Archive for June, 2010

Moncrieff:  428-439; Sturrock:  308-316

by Dennis Abrams

The social ranking of the Marquis de Cambremer vs. the Baron de Charlus.  M. de Cambremer is “childishly happy to revisit a place where he had lived for so long, ‘I’m at home again.'”  Mme Verdurin, in the furnishing she had brought to La Raspeliere, “was not revolutionary, but intelligently conservative, in a sense, which [the Cambremers] did not understand.”  Mme Verdurin’s herb garden displeases the gardener who came with the house, a man who both adored and scorned Mme de Cambremer who, we learned,  had been caught by the invasion of Germans in 1870 and had been forced to have them live in her house, “So at the same time he was faithful to her unto death, venerated her for her kindness, and firmly believed that she had been guilty of treason.”  Charlus mistakes Cottard, who was sitting next to him and “beamed at him through his pince-nez, to make his acquaintance and to break the ice, with a series of winks far more insistent than they would have been in the old days, and not interrupted by fits of shyness,” for an ‘invert’ who is coming on to him.   Charlus responds by  turning on him “the cold shoulder of the invert, as contemptuous of those who are attracted by him as he is ardent in pursuit of those he finds attractive.”  The contempt felt by those who are in love by those who don’t return their love.  The standard response to the unwanted glance from a fellow invert, “Monsieur, what do you take me for?”  The jealousy of the invert and fear of competition.  Charlus realizes his mistake.  The forest of Chantepie.  Cottard is anxious to tell the exciting tale of how the ‘group’ almost missed their train.  Mme de Cambremer, hoping to lure Charlus to her home, asks about Morel, and tries to cover her tracks by asking about Brichot as well.  Mme de Cambremer, snobbery and culture.

Is there anybody who didn’t laugh out loud upon realizing that Charlus thought he was being hit on by Cottard?  A great scene, even with the analysis of the psychology of the invert when faced with others of his kind.  “But when they see another man display a particular predilection towards them, then, whether because they fail to recognise that it is the same as their own, or because it is a painful reminder that this predilection, exalted by them as long as it is they themselves who feel it, is regarded as a vice, or from a desire to rehabilitate themselves by making a scene in circumstances in which it costs them nothing, or from a fear of being unmasked which suddenly overtakes them when desire no longer leads them blindfold from one imprudence to another, or from rage at being subjected, by the equivocal attitude of another person, to the injury which by their own attitude, if that other person attracted them, they would not hesitate to inflict on him, men who do not in the lead mind following a young man for miles, never taking their eyes off him in the theater even if he is with friends, thereby threatening to compromise him with them, may be heard to say, if a man who does not attract them merely looks at them, ‘Monsieur, what do you take me for?’ (simply be he takes them for what they are)…”

And then there was this little gem of a description of Mme de Cambremer:

“For, although she was highly cultivated, just as certain persons who are prone to obesity eat hardly anything and take exercise all day long without ceasing to grow visibly fatter, so Mme de Cambremer might spend her time, especially at Feterne, delving into ever more recondite philosophy, ever more esoteric music, and yet she emerged from these studies only to hatch intrigues that would enable her to break with the middle-class friends of her girl friend and to form the connexions which she had originally supposed to be part of the social life of her ‘in-laws’ and had since discovered to be far more exalted and remote.”

And finally, from George Painter, a description of the real-life “pedant” who inspired Proust’s Brichot:

“The pedant was Victor Brochard, a professor at the Sorbonne and author of a standard work on the Greek sceptics.  He had been the philsophie master at the Lycee Condorcet a few years before Proust’s arrival there, and had thought the ‘aces’ of that time, such as Jacques Emile Blanche or Abel Hermant, unbeatable; but when he saw Proust, Fernand Gregh and their contemporaries at Mme Aubernon’s he remarked to Blancehe:  ‘These young colsts of 1889 are even more amazing than those of ’79.  He had been the site of Mme Arman’s salon before the famous schism when she stole Anatole France from Mme Aubernon.  He continued to frequent both ladies, for he had the courage to announce that he would abandon the first to forbid him to visit the other — ‘Women are bitches, but that’s no reason why men should be puppets!’  He was afflicted, like Brichot, by growing blindness and paralysis, which was attributed by malicious people, rightly or wrongly, to a discreditable cause.  Brochard, peering through his thick spectacles and talking unendingly, was the image of Brichot.

