Moncrieff: 45-57; Sturrock: 37-46
by Dennis Abrams
Marcel arrives at the reception (following dinner) at the Prince and Princesse de Guermantes’. The pink nougat Luxor obelisk. The Duc de Chatellerault, having had sex with an unknown man in the Champs-Elysees (while pretending to be an Englishman who doesn’t speak French and apparently doing the servicing of the older man, much to said older man’s surprise “All the favors that [he] had supposed he would have to bestow on so young a gentleman, he had on the contrary received.”) who, much to his embarrassment, turns out to be the Guermantes’ footman. The Princesse de Guermantes, despite having, according to the Duc de Guermantes, “a touch of Courvoisier,” has achieved a level of social innovation: at her receptions, the chairs are arranged in little groups, and the Princesse spends ten minutes with each group, bringing in people from one group to another as might be interested in each other. The beauty of the Princess, “the face of my hostess was so perfect, stamped like so beautiful a medal, that it has retained a commemorative virtue in my mind.” The general lack of interest by the Princesse in her guests “How good of you to have come,” followed by “You will find M. de Guermantes by the garden door.” The Duc de Chatellerault is announced by his sexual partner, the footman. Huxley and the case of the hallucinating patient. Marcel, still not certain that he has actually been invited, is announced, and, to his surprise, is cordially greeted by the Princesse, who apologizes that the Duchess has not yet arrived, and “in offering me this greeting, she executed around me, holding me by the hand, a graceful pirouette, by the whirl of which I felt myself swept away,” before informing him where the Prince was to be found. Marcel is relieved to go and does not approach her again, fearing that all she would be able to say was “You will find the Prince in the garden.” “Members of the same profession recognise each other instinctively; so do those with the same vice. M. de Charlus and M. de Sidonia had each of them immediately detected the other’s, which was in both cases that of being monolougists in society, to the extent of not being able to stand any interruption.” M. de Charlus is furious that, despite warning Marcel that “There is no admission to those houses [those of the Princesse and Duchesse de Guermantes] save through me,” Marcel was invited anyway, proof of the Baron’s diminishing social power. “M. de Charlus knew all to well that the thunderbolts which he hurled at those who did not comply with his orders, or to whom he had taken a dislike, were beginning to be regarded by many people, however furiously he might brandish them, as mere pasteboard, and had no longer the force to banish anybody from anywhere.” Marcel is buttonholed by Professor E—–, the doctor who briefly looked at his grandmother when she was stricken ill, before having to leave for his dinner, asks to find out whether the grandmother had died, as he had predicted. “‘Your grandmother is dead, isn’t she?’ he said to me in a voice in which a semi-certainty calmed a slight apprehension. ‘Ah! indeed! Well, from the moment I saw her my prognosis was extremely grave. I remember it quite well.'” Doctors are more displeased by the invalidation of their verdicts than they are pleased by their execution. “Medicine is not an exact science.”
Whew. As much as I enjoyed Proust’s analysis (although I’m not altogether certain that “enjoyed” is the right word) of the variety gay men in Paris at the turn of the century, I’m glad to return to the social scene, and finally get to the much promised, highly anticipated reception of the Princesse de Guermantes.
Who didn’t love the story of the patient of Dr. Huxley (the grandfather of the famous author) whose patient refused to go out socially, “because often, on the very chair that was offered to her with a courteous gesture, she saw an old gentleman already seated. She was quite certain that either the gesture or the old gentlemen’s presence was a hallucination, for no one would have offered her a chair that was already occupied.”
From The Proustian Community by Sean Wolitz:
“On June 23, 1903, the following item was recorded in the ‘Mondanites,’ the social column of the popular society newspaper, Le Gaulois:
‘A small gathering but of supreme elegance the night before last at the home of Comtesse Greffulhe, nee La Rochefoucauld, who did the honors, aided by her daughter-in-law, Comtesse Greffulhe, nee Caraman-Chimay, and her granddaughter Mlle Elaine Greffulhe. Present: Prince Murat, Duc de Gramont, Duc d’Harcourt, Prince Borghese, Comte de Dampierre, Comtresse de Guerne, Duchesse de Trevise, Comte A. de la Rouchefoucauld, Comte Albert de Mun, Comtesse d’Hinnisdal, Duc de Bassano, Comte de Castellane, Comte H. de Segur, Princesse G. de Caraman-Chimay, Comtesse Murat, Comtesse de Gabriac…’
The people at this little party, according to all memoirs of the age, are certainly the cream of French aristocratic Society. The newspaper, in its very choice of words, underlines the importance of the people present: ‘a small gathering’ means not only ‘small’ and ‘limited’ but highly ‘selected’ (another key word. And when ‘of supreme elegance’ is added, this means we are in the presence of the finest element, the ‘ne plus ultra‘ of the Faubourg Saint-Germain.
Let us analyze the Faubourg from just this one social event. Notice that the gathering is given by the Comtesse Greffuhle nee La Rouchefoucauld. She and her daughter-in-law particularly were considered queens of society by memorialists of the time. We have here, I believe, an ‘ideal type’ in Weberian terminology. Their salon was truly ‘smart’ and ‘elegant’ because it integrated — a new fashion in 1900 — the ‘pick of Legitimist, Orleanist, and Empire nobilities (as well as visiting high European nobility). Obviously Prince Murat, Duc de Bassano, and the Duc de Trevise are First Empire titles; Prince de Caraman-Chimay, Duc de Gramont, Duc de Luynes, and Comte A. de la Rouchefoucauld are ancien regime titles, the families of which have medieval sources. But a great salon in the Faubourg Saint-Germain is more than a gathering of the great names of Europe; it is also one continuous family gathering of ‘my cousins’ as Oriane de Guermantes would say — a sign of acceptance. Comtesse Greffulhe nee La Rochefoucald is a cousin of Comte Aymery de la Rouchfoucauld; Comtesse Greffulhe nee Carman-Chimay is the sister of the Prince de Caraman-Chimay, who himself married the Princesse Helene de Brancovan (a Romanian House), who herself is the sister of the poetess Anna de Noailles nee Brancovan-Bibesco (a friend of Proust’s). The Comte H. de Noailles (not present) married the sister of the Duc de Gramont (present) whose son, the Duc de Guiche (Proust’s friend) married Mlle Elaine Greffulhe a year later. And so on. Everyone is related by blood, marriage, and genealogy. Broglie, Uzes, Gramont, Brissac, Guermantes, Lunyes, La Tremoille form one vast clan, a little community. Unconcerned with economics, inactive though devoted to a lost political cause, they had leisure, enough leisure to develop the most intense social life seen since the court of Louis XIV. Etiquette, precedence, and status, followed the traditions of the royal court. They lacked only a king, who was in exile at Twickenham.
More to come tomorrow. And, just to note, it is said that Comtesse Greffulhe nee Caraman-Chimay was one of the inspirations for the Princesse de Guermantes.
Moncrieff: Page 57 “Clinging on to me, Professor E—” through Page 70 “…one saw the supple form of a winged victory.”
Sturrock: Page 46 “Now that he had hold of me, Professor E—” through Page 56 “…could be seen the supple body of a Winged Victory.”