Moncrieff: 743-756; Treharne: 540-549
by Dennis Abrams
The names that Marcel hears at the Guermantes’ dinner “had the effect of disembodying the Duchess’s guests…whose masks of flesh and unintelligence or vulgar intelligence had transformed them into ordinary mortals, so much so that I had made my landing on the ducal doormat not as upon the threshold (as I had supposed) but as at the terminus of the enchanted world of names.” Marcel had many several attempts to leave the party, imagining that once he leaves the guests “would be free to celebrate the mysteries for which they had assembled there.” Marcel believes that the guests spoke “nothing but trivialities,” because he was there as an interloper, and that once he left they would be able to carry on “in the most precious of its drawing-rooms, the mysterious life of the Faubourg Saint-Germain.” Marcel briefly asks himself it what he witnessed at the Guermantes’ dinner was the reason that “all these people dressed themselves up and refused to allow middle-class woman to penetrate into their so exclusive drawing-rooms,” but dismisses the notion, as “too absurd.” The flower maidens. Nobody can leave before the Princesse de Parme “one must never depart before royalty.” Marcel is further detained by the Guermantes’ verbal elegance. The stupidity of the lady-in-waiting of the Princesse de Parme. Marcel’s snowboots, which cause laughter among the footmen, and praise and astonishment from the Princess, which quiets the reaction of the footmen. Marcel enters his carriage to go for his appointment with M. de Charlus. Marcel reevaluates the Guermantes’ party, and falls prey to a kind of exhalation. The conversations at the party had seemed so tedious, but “Like a tipsy man filled with tender feeling for the waiter who had been serving him, I marvelled at my good fortune, a good fortune not recognized by me, it is true, at the actual moment, in having dined with a person who knew Wilhelm II so well and had told stories about him that were — upon my word — extremely witty.” “Through the magnifying lenses, even those of Mme de Guermantes’ pronouncements which had struck me as being stupid (as for example the one about the Hals pictures which one ought to see from the top of a tram-car) took on an extraordinary life and depth.” “…there is no conversation, any more than there are personal relations, from which we can be certain that we shall not one day derive some benefit.” The early poetry of Victor Hugo reevaluated by Marcel after hearing Mme de Guermantes quote a few lines. What one can learn from the lives of aristocrats.
1. Once again, we see Marcel, initially disappointed by an experience (think back to his Berma), which, upon reevaluation, gains a new power and meaning. What do you think is going here? It is it viewing it from a distance? The desire to believe that the experience had value? What are your thoughts on this?
2. What are your thoughts on this passage?
“From this point of view, if the world had been unable at the outset to respond to what my imagination expected, and was consequently to strike me first of all by what it had in common with every other world rather than by the ways in which it differed from them, it yet revealed to me by degrees as something quite distinct. Noblemen are almost the only people from whom one learns as much as one does from peasants; (I LOVE this line) their conversation is adorned with everything that concerns the land, dwellings as people used to live in them long ago, old customs, everything of which the world of money is profoundly ignorant. Even supposing that the aristocrat most moderate in his aspirations has finally caught up with the period in which he lives, his mother, his uncles, his great-aunts keep him in touch, when he recalls his childhood, with the conditions of a life almost unknown today…While Saint-Loup had sold his priceless ‘geneaological tree,’ old portraits of the Bouillons, letters of Louis XIII, in order to buy Carriers and Art Nouveau furniture, M. and Mme de Guermantes, actuated by a sentiment in which a fervent love of art may have played very little part and which left them themselves more commonplace, had kept their marvellous Boulle furniture, which presented an ensemble altogether more seductive to an artist. A literary man would similarly have been enchanted by their conversation, which would have been for him — for a hungry man has no need of another to keep him company — a living dictionary of all those expressions which every day are becoming more and more forgotten…”
3. And finally…”so there is no conversation, any more than there are personal relations, from which we can be certain that we shall not one day derive some benefit.” Is this one of the great lessons that Proust has to teach us?
Thursday’s Reading: (And a curious scene it is…)
Moncrieff: Page 756 “When all was said, the stories I had heard at Mme de Guermantes’s…” through Page 767 “…to clear away the remains of the shattered hat, which was replaced by another.”
Treharne: Page 549 “But in the end, the stories I heard at the Duchesse’s house…” through Page 557 “…remove the remains of the ruined hat, which was replaced by another.”