‘Brochard bores me, Doasan disgusts me,’ said Henri Becque.  Baron Jacques Doasan was a cousin of Mme Aubernon’s, who had been wealthy but had ruined himself for love of a Polish violinist:  once, it was said, he had the walls of a box at the theatre covered roses for this ungrateful young man.  He was a tall, portly invert of virile appearance, looking ‘like a knight-at-arms in the Hundred Years War,’ said one of Mme Aubernon’s habitues; but his face was bloated, blotched and heavily powdered, and newcomers were puzzled to find his face and moustache changing from jet-black to white, and from white to jet-black again, though never simultaneously, for it did not occur him to dye both at the same time.  Nothing horrified him more than effeminacy in young men:  ‘How I despise these little flunkeys of Des Esseintes,’ he would scream, perfidiously alluding to Montesquiou, who was reputed to be the original of the aesthete Des Esseintes in Huysmann’s A Rebours.  His perpetual, facetiously hostile talk about homosexuality was particularly embarassing in public, on the little local train from the Gare Saint-Lazare in which mme Aubernon’s week-end guests made their way to her country-house, Coeur-Volent, at Louveciennes.  ‘He can be witty — for ten minutes at a time, when you haven’t seen him for a week,’ people said; but his wit, such as it was, was appallingly malicious, and sometimes his victims would hint that the Wednesdays might be more pleasant without him.  ‘But don’t you see,’ Mme Aubernon would say, ‘he’s terribly unhappy, he’d starve it weren’t for me, and I find him so useful as a gentleman in waiting!’  So he remained an immovable ‘sacred monster’ to the end, and was never relegated to what he called ‘the toy cupboard where Mme Aubernon puts away the dolls, male or female that don’t amuse her any more.’  Perhaps he could be induced to reform?  Brouchard was persuaded to give him a good talking to, ‘so that you can recover all the ground you’ve lost.  People would soon forget your horrible language, and everything else, if you took as much trouble to be nice as you do to make enemies.’  Doasan listened without a word, till Brochard had quite finished, but only said, ‘It can’t be helped, I prefer my vices to my friends.’  When Proust first attended a Wednesday he became aware that the dreadful Baron’s eyes were staring at him, in a fixed, vacant gaze which pretended not to see him.  He remembered the incident twenty years later when describing the meeting of Charlus and the Narrator at Balbec.  But in 1892 at the rue d’Astorg its significant must have been a little different:  the eyes of Baron Doasan expressed not a questioning desire, but the recognition by one active invert of another.  Proust was not a potential conquest, but a possible rival or even betrayer; and Dousan forbade his cousin to receive ‘that little Marcel’, but in vain.  Montesquiou, the other original of Charlus, whom Proust was to meet a year later, was also an occasional guest of Mme Aubernon; but these two halves of Charlus were at daggers drawn, and it is said that Montesquiou’s faithful secretary Gabriel d’Yturri was stolen by him from Doasan.”

More to come…

Wednesday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  Page 439 “You cannot fail to be aware, Madame…” through Page 450 “To this invitation M. de Charlus responded with a silent nod.”

Sturrock:  Page 316 “You are not unaware, Madame…” through Page 323 “In response to this invitation, M. de Charlus contented himself with a mute nod of his head.”



Read Full Post »

