Moncrieff: 644-657; Treharne: 466-476
by Dennis Abrams
Mme de Guermantes’ pleasure in having contrary opinions: “When an intelligent, witty, educated woman had married a shy bumpkin whom one seldom saw and never heard, Mme de Guermantes one fine day would find a rare intellectual pleasure not only in decrying the wife but in ‘discovering the husband.'” Her morbid need of arbitrary novelties. “The Duchess’s vagaries of judgement spared no one, except her husband.” And while the Duke enjoyed a long line of mistresses, he had only “one lasting and identical partner, who irritated him often by her chatter but whom he knew that everyone regarded as the most beautiful, the most virtuous, the cleverest, the best-read member of the aristocracy, as a wife whom he, M. de Guermantes, was only too fortunate to have found, who covered up for all his irregularities, entertained like no one in the world, and upheld for their position its position as the premier in the Faubourg Saint-Germain.” The play-acting, the artificiality, of both social life and politics. “Oriane’s latest”: not going to the fancy-dress ball held by the Greek Minister, ‘I don’t see that there’s any necessity to go to the Greek Minister’s. I don’t know him; I’m not Greek; why should I go to his house? I have nothing to do with him,’ or sitting by herself in a stall at the theater, arriving before the curtain rises ‘You hear better, when it’s a play that’s worth listening to,’ or, at the height of the social season, leaving for a cruise to the Norwegian fjords, because “they were so interesting.'” Entertaining the Duke’s mistresses.
Better and better. You know, I have to admit that I have been, on more than one occasion, guilty of tossing out an arbitrary opinion, praising beyond need a writer’s minor work, praising one of, let’s say, Robert Altman’s minor films, just because…well, just because it’s fun. I understand this aspect of Mme de Guermantes’ personality all too well.
More from Roger Shattuck’s Proust’s Way:
“By the end of the dinner a hundred pages later, it is the remarkable genealogy of their names and the history of their titles that reendows these vulgar citizens with fascination, with ‘their lost poetry.’
Thus the prestige of the Guermantes and their kinds survives essentially as an established form of snobbery. For Proust, snobbery is the great cohesive force that holds society together. He studies it tirelessly at every social level. The word itself covers two major attitudes or classes of snobbery. Proust contrasts them in a semimathematical formula while describing the Duchesse de Guermantes when she still had the title of Princesse de Laumes. ‘She belongs to that half of humanity in whom the curiosity the other half feels toward the people they don’t know is replaced by an interest in the people they do know.’ The sentence bears expansion. Persons securely favored with high rank and wealth are prone to a snobbery of self-satisfaction, expressed in their exclusive attention to their own class and milieu. Those not so favored, and who aspire to social position, are prone to the snobbery of social envy, a desire to spurn their own class and milieu. Of course, the snob rarely occurs in the pure state, without a tincture of the other category. Charlus ‘combined in himself the snobbery of queens and that of servants.’ Proust is using the word in the second sense when he refers to a woman as ‘snobbish even though a duchess.’ The varieties of mondanite gradually give Marcel an understanding of the springs and wheels that turn the social machine.
One of Proust’s early titles for the first volume of his novel was ‘The Age of Names.’ He means proper names, of places and of people. Only such names seem to stand for ‘something individual and unique.’ The false scent of social success corresponds closely in the novel to the age of names. For years what ignites Marcel’s imagination is always a name. A train timetable listing luscious place-names reads like poetry, just as a noble title has the magic power of ‘a fairy.’ As time goes on, these names, the most eminent and effective vehicles for prestige, wither and almost die. The ‘semantic illusion’ of social prestige, despite its poetic origins, hardens into the dry husk of snobbery.”
Moncrieff: Page 657 “As a rule these handsome supernumeraries…” through Page 669 “…would have been a round dozen if not more.”
Treharne: Page 476 “In the normal course of events, these bit-part beauties…” through Page 485 “…would have been a dozen if not more.”