Moncrieff: 718-730; Treharne: 522-530
by Dennis Abrams
M. de Guermantes praises his wife’s very presence. “She’s thoroughly at home in everything. Our young friend can go home and say that he’s had before his eyes a great lady of the old school, in the full sense of the word, the like of whom couldn’t be found anywhere else today.” the veils have fallen from Marcel’s eyes. “…I beheld the pair of them, divorced from that name Guermantes in which long ago I had imagined them leading an unimaginable life, now just like other man and other women, merely lagging a little behind their contemporaries…” Isabelle d’Este. The disappointing ordinariness of the Guermantes. Mme de Guermantes praises her Hals. Prince Von proclaims that “The Kaiser is a man of outstanding intelligence,” before going to add that “he has for works of art a taste that is practically infallible, he never makes a mistake: if a thing is good he spots it at once and takes a dislike to it. If he detests anything, there can be no more doubt about it, the thing is excellent.” It becomes known that Norpois favors an Anglo-French alliance, while Prince Von, proclaiming that the English are “so schtubid” pushes for a French-German alliance. Botha. Prince Von says of Britain’s King Edward, “…you only have to see how their King, whom you know as well as I do, passes for a great man in England,” while Mme de Guermantes disagrees, saying “I think King Edward charming,. so simple, and much cleverer than people think. And I think the Queen is, even now, the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in the world.” Mme de Guermantes informs Marcel that, contrary to what he may have thought that Norpois “likes you very much indeed…we’ve never heard Norpois speak about anyone so kindly as he spoke about you.” Mme de Guermantes understands how Norpois could be bored with her aunt, Mme de Villeparisis, “Especially as I understand that even as a mistress she hasn’t functioned for years. Her only relations , if I may so, are with God.” The unsuitability of Norpois as a husband for Mme de Villeparisis, even though “the Norpois are excellent people with a good place, of good stock.” Tracing connections and naming names. Marcel hears M. de Guermantes say that Norpois is “descended from Saintrailles,” which awakens memories of Rue de Saintrailles in Combray. The discussion of pedigrees keeps the evening from being a total disappointment. “Each of my fellow-guests at dinner, decking out the mysterious name under which I had merely known and dreamed of them at a distance in a body and a mind similar or inferior to those of all the people I knew, had given me the impression of a commonplace dullness…No doubt these geographical regions and that ancient past which put forest glades and Gothic belfries into their names had in a certain measure formed their faces, only as does the cause in the effect, that is to say as a thing possible for the intelligence to perceive but in no way perceptible to the imagination.”
I loved this section. Period. Endlessly fascinating…reading it I feel like Marcel, listening to the name-dropping, the art-dropping…the continuous display of “wit”…
A few comments.
1. I was remiss in yesterday’s post. I should have mentioned the importance of Marcel’s first reference to Vermeer’s “View of Delft,” and the duke’s response, “If it’s to be seen, I saw it!”
2. This passage strikes me as crucial in Marcel’s development:
“If the name, Duchesse de Guermantes, was for me a collective name, it was not so merely in history, by the accumulation of all the women who had successively borne it, but also in the course of my own short life, which had already seen, in this single Duchesse de Guermantes, so many different women superimpose themselves, each one vanishing as soon as the next had acquired efficient consistency. Words do not change their meaning as much in centuries as names do for us in the space of a few years. Our memories and our hearts are not large enough to be able to remain faithful. We have not room enough, in our present mental field, to keep the dead there as well as the living. We are obliged to build on top of what has gone before and is brought to light only by a chance excavation, such as the name Saintrailles had just opened up.”
3. And for those of you who might have been intrigued by Proust’s reference to Isabella d’Este, the Wikipedia biography:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
|Drawing of Isabella in her youth for an intended portrait by Leonardo da Vinci.|
|Spouse||Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantua|
Federico II, Duke of Mantua
|Noble family||House of Este|
|Father||Ercole I d’Este|
|Mother||Leonora of Naples|
|Born||May 18, 1474(1474-05-18)|
|Died||February 13, 1539 (aged 64)|
Isabella d’Este (18 May 1474–13 February 1539) was marchesa of Mantua and one of the leading women of the Italian Renaissance and a major cultural and political figure. She was the regent of Mantua during the absence of her spouse and the minority of her son.
Born on May 18, 1474  in Ferrara, she was the first daughter of Ercole I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, and Leonora of Naples, daughter of Ferdinand I of Naples, the Aragonese King of Naples, and Isabella of Taranto.