Moncrieff:  414-428; Sturrock:  298-308

by Dennis Abrams

Morel and Charlus arrive at the Verdurins’.  Charlus, “to whom dining with the Verdurins meant no so much going into society as going into a place of ill repute, was as apprehensive as a schoolboy entering a brothel for the first time and showing the utmost deference towards its mistress.”  The feminine nature of Charlus’ entry, Mme Cottard’s nephew “who distressed his family by his effeminate ways and the company he kept, and as for M. de Charlus, “it was with a fluttering, mincing gait and the same sweep with which a skirt would have enlarged and impeded his waddling motion that he advanced upon Mme Verdurin with so flattered and honored an air that one would have said that to be presented to her was for him a supreme favor.”  The Profanation of mothers.  The transformation of M. de Charlus, and “By dint of thinking tenderly of men one becomes a woman, and an imaginary skirt hampers one’s movements.”  Morel, who had previously had dared to speak to Marcel, “on the day when he brought m the photographs, without once addressing me as Monsieur, treating me superciliously,” bows low to him upon his introduction, and asks him to lie to Mme Verdurin and her guests about his origins, and to tell her that his father was the steward of Marcel’s family’s vast estates.  Marcel agrees to do so, but after he speaks to Mme Verdurin, he avoids Marcel and appears to despise him, at least when around other people.   Mme Verdurin accepts Morel because he is an artist, one of the confraternity, but Marcel/the Narrator points out that “The way in which Morel was one of the confraternity was — so far as I was able to discover — that he was sufficiently fond of both women and men to satisfy either sex with the fruits of his experience with the other…”  Marcel concludes of Morel that “his must be a vile nature, that he would not shrink from any act of servility if the need arose, and was incapable of gratitude.  In which he resembled the majority of mankind.”  While at the same time, “I was enraptured by his art, through which, although it was little more than an admirable virtuosity, and although he was not, in the intellectual sense of the word, a real musician, I heard again or for the first time so much beautiful music.”  Cottard bursts into the room to announce the arrival of the Cambremers, and is flummoxed when he learns that an actual Baron is already in attendance.   Mme Verdurin’s introduction of Charlus to Cottard.   The coarse features of M. de Cambremer, his dark clothes, his plebian ugliness.   Cancan.  Mme de Cambremer’s fury at having to be at the Verdurins, her rudeness, followed by her joy that Charlus, who had previously refused to meet her in deference to Odette, was in attendance.

1.  Loved this quote regarding Charlus and his entrance at the Verdurins’, and the somewhat antiquated view of the woman trapped in his body  (today we’d just say he was trying to butch it up):

“Of course the Baron had made every effort to conceal this mistake and to assume a masculine appearance.  But no sooner had he succeeded than, having meanwhile retained the same tastes, he acquired from this habit of feeling like a woman a new feminine appearance, due not to heredity but to his own way of living.  And as he had gradually come to come to regard even social questions from the feminine point of view, and that quite unconsciously, for it is not only by dint of lying to other people but also by lying to oneself that one ceases to be aware that he is lying…”

2.  Poor Cottard.  There’s a Marquis and Marquise!  There’s a Baron!  What’s a man like him supposed to do?

3.  Speaking of which…Mme Verdurin’s ever so gracious introduction of Charlus to Cottard:

“With the affected indifference of a hostess when a servant has broken a valuable glass in front of her guests, and with the artificial, high-pitched tone of a Conservatoire prize-winner acting in a play:  ‘Why, the Baron de Charlus, to whom let me introduce you…M. le Professeur Cottard.’  Mme Verdurin was for that matter by no means sorry to have an opportunity of playing the leading lady.”

4.  And as a reminder of the origins of the Marquise de Cambremer (who I had forgotten had had a thing with Swann):  We first met her in Swann’s Way, at the musical recital of Mme de Saint-Euverre.   Even then she spoke out againt Chopin, and, to demonstrate her love of music and sound musical education, beat her head back and forth in time like a metronome with such force that her earrings caught in her bodice, but was able to rearrange herself without missing a beat.  She’s the woman who made the sudden move to save the candle from falling off the piano and onto the pianist, making a fool of herself in the process.  And it was at this party that  Swann, trying to recover from Odette, decided to make moves towards her.

5..  And finally, Mme Cambremer’s words to her women friends before attending the Verdurins’,

“‘You know we’re going to dine with our tenants.  That will be well worth an increased rent.  As a matter of fact, I’m rather curious to see what they’ve done to our poor old Raspeliere’ (as though she had been born in the house, and would find there all her old family associations.)  ‘Our old keeper told me only yesterday that you wouldn’t know the place.  I can’t bear to think of all that must be going on there.  I’m sure we shall have to have the whole place disinfected before we move in again.’  She arrived haughty and morose, with the air of a great lady whose castle, owing to a state of war, is occupied by the enemy, but who nonetheless feels herself at home and makes a point of showing the conquerors that they are intruders.”

What a wonderfully concise, biting, glimpse into her little, snobbish, insecure mind.

