Moncrieff: 657-669; Treharne: 476-485
by Dennis Abrams
The oddity of Mme de Guermantes’ relationship to her husbands mistresses, and their desire to be allowed into the Guermantes house. “Not that the Duchess would have place any insuperable obstacle in the way of their crossing her threshold: she was aware that in more than one of them she had found an ally thanks to whom she had obtained countless things which she wanted but which M. de Guermantes pitilessly denied his wife so long as he was not in love with someone else.” M. de Guermantes cuts his mistresses off from the rest of the world, they fall in love with him, he dumps them, they cry on the shoulder of Mme de Guermantes, after which she and her husband make fun of them. The world (except for those who truly know them) is convinced of M. de Guermantes’ love for his wife by his actions in public, “But despite these externals (another element of that politeness which has transferred duty from the inner depths to the surface, at a period already remote but which still continues for its survivors) the life of the Duchess was by no means easy. M. de Guermantes only became generous and human again for a mistress, who would, as it generally happened, take the Duchess’s side…” M. de Guermantes’ liaison with Mme d’Arpajon was nearing an end. M. de Grouchy arrives at the Guermantes’, delayed by a train derailment, allowing his wife to display the wit of the Guermantes. “I see…that even in little things arriving late is a tradition in your family.” Mme de Guermantes purposely ruins Poullein’s day off by sending him to pick up pheasants at the estate of M. de Grouchy when he had planned to spend it with his sweetheart, after which everybody praises her for her kindness towards her servants, “But I only behave toward them as I’d like people to behave to me.” One of Basin’s cousins, Mme d’Heudicourt, her lack of wit, her lack of intelligence, her lack of generosity when entertaining guests. The quality of her cuisine vs. the quantity.
I’m not quite sure to make of Mme de Guermantes’ response to her husband’s never-ending stream of mistresses:
“Known to be kind, she would receive the constant telephone calls, the confidences, the tears of the abandoned mistress and make no complaint. She would laugh at them, first with her husband, then with a few chosen friends. And imagining that the pity which she showed for the unfortunate woman gave her the right to make fun of her, even to her face, whatever the lady might say, provided it could be included among the attributes of the ridiculous character which the Duke and Duchess had recently fabricated for her, Mme de Guermantes had no hesitation in exchanging glances of ironical connivance with her husband.”
What is your take on Mme de Guermantes and her marriage?
And for those of you who don’t regularly read the comments, one of our regular readers, Clint White, posted this the other day, and I think it’s definitely worth reading:
I thought I would make a few comments on this “Teaser Augustus” pun of Mme de Guermantes, as it is different in the original, and to me interesting. Proust uses “Taquin le Superbe,” from the French “taquin” (“tease, teasing”, the verb is “taquiner,” “to tease”), and the historical figure Tarquin le Superbe (Tarquin the Proud, in English, or Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, in Latin).
I admit that I fell on the same side of this joke as the Princess de Parme. I had to look up Tarquin the Proud. I, fortunately, have Wikipedia, whereas she had a fortune which probably allowed for a nice library.
I really like what Moncrieff came up with here. I would be interested in whether Treharne does the same, if anyone with his translation could post it. I can’t think of a better way to handle it.
But I wonder whether Proust is doing something which isn’t quite captured by “Teaser Augustus”. For the benefit of anyone else with me and the Princess de Parme, Tarquin the Proud was the last king of Rome, overthrown by a revolt, triggered by the rape of Lucretia, which established the Roman republic. Thus, the last of his kind, the end of an era. Isn’t this a bit like the old French aristocracy of the novel, though not replaced not instantly by revolt, nevertheless declining in relevance in a changing society which is increasingly dominated by the middle class?
Maybe Proust is making a joke of this particular joke by having these characters feel witty about a historical reference the relevance of which (to their own situation) they fail to see.
Or maybe this pun is just a pun. Either way I got a refresher on my Roman history.
Clint: For what it’s worth, Treharne goes with “Teaser Augustus” as well.
Moncrieff: Page 669: “During this time the Comtesse d’Arpajon…” through Page 679 “…as in the eyes of Saint-Loup.”
Treharne: Page 485: “During this time, the Comtesse d’Arpajon…” through Page 492 “…as in the eyes of Saint-Loup.”