Moncrieff: 730-743; Treharne: 530-540
by Dennis Abrams
“And these old-time prejudices restored in a flash to the friends of M. and Mme de Guermantes their lost poetry…They knew perhaps better than I that the Duchesse de Guise was Princess of Cleves, of Orleans, of Porcien, and all the rest, but they had known, long before they knew all these names, the face of the Duchesse de Guise which thenceforth that name reflected back to them. I had begun with the fairy, even if she was fated soon to perish, they with the woman.” Absurd stories about the Grand Duke of Luxembourg. “I cannot, by the way, say how many times in the course of this evening I heard the word ‘cousin’ used. M. de Guermantes, almost at every name that was mentioned, exclaimed: ‘But he’s Oriane’s cousin!’ with the sudden delight of a man who, lost in a forest, reads at the ends of a pair of arrows pointing in opposite diretions on a signpost, and followed by quite a low number of kilometres, the words: ‘Belvedere Casmir-Perier’ and ‘Croix du Grand-Veneur,’ and gathers from them that he is on the right road.” The dreaded Turkish Ambassadress, little received in society, arrives after dinner, seemingly “endowed with a real power of assimilating knowledge,” but who was “incidentally, a dangerous person to listen to, for, perpetually in error, she would point out to you as being of the loosest morals women of irreproachable virtue, would put you on your guard against a man with the most honourable intentions, and would tell you anecdotes of the sort that seem always to have come out of a book, not so much because they are serious as because they are so wildly improbable.” The Ambassadress does not care for the Princesse de Guermantes. Marcel enjoys a poetic pleasure listening to the conversations of who is related to whom. The chain which links M. de Guermantes to Mme d’Arpajon. M. de Luxembourg is attacked again, and compared, unfairly to an ass. The Turkish Ambassadress warns Marcel to be careful when he’s with M. de Guermantes, “I mean to say — verb. sap. — he’s a man to whom one could safely entrust one’s daughter, but not one’s son,” a statement which Marcel finds impossible to believe. “But error, untruth fatuously believed, were for the Ambassadress like a vital element out of which she could not move.” The magical names of the aristocracy; names and places, names and history. “…it had never occurred to me that this or that name of a castle could have been, at an epoch which after all was comparatively recent, the name of a family.” M. de Guermantes mentioned “my cousin was a fanatical royalist; she was the daughter of the Marquis de Feterne…” a name that to Marcel “since my stay at Balbec, had been the name of a castle, [became], what I had never dreamed that it could possibly be, a family name. I felt the same astonishment as in reading a fairy-tale where turrets and a terrace come to life and turn into men and women.” The possibility that the names he knows now, such as Charlus, can fade as well, and become merely the name of a village no longer linked to an actual personage.
A couple of things…
1. I needed to jar my memory on this one: Why was Marcel so angry at the guests for speaking badly about the Grand Duke de Luxembourg? We first “met” the Grand Duke (the former Comte de Nassau) during the scene of the death of Marcel’s grandmother. Marcel had intially met him at Balbec, described him as “one of the most striking young men I had ever met,” and “was deeply touched by the letters which he wrote to me regularly during my grandmother’s illness, and Mamma herself, in her emotion, quoted sadly one of her mother’s expressions: ‘Sevigne would not have put it better.'” High praise indeed.
2. And while this party may be going on a tad long, I was deeply struck by the following passage, and found myself musing along with Marcel (which sounds like a great title for a magazine column) about names, places, and history…place-names indeed.
“When M. de Guermantes, to explain how he was related to Mme d’Arpajon, was obliged to go back, so far and so simply, along the chain formed by the joined hands of three or five ancestresses, to Marie-Louise of Colbert, it was the same thing again: in each of these cases, a great historical event appeared only in passing, masked, distorted, reduced, in the name of a property, in the Christian names of a woman, chosen for her because she was the granddaughter of Louis-Phillipe and Marie Amelie, considered no longer as King and Queen of France, but only insofar as, in their capacity as grandparents, they bequeathed a heritage…Thus does the aristocracy, in its heavy structure, pierced with rare windows, admitting a scant daylight, showing the same incapacity to soar but also the same massive and blind force as Romanesque architecture, embody all our history, immuring it, beetling over it.
Thus the empty spaces of my memory were covered by degrees with names which in arranging, composing themselves in relation to one another, in linking themselves to one another by increasingly numerous connexions, resembled those finished works of art in which there is not one touch that is isolated, in which every part in turn receives from the rest a justification which it confers on them in turn.”
Moncrieff: Page 743 “However, my historical curioisty was faint in comparsion with my aesthetic pleasure,” through Page 756 “…as well as his Bing furniture.”
Treharne: Page 540 “Yet my historical curiosity paled before my aesthetic pleasure,” through Page 549 “…in the same way as she did to his Bing furniture.”