And finally, a bit more from George Painter’s biography of Proust, the salons and women that inspired Mme Verdurin, and in this section, the doctor who inspired Cottard:

“The doctor was Dr Pozzi, whom we have already seen at Mme Straus’s and Princesse Mathilde’s, and giving the schoolboy Proust his first ‘dinner in town’.  He was, Leon Daudet says, ‘talkative, hollow and reeking of hair-oil’.  He resembled Cottard, who was ‘constantly unfaithful to his wife’, in that his flirtations with his lady patients were notorious:  Mme Aubernon called him, after Moliere’s play, l’Amour Medecin‘.  He was vain of his good looks, and opinions varied as to his skill as a surgeon:  ‘I wouldn’t have trusted him to cut my hair,’ wrote Leon Daudet, ‘especially if there’d been a mirror in the room.’  His wife, who was a relative of Dr. Cazalis (the original of Legrandin), resembled the kind, dutiful, silly Mme Cottard:  Mme Aubernon called her ‘Pozzi’s mute’.  He consoled her for his infidelities by saying:  ‘I don’t deceive you, my dear, I supplement you.’  He was the most fashionable doctor of the upper bourgeoisie, as was Dr. Le Reboulet (who as Dr. Du Boulbon attended the Narrator’s dying grandmonther) of the Faubourg Saint-Germain; though Pozzi too had friends and patients in the Faubourg, who included Montesquiou himself.”


Tuesday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  Page 428 “Mme Verdurin whispered in her husband’s ear…” through Page 439 “…as delightful and unappreciated dinner neighbours.”

Sturrock:  Page 308 “Mme Verdurin asked in her husband’s ear…” through Page 316 “…as delightful and unappreciated neighbours.”

Read Full Post »

Moncrieff:  381-414; Sturrock:  276-298

by Dennis Abrams

A glorious girl with magnolia skin and dark eyes boards the train, but gets off at the third station, never to be seen or heard from again.  “But these recurrences of desire oblige us to reflect that if we wish to rediscover these girls with the same pleasure we must also return to the year which has since by followed by ten others in the course of which her bloom has faded.  We can sometimes find a person again, but we cannot abolish time.”  Still no news of the violinist, Mme Verdurin’s favorite, currently doing military service near Doncieres.  The Marquis and Marquise de Cambremer (the younger) will be attending the Verdurin’s Wednesday, to the obvious pleasure of Cottard, “‘By Jove!,’ he went on, turning to me, ‘what did I tell you?  The Princess Sherbatoff, the Marquis and Marquise de Cambremer.’  And, after repeating these names, lulling himself with their melody:  ‘You see that we move in good company,’ he said to me.”  Mme Verdurin had prepared the faithful for their arrival, explaining to them that she was only inviting them out of self-interest in the hope of obtaining a lower rent the next season, and “if at the same time it enchanted her for reasons of snobbery…she preferred to keep to herself.”   Mme Verdurin is bored with the Dreyfus case, and is anxious to return to the world of art.   The Cambremer’s are coming in the hopes of keeping their tenant happy, but know nothing of the fact that she is climbing the social ladder, “imagined that she was a person who could know none but Bohemians, was perhaps not even legally married, and so far as people of ‘birth’ were concerned would never have met any but themselves.”  Cottard, on hearing Ski say that he “knows” the Marquise de Cambremer, tastefully responds with one of his favorite pleasantries, “Not in the biblical sense of the word, I trust.”  Brichot claims that the cure’s book on the place-names of the region is flawed, and goes on for six pages giving examples.  Marcel meets the Princess Sherbatoff, and is surprised to learn that she is, in fact, the woman he saw on the train just two days earlier and had thought was the keeper of a brothel.   The death of the pianist Dechambre is announced, the same pianist who years earlier had played Vinteiuil’s sonata for Swann, although Cottard claims that “Vinteuil’s sonata wasn’t played at Mme Verdurin’s until long after Swann ceased to come there,” and convinces Brichot of the same.  The lost ticket, the doffed hat.  M. Verdurin’s charade that the death of one of the faithful “had such an effect on his wife that, in interest of her health, the subject must never be mentioned to her,” solely in order to “avoid the tedium of having to talk about the deceased, and even suspend the dinners.”   Cottard praises the Mistress, “Such events are bound to be painful; but Mme Verdurin is a brave woman, she is even more cerebral than emotional.”   The beauty of the view, which led Marcel to adore the Verdurins.  The dinner will not be put off in order to keep Mme de Verdurin from thinking about the pianist’s death.  M. Verdurin want to hear nothing about Dechambre.  “Ah well, there we are, it’s no use crying over spilt milk, talking about him won’t bring him back to life, will it? …Come along…we have a bouillabaisse which mustn’t be kept waiting.”  The inevitable illness of Mme Verdurin if  Dechambre’s death is discussed.   According to M. Verdurin, Dechambre wasn’t that great a pianist, anyway.  “…don’t exaggerate.  The fact of his being dead is no excuse for making him out a genius, which he was not.  He played well, I admit, but the main thing was that he was in the right surroundings here; transplanted, he ceased to exist.  My wife was infatuated with him and made his reputation…You don’t seriously expect us all to die of hunger because Dechambre was dead…Besides, you’re going to hear this evening…somebody who is a far greater artist than Dechambre, a youngster whom my wife has discovered!”  M. Verdurin announced that Morel will be arriving at the Verdurin’s in the company of “an old friend of his family, whom he ran into, and who bores him to tears…the Baron de Charlus.”   The questionable morals of Charlus are better known in the Verdurins’ circle than in the Faubourg Saint Germain.  Marcel expresses an interest in observing the sunset from the terrace, but after Mme Verdurin’s response, ‘Yes, it’s incomparable,” with a glance at the huge windows which gave the room a wall of glass, ‘Even though we have it in front of us all the time, we never grow tired of it,’ and she turned her attention back to the cards,” he realized that “it was enough for the Verdurins to know that this sunset made its way into their drawing room or dining-room, like a magnificent painting, like a priceless Japanese enamel, justifying the high rent they were paying for La Raspeliere, furnished, without their having constantly to raise their eyes towards it…”