Isabella was born on May 18, 1474 to the Duke Ercole and Duchess Leonora of Ferrara. She was received with great joy. A son was hoped for but could wait. One year later in June 1475 her sister Beatrice d’Este was born. Then in 1476 and 1477 two brothers were born. The first was Alfonso and second Ippolitto. In 1479 and 1480 two more brothers were born.They were Ferrante and Sigismondo. Of all the children Isabella reigned as the favorite.
In 1479 when Ferrante was born, Isabella traveled to Naples with her mother. When her mother returned to Ferrara, Isabella went with her, while the other children stayed with their grandfather for eight years. As Isabella traveled with her mother she learned politics.
As Isabella grew, she received a good schooling. As a child she studied Roman history, and rapidly learned to translate Greek and Latin (the former of the two would have become her favourite language). Because of her stunning intellect, she often discussed the classics and the affairs of the day with ambassadors. Moreover, she knew the painters, musicians, writers, and scholars, who lived in and around the court. Besides her knowledge of history and languages, she could also recite Virgil and Terrence by heart, was an expert with lute (she was also a talented musician and was taught to play the lute by Giovanni Angelo Testagrossa ), singing, and an innovator of new dances.
In 1480, at age six, Isabella was betrothed to Francesco Gonzaga, the heir to the Marquis of Mantua. Although he was not handsome, Isabella liked him for his strength and bravery; she also thought that he was a gentleman. After their first few encounters, she found she enjoyed his company and spent the next few years getting to know him and preparing herself to be the Marchesa of Mantua. During their courtship, Isabella treasured the letters, poems, and sonnets he sent her as gifts.
Ten years later, at age 16, she married the 25 year old, now reigning Francesco Gonzaga and became his wife and Marchesa amid a spectacular outpouring of popular acclamation. Besides the Marquis Francesco was also Captain General of the republic of Venice armies. Because of his many duties, a couple of days after their honeymoon he left her to perform her responsibilities on her own.
Isabella was not abandoned: she spent time with her mother and sister, and once met Elisabetta Gonzaga, her 18-year-old sister-in-law. The two became fast and warm friends.
- Eleonor Gonzaga, born 1493, died 1570. Married Francesco Maria I della Rovere Duke of Urbino.
- Margherita, born 1496.
- Federico II, Duke of Mantua, born 1500, died 1540. First married Maria Palaeologina and later her sister Margaret Palaeologina.
- Livia, born 1501, died 1508.
- Ippolita, born 1503, died 1580. Ippolita became a nun in the Dominican convent of S. Vincenzo.
- Ercole Gonzaga, born 1506, died 1565. Became a Cardinal.
- Ferrante Gonzaga, born 1507, died 1557. Married Isabella di Capua.
- Livia, later known as Sister Paola, born 1508, died 1569
Isabella played an important role in Mantua during their time of need. When her husband was captured in 1509 and held hostage in Venice, she took control of Mantua’s military forces and held off their invaders until his return in 1512. While ruling, she seemed to be much tougher than her husband. Therefore, upon his return he realized that he’d been shown up and grew angry with her, allowing her to travel and live glamorously until his death of disease in 1519.
After the death of her husband, Isabella ruled Mantua as regent for her son, Federico. She began to play an important role in Italian politics, steadily advancing Mantua’s position. She played a role in advancing Mantua to a Duchy, which was obtained by wise political use of her son’s marriage contracts, and also obtaining a cardinalate for her son Ercole. She also showed great diplomatic and political skill in her negotiations with Cesare Borgia, who had dispossessed Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, duke of Urbino, the husband of her sister-in-law and good friend Elisabetta Gonzaga (1502).
Influence on people
To entertain herself she read and played the lute, which she learned as a child and soon wanted to try all the new instruments that were being made available. In addition to music she collected art, and backed painters, like Titian, Raphael and Da Vinci. Forms of art such as clothing were also important, she bought the finest clothing, including furs and new brands of perfume. However, her role as a Marchesa meant more than just pleasing herself and others, so she decided to learn the problems faced by a ruler of a city-state. To improve the well being of her people she studied architecture, agriculture, and industry and followed the principles that Machiavelli set forth for rulers.
After conflicts died down she left Rome, and in her 60’s returned to Mantua and made it a cultural center, started a school for girls and created her ducal apartments into a museum of the finest art. Nevertheless this was not enough for Isabella so she continued her life long quest and ruled a tiny part of Romagna, Solarolo until her death on February 13, 1539.
Moncrieff: Page 730 “And these old-time prejudices…” through Page 743 “…or subsequent to the Prince de Ligne.”
Treharne: Page 530 “And these prejudices from the historical past…” through Page 540 “…or follow on from the Prince de Ligne.”