Moncrieff: 690-718; Treharne: 500-522
by Dennis Abrams
Asparagus is served after the chicken financiere. M. de Breaute, “the author of an essay on the Mormons which had appeared in the Revue des Deux mondes, moved in none but the most aristocratic circles…” The food at Mme de Villeparisis’ (also known as aunt Madeleine) is often bad, “You were so wise not to come to dinner there the day before yesterday, there was a brill cooked in carbolic! I assure you, it wasn’t hospitality so much as a hospital for contagious diseases.” M. Bloch and Mme Alphonse de Rothschild, “If only I’d known!” Mme de Guermantes discusses Mme de Villeparisis. “My poor aunt — she will always have the reputation of being a lady of the old school, of sparkling wit and uncontrolled passions. And really there’s no more middle-class, solemn, drab, commonplace mind in Paris. She will go down as a patron of the arts, which means to say that she was once the mistress of a great painter…and as for her private life, so far from being a depraved woman, she was so much made for marriage, so conjugal from her cradle that, not having succeeded in keeping a husband, who incidentally was a scoundrel, she has never had a love affair which she hasn’t taken just as seriously as if it were holy matrimony…” The Duke and Duchess argue over the appropriateness of the manner in which Charlus mourns his dead wife. Mme de Guermantes learns that Saint-Loup wishes to ask her a favor, and the Duke and Duchess disparage his way of speaking, his use of the word “sublime” and even worse, “He speaks Latin.” The Prince de Voix tells Marcel that, according to Rachel, “Saint-Loup worshiped you, that he was fonder of you than he was of her.” The Queen of Naples in mourning, although the Duchess insists “I don’t believe she feels any grief at all.” Mme de Guermantes refuses to ask General de Monserfeuil to have Saint-Loup transferred from Morocco. Thanks to his dinner at the Guermantes, Marcel “was continually to be invited, however small the party, to these repasts at which I had at one time imagined the guests as seated like the Apostles in the Sainte-Chapelle…I sipped one of those Yquems which lay concealed in the Guermantes cellars, I tasted ortolans dressed according to a variety of recipes judiciously elaborated and modified by the Duke himself.” Orangeade and lime blossom tea. The elderly men who came to visit the Guermantes only “to receive a welcome that was often far from warm.” Mme de Guermantes advises the Princesse de Parme not to speak to the General on Saint-Loup’s behalf. Flowers, and the need for flowers to have the right insects find them for pollination. Mme de Guermantes explains to the Princesse de Parme that it was Swann who taught her a great deal about botany, telling her about the “extraordinary marriages between flowers,” but since “he himself has made an even more astonishing marriage, which makes everything very difficult.” Mme de Guermantes and the Empire style, insisting “I’ve always adored the Empire style, even when it wasn’t in fashion,” although the Duke seems to indicate that is not necessarily the case. Mme de Guermantes and the bad taste of her mother-in-law. The fine furniture of the Ienas (a family whom the Princesse de Parme considers “rank usurpers”). The Egyptian look of the furniture. The Duc de Guastalla and Moreau’s Death and the Young Man. Mme de Guermantes and innovations in art, which, while acknowledging that for the general public it ordinarily takes forty years for new works to be accepted, “…I, on the contrary, have always loved any interesting artistic offering from the very start, however novel it might be.” The acceptance of Manet’s Olympia, which “nowadays nobody is in the least surprised by it. It looks just like an Ingres!” The intelligence of German Emperor William. The Guermantes shock at learning that Marcel, who had gone to Amsterdam and The Hague, had not gone to Haarlem. “What? You’ve been to Holland, and you never visited Haarlem…why, even if you had only a quarter of an hour to spend in the place, they’re an extraordinary thing to have seen, those Halses. I don’t mind saying that a person who only caught a passing glimpse of them from the top of a tram without stopping, supposing they were hung out to view in the street, would open his eyes pretty wide.” The implication of those remarks that “our eye is in that case simply a recording machine which takes snapshots.”
A couple of things…
1. I suggest you keep in mind the discussion of insects, flowers, and pollination. It is a topic that will be looked at from a completely different angle in our next volume, Sodom and Gomorrah.
2. Why does Mme de Guermantes (with the encourgement of her husband) refuse to do anything to help her nephew Saint-Loup? Is it simply to keep him away from Rachel? Does she not want to be put out? Is there something else going on here?
3. I loved this part of Mme de Guermantes’ discussion on Empire period furniture:
“I must confess that the Empire style has always had a fascination for me. but at the Ieans’ it really is hallucinating. That sort of — what shall I say — reflux from the Egyptian expedition, and then, too, the sort of upsurge into our own times from Antiquity, all those things invading our houses, the Sphinxes crouching at the feet of the armchairs, the snakes coiled round candelabra, a huge Muse who holds out a little torch for you to play cards under, or has quietly climbed on to the mantlepiece and is leaning against your clock; and then all the Pompeian lamps, the little boat-shaped beds which look as if they had been found floating on the Nile so that you expect to see Moses climb out of them, the classical chariots galloping along the bedside tables…”
“‘They’re not very comfortable to sit in, those Empire chairs,’ those Empire chairs, the Princess ventured.”
“‘No,’ the Duchess agreed, ‘but I love,’ she at once added, stressing the point with a smile, ‘I love being uncomfortable on those mahogany seats covered with ruby velvet or green silk. I love that discomfort of warriors who understanding nothing but the curule chair and weave their fasces and stack their laurels in the middle of their main-living room.”
But of course, afterward, she goes to on to explain that, as she learned from Swann, “one has to bear in mind that the Egypt of the Empire cabinet-makers has nothing to do with the historical Egypt, nor their Romans with the Romans nor their Etruria…”
4. What do you think of Mme de Guermantes? Like Marcel (or the Narrator) my feelings towards her seem to be constantly changing, as we view her through Marcel’s eyes (and the Narrator’s intelligence). Sometimes charming, sometimes appalling, nearly always fascinating. It’s easy to understand her appeal to Marcel.
Moncrieff: Page 718 “M. de Guermantes, rejoicing that she should be speaking to me with so competent a knowledge of the subjects that interested me…” through Page 730 “…but in no way perceptible to the imagination.”
Treharne: Page 522 “M. de Guermantes, delighted that she should be talking to me with such competence about things that interested me…” through Page 530 “…but in no way perceived by the imagination.”