A few brief thoughts and questions:

1.  Was Brichot’s lecture on place-names supposed to be boring?  Or was it just me?

2.  I loved the reaction (as abominable as it was) of the Verdurin’s to the death of Dechambre — so utterly and completely in character.  And, I loved this passage:

“Mme Verdurin, like most people who move in society, simply because she needed the society of other people, never thought of them again for a single day as soon as, being dead, they could no longer come to her Wednesdays, or her Saturdays, or drop in for dinner.  ”

3.  The Baron de Charlus deigning to visit M. and Mme Verdurin?  Love (or lust) does to strange things…

And finally, bit more from George Painter’s description of the salons of the real woman who supplied the inspiration for Mme Verdurin.  (Are you finding this as interesting as I am?)

“Mme Auberon’s salon was remarkable, like Mme Verdurin’s, for the absence of beautiful women.  ‘I provide conversation,’ she would say, ‘not love’; or, ‘Women are a subject men are too fond of getting on top of.’  But she was thought once to have been not averse to love in its time and place, and had been heard to announce:  ‘I have a glorious body.’  To attend one’s first dinner in the Rue d’Astorg was like sitting for an examination.  Afterwards the result would be proclaimed:  ‘Monsieur So-and-so dined very well, or ‘Monsieur So-and-so didn’t dine at all well, he talked to the lady next to him.’  Proust, however, dined exceedingly well, and Mme Aubernon would say:  ‘Marcel’s epigrams are definitive.’  Now and then, like Mme Verdurin, she would hold a public execution of some offender, which would end in an outburst of tears, sometimes the victim’s, sometimes the executioner’s; for Mme Aubernon’s rages were genuine, not cold-blooded like Mme Verdurin’s.  But she was not vindictive for long, and a few months later a whole series of criminals would be pardoned and reappear at what she called a ‘dinner of forgiveness.’   Silence, and being a bore, were the only unforgivable sins:  after a series of boring visitors, she declared:  ‘I’ve been outraged nine times this morning.’  But with her as with Mme Arman the word ‘bore’ had its ordinary meaning, and was not a euphemism for a person in high society who could not be lured to her salon.  The Faubourg never appeared there, and there is no reason to believe that she ever missed it.  Unlike Mme Verdurin, again, she did not pretend to b e fond of music; but her amateur theatricals, which in A la Recherche are transferred to Mme de Villeparisis, were famous, and it is to her credit that the first performances of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and John Gabriel Borkman took place in her drawing-room.  It was at this time that a visitor found her engrossed in a volume of Ibsen:  ‘Don’t disturb me!  I’m acquiring a Norweigan soul!’

