him.” The initial amiability of royalty often changes abruptly, “like the people who, having once given somebody a soverign, feel that this has released them from any further obligation towards him.” The magic of the name Parma, with all of its Stendhalian fragrance, changes when faced with the reality “of a little dark woman taken up with good works and so humbly amiable that one felt at once in how exalted a pride that amiability had its roots.” There is another reason for the amiability shown to Marcel by the Princesse, “But, for the moment I did not have time to get to the bottom of it.” Marcel is introduced to another of the flower-maidens, who, learning that he had often passed by her country home in Balbec, tells him how pleased she would have been to show him her house, as would her aunt Branca, “It was built by Mansard and it’s the jewel of the province.” Marcel/the Narrator notes that “this lady who evidently thought that…it was important that the great should keep up the lofty traditions of lordly hospitality, by speeches which did not commit them to anything. It was also because she sought, like everyone in her world, to say the things that would give most pleasure to the person she was addressing.” Marcel is observed by the Comte Hannibal de Breaute-Consalvi who, sure that Marcel must be somebody interesting because he was invited by Mme de Guermantes, “lavished on me an endless series of bows, signs of mutual understanding, smiles filtered through the glass of his monocle, either in the misapprehension that a man of standing would esteem him more highly if he could manage to instill into me the illusion that for him, the Comte de Breaute-Consalvi, the privileges of the mind were no less deserving of respect than those of birth, or simply from the need to express and the difficulty of expressing his satisfaction, in his ignorance of the language in which he ought to address me, precisely as if he had found himself face to face with one of the ‘natives’ of an undiscovered country on which his raft had landed, from whom, in the hope of ultimate profit, he would endeavour, observing with interest the while their quaint customs and without interrupting his demonstrations of friendship or forgetting to utter loud cries of benevolence like them, to obtain ostrich eggs and spices in exchange for glass beads.” the Prince de Foix. The oddness of nicknames.
I loved this section a whole lot. Proust’s ironic handling of the pretensions of the first meetings made me laugh out loud several times. Perhaps my favorite passage was this, Marcel/the Narrator’s imagining of what the lesson the Princesse de Parma must have received from her mother to account for amiability, which, for some reason, struck me as a parody of Polonius’ instructions to Laertes in Hamlet.
“Remember that if God has caused you to be born on the steps of a throne you ought not to make that a reason for looking down upon those to whom Divine Providence has willed (wherefore His Name be praised) that you should be superior by birth and fortune. On the contrary, you must be kind to the lowly. Your ancestors were Princes of Cleves and Juliers from the year 647; God in his bounty has decreed that you should hold practically all the share in the Suez Canal and three times as many Royal Dutch as Edmond de Rothschild; your pedigree in a direct line has been established by genealogists from the year 63 of the Christian era; you have as sisters-in-law two empresses. Therefore never seem in your speech to be recalling these great privileges, not that they are precarious (for nothing can alter the antiquity of blood, and the world will always need oil), but because it is unnecessary to point out that you are better born than other people or that your investments are all gilt-edged, since everyone knows these facts already. Be helpful to the needy. Give to all those whom the bounty of heaven has been graciously please to put beneath you as much as you can give them without forfeiting your rank, that is to say help in the form of money, even caring for the sick, but of course never any invitations to your soirees, which would do them no possible good and, by diminishing your prestige, would detract from the efficacy of your benevolent activities.”
Where to start? “God in His bounty has decreed that you should hold practically all the shares in the Suez Canal and three times as many Royal Dutch as Edmond de Rothschild?” “for nothing can alter the antiquity of blood, and the world will always need oil?” Brilliant. And hilarious.
Moncrieff: Page 592 “I then asked the Duke to introduce me to the Prince d’Agrigente.” through Page 603 “…”Remind Monsieur le Duc___”
Treharne: page 428 “I then asked the Duc to introduce me to the Prince d’Agrigente.” through Page 436 “…Remind M. le Duc…”