Moncrieff: 806-819; Treharne: 586-595
by Dennis Abrams
M. de Guermantes learns of his cousin that “they’re expecting M. le Marquis to pass away at any moment,” but, since he is still alive, and “While there’s life there’s hope,” has no intention of canceling his plans for the evening. M. de Guermantes compares his cousin’s dying, with injections of camphorated oil, to his own stomach pains caused by eating too much leg of mutton with bernaise sauce, and envies his cousin’s constitution. The calling card (or calling envelope) of Mme la Comtesse Mole, and Mme de Guermantes’ reaction. A discussion of who made the mistake in getting married: the Princesse or the Prince de Guermantes. Royal relations and lineages. Mme de Guermantes’ jealousy of Mme Mole’s success, and her display of “wit” against her so called ‘simplicity.’ The passing on of titles. M de Guermantes lets it slip that he rarely, if ever, visits the bedroom of his wife. Mme de Guermantes invites Swann to accompany them on a trip to Italy. When Swann politely says “I’m very much afraid it won’t be possible,” the Duchess presses him, telling him that since he accompanied Mme de Montmorency to Venice and Vicenza, pointing out things to her that she would have missed on her own, that “She’s certainly been more highly favoured than we are to be.” Mme de Guermantes continues to press Swann, “Very well, give me in one word the reason why you can’t come to Italy…” to which he replies, “But, my dear lady, it’s because I shall then have been dead for several months…by the end of the year the thing I’ve got — which may, for that matter, carry me off at any moment — won’t in any case leave me more than three or four months to live, and even that is a generous estimate.” Mme de Guermantes is momentarily stunned by the news “stopping for a moment on her way to the carriage and raising her beautiful melancholy blue eyes, now clouded by uncertainty…” and torn between her friend and her social obligations, tries to insist that the problem didn’t exist, telling Swann “You’re joking.” Swann quietly states that it’s the truth, “It would be a joke in charming taste,” he replied ironically,” but presses her to go out “‘But whatever I do I mustn’t make you late; you’re dining out, remember,” ‘ because he knew that for other people their own social obligations took precedence over the death of a friend, and he put himself in their place thanks to his instinctive politeness.” M de Guermantes urges his wife, who had hesitated for a moment, to hurry up, because their hostess insists on “sitting down to dinner at eight o’clock sharp,” and it’s ten minutes to eight already. Mme de Guermantes tells Swann she doesn’t believe that he’s dying, but they will talk about it at another time “‘Come to luncheon, any day you like’ (with Mme de Guermantes things always resolved themselves into luncheons.)” Despite the need to hurry, when M. de Guermantes sees that Mme de Guermantes is wearing black shoes with her red dress, tells her that she go back in to change them, insisting that “No, no, we have plenty of time…Even if we turn up at half past eight they’ll wait for us, but you can’t possibly go there in a red dress and black shoes. Besides, we shan’t be the last, I can tell you; the Sassenages are coming, and you know they never arrive before twenty to nine.” While Mme de Guermantes is off changing her shoes, her husband gently encourages Swann and Marcel to leave so as not to distract her when she returns, telling the dying Swann “She’s already very tired, and she’ll reach the dinner-table quite dead. Besides, I tell you frankly, I’m dying of hunger,” before shouting to him as he departs “You, now, don’t let yourself be alarmed by the nonsense of those damned doctors. They’re fools. You’re as sound as a bell. You’ll bury us all!”
Those last few pages are, in my opinion, so extraordinary, so strong, so accurate and probing and still astonishing — Swann’s news, Mme de Guermantes’ shifting reactions, the Duke’s lack of interest or caring, Swann’s tact and awareness, Marcel’s…thoughts? — that, frankly, there’ s nothing I can possibly add. It’s just an amazing scene.
We are now at the half way point in our journey In Search of Lost Time. So, I’d like to hear from you. What are your thoughts? Has it been what you’ve expected, or, like Marcel, does the reality not live up to the hype? Share with the group anything you’d like to, but please…share.
Wednesday’s Reading: In Search of Lost Time, Volume IV: “Sodom and Gomorrah”
Moncrieff: Page 1 “The reader will remember that, well before going that day…” through Page 11 “”…and how luck had favoured them.”
Sturrock: page 3 “As we know, well before going that day…” through Page 10 “…and the extent to which luck had been with them.”