In some of points of detail, it is clear, Mme Aubernon differed from Mme Verdurin:  she was unmusical, non-political, and in the social sense unsnobbish.  She was capable, as Mme Verdurin was not, of a kind of wit; though her witticisms, it will be noticed, are remarkable chiefly for their unconscious absurdity, for she could never see that her jokes were always against herself.  ‘The Aubernon hag had no sense of the ridiculous,’ declared Montesquiou, ‘because she was herself the very incarnation of every possible form of it.’  She was absurd through her very spontaneity, whereas Mme Verdurin was absurd through her pretence of spontaneity.  But as a hostess of half-comic, half-terrifying vanity and despotism, Mme Aubernon was the chief original of Mme Verdurin.  Moreover, it was among the band of her ‘faithful’, as she herself called them, that Proust knew a doctor like Cottard, a pedant like Brichot, and an invert like Charlus; and he met them not only at her receptions in Paris, but in a ‘little train’ on the way to her country-house.'”

More to come…

Monday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  Page 414 “Why yes, here they are!” through Page 428 “…of a different texture from the rest of the conversation, is false-bottomed.”

Sturrock:  Page 298 “Ah yes, here they are!” through Page 308 “…that is has a false bottom.”


Read Full Post »

Moncrieff:  371-381; Sturrock:  269-276

by Dennis Abrams

Brichot is anxious to show off his talents before Marcel, the newcomer, “you will find that there is no place where one feels more the donceur de vivre, to quote one of the inventors of dilettantism, of pococurantism [MY NOTE — nonchalance or indifference], of all sorts of ‘isms’ that are in fashion among our little snoblings — I refer to M. le Prince de Talleyrand.”  Brichot displays his wit by, when speaking of great noblemen of the past, prefixing their titles with ‘Monsieur,” and “M. le Duc de La Rochefoucauld.”  Brichot refers to “Monsieur le Prince de Talleyrand,” as someone to “whom we take off our hats.  He is an ancestor.”  The Princess Sherbatoff.  Cottard is impressed that she is a friend of the Grand Duchess Eudoxie, “who even sees her alone at hours when no one else is admitted,” not realizing that the Grand Duchess will only see her in the early morning, “when Her Imperial Highness was not at home to any of those friends to whom it would have been disagreeable to meet the Princess as it would have been awkward for the Princess to meet them,” so after leaving the Grand Duchess, “like a mancurist,” she would “go to Mme Verdurin, who had just woken up, and stick to her for the rest of the day.”  Cottard fancies himself a sort of Chateaubriand while in the city, and a Voltaire in the country.  Princess Sherbatoff’s fidelity “…made her more than an ordinary member of the ‘faithful,’ the classic example of the breed, the ideal which Mme Verdurin had long thought unattainable and which now, in her later years, she at length found incarnate in this new feminine recruit.”  The three friendships of Princess Sherbatoff:  the Grand Duchess, the Verdurins, and the Baroness Portbus (who she only visits in the morning, having no desire to meet her friends).  “She would add:  ‘I visit only three houses,’ as a dramatist who fears that it may not run to a fourth announces that there will be only three performances of his play.”  The wealth of the Princess, who engages an entire box on every first night for the faithful, but always sits in the back.  The thirst for novelty caused society people to be curious about the “strange sovereign, who was not without a certain shy, bewitching, faded beauty,” and her need to “feign an intense coldness, in order to keep up the fiction of her loathing of society.”  Cottard’s willingness to miss a Wednesday to attend a very important patient, but not when his cook cut open a vein in her arm.  “Cottard, already in his dinner jacket to go to the Verdurins’, had shrugged his shoulders when his wife had timidly inquired whether he could not bandage that wound;  ‘Of course I can’t, Leontine,’ he had groaned, ‘can’t you see I’ve got my white waistcoat on?'”  Cottard’s praise of the Verdurins and their salon over the Guermantes.  “They know everybody.  Besides, they at least aren’t grand people who’ve come down in the world.  They’ve got the goods all right…You mentioned the Duchesse de Guermantes.  I’ll tell you the difference.  Mme Verdurin is a great lady, the Duchesse de Guermantes is probably a pauper.  You see the distinction, of course?”    But, as Marcel/the Narrator points out, “Many Cottards who have supposed that they were living in the heart of the Faubourg Saint-Germain have perhaps had their imaginations beguiled by feudal dreams than the men who really have lived among princes…”


I really enjoyed this section — our first look at the Princess Sherbatoff was highly enjoyable, Cottard and Brichot’s pretensions were nicely skewered, and I particularly loved this passage describing Mme Verdurins’ need to keep her “little clan” to herself.

“However keenly the Mistress might feel the pangs of jealousy, it was without precedent for the most assiduous of her faithful not to have ‘defected’ at least once.  The most stay-at-home yielded to the temptation to travel; the most continent fell from virtue; the most robust might catch influenza, the idlest caught for his month’s soldiering, the most indifferent go to close the eyes of a dying mother.  And it was in vain that Mme Verdurin told them then, like the Roman Empress, that she was the sole general whom her legion must obey, or like Christ or the Kaiser, that he who loved his father or mother more than her and was not prepared to leave them and follow her was not worthy of her, that instead of wilting in bed or letting themselves be made fools of by whores they would do better to stay with her, their sole remedy and sole delight.”

I’m having a difficult time imagining what the relation between Marcel and Mme de Verdurin is going to be like, and how she is going to appear to him after Mme de Guermantes.

And finally, from George Painter’s biography of Marcel Proust, a little look at the two women who helped to inspire Mme Verdurin and her salon.

“Of all the literary and artistic bourgeois salons those of Mme Aubernon de Nerville and Mme Lemaire, to both of which Proust gained admission in 1892 or a little before, were supreme in their prestige.  A great artist is remembered, a great hostess is forgotten when the last of her guests have died; yet each of these ladies contributed to the immortal Mme Verdurin, and lives still in her.

Mme Lydie Aubernon had been blissfully parted from her husband since 1867, and was in the habit of remarking that she was looking forward to her ‘golden separation.’  M. Georges Aubernon lived with their son, Raoul, at Antibes, and his wife was known as ‘the Widow.’  Until the end of the 1880s she was assisted in the running of her salon by her mother, whose own drawing room had been famous in the 1840s under Louis Phillipe.  The two ladies, in allusion to their republican sympathies and to Moliere’s comedy, were called ‘Les Precieuses Radicales‘.  But Mme Aubernon showed little positive interest in politics, and used to say:  ‘I’m a republican, but only in sheer desperation.’  After old Mme de Nerville died she told Edmond de Goncourt:  ‘I miss her often, but only a little at a time’ — a remark also uttered by Swann’s father after the death of his wife.  She received at her house in the Avenue de Messine, later in the Rue d’Astorg, where (incongruous conjunction) the Comtesse Greffulhe also lifed, and last at 11 Rue Montchanin.  Along with her more brilliant guests she entertained a hard core of mysterious elderly ladies, widows of writers or friends of her dead mother, who sat in the background, like the pianist’s aunt or Princesse Sherbatoff at Mme Verdurin’s, and were known as ‘my sacred monsters.’  One of the monsters was once reproached for frivolity by her son, who felt that her name appeared far too frequently in the society columns of the newspapers.  ‘You’re quite right, my dear,’ she said, ‘tomorrow I’ll give up going to funerals.’

Mme Aubernon was a fat, lively little woman, with dimpled arms, and wore loud beribboned dresses and shoes with pompoms.  ‘She looked like Queen Pomare on the lavatory seat,’ Montesquiou used to say.  She was sixty-seven in 1892, and was not unaware that her beauty had vanished:  ‘I realised,’ she said, ‘when men stopped raving about my face and only told me how intelligent I was.’  Her evening receptions on Wednesdays (Mme Verdurin’s day) and Saturdays were preceded by a dinner for twelve persons, neither more nor less, for which the subject of conversation was announced in advance.  the guests did not always take the custom as seriously as she wished.  ‘What is your opinion of adultery?’ she asked Mme Straus one week, when that happened to be the theme, and Mme Strauss replied:  ‘I’m so sorry, I prepared incest by mistake.’  Labiche, when asked what he thought of Shakespeare, enquired:  ‘Why, is he marrying someone we know?’  And d’Annunzio, when asked to talk about love, was even less forthcoming:  ‘Read my books, madam,’ he said, ‘and let me get on with my food.’  Thinking a change of subject might thaw her guest, Mme Aubernon began to ask after his distinguished contemporaries.  ‘Tell me about Fogazzaro,’ she implored.  ‘Fogazzaro?’ echoed the poet, ‘he’s at Vicenza’; and the meal finished in frozen silence.  When Mme Laure Baigneres was asked the same question:  ‘What do you think about love?’ she could only replay, ‘I make it, often, but I never, never talk about it.’  If conversation at the other end of the table became general, Mme Aubernon would ring her famous little bell to secure attention for the speaker of the moment.  Once on his very first visit, Labiche was heard to murmor “I…I…’  The widow jingled with her bell and shouted:  ‘Monsieur Labiche, you will have your turn in a minute.’  The speaker finished, and she said graciously:  ‘You may speak now, Monsieur Labiche.’  But the unhappy dramatist only mumbled:  ‘I just wanted to ask for another helping of peas.'”


The Weekend’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  Page 381 “At Saint-Pierre-des-Ifs we were joined by a glorious girl…” through Page 414 “…and even to hide herself to swallow her two spoonfuls of aspirin.”

Sturrock:  Page 276 “At Saint-Pierre-des-Ifs there got on a splendid girl…” through Page 298 “…and even hid herself in order to swallow her two spoonfuls of aspirin.”

Enjoy.  And enjoy your weekend.

Read Full Post »

Moncrieff:  358-371; Sturrock:  259-269

by Dennis Abrams

The train to La Raspeliere.  Marcel’s concern of not seeing Cottard or being seen by him, without realizing “the little clan had moulded all its regular members after the same type…”  Marcel was astonished that many members of the clan had been so, “according to the stories I had heard, before my birth, at a period at once so distant and so vague that I was inclined to exaggerate its remoteness.”  Brichot, now semi-blind, with “green umbrella and blue spectacles…would be gently but hastily guided towards the chosen compartment.”  Cottard and others have to rush to catch the train.  Mme Verdurin’s need to keep Brichot in the clan, even ending his relationship with his laundress.    The glamour that Brichot holds in the eyes of his colleagues at the Sorbonne.  “The Verdurins were beginning to make tentative moves in the direction of fashionable ways.”   The Verdurin salon as a Temple of Music, largely due to the fact that Vinteuil, now known as “the greatest contemporary composer,” had found inspiration there.  The rising stature of the Verdurin salon;  Mme Verdurin and her relationship with the Princess de Capraola, “Ah!  she’s intelligent, that one, she’s a charming woman.  What I cannot endure are the imbeciles, the people who bore me — they drive me mad.”   Odette’s reaction to the rise of Mme de Verdurin.  “Yes, I do seem to have heard a lot about them lately.  Every now and then there are new people like that who arrive in society.”  Once casual, the Verdurins, “conscious of their future destiny…were most anxious that people should now come to dine with them in evening dress.”  Saniette, once driven away by Fourcheville, has returned to the clan.  The sculptor Ski.  Will the Princess be on the train?  Cottard, showing a card that described him as a medical officer, arranges to have “a farm labourer in a blue smock who had only a third-class ticket,” who had gotten into their compartment, ejected, leading Saniette to worry that the crowd of peasants on the platform will riot.

From the sublime to the ridiculous.  From yesterday’s ruminations on paradise, to the return of the little clan, and the absurdities of Cottard, Brichot, and Saniette.

A brief reminder:

Saniette:  A boring, shy, good-natured palaeographer, and, despite his Catholicism, a Dreyfusard.   He was originally driven out of the clan in tears by his brother-in-law Forcheville who wanted to improve his own standing with the Verdurins, with the silent complicity of Odette.

Brichot:  A professor at the Sorbonne, who the Verdurins picked up at a “watering-place somewhere,” and had been one of the faithful ever since.  Pedantic, boring, and completely self-conscious, and, unfortunately, not self-aware.  His amorous relations with women are always being cut short by Mme Verdurin, who allows no distractions for her faithful.

I don’t know about you, but I was shocked by the off-hand announcement of Swann’s death in the discussion of the Princesse de Capraola’s visit to Odette:  “She had even mentioned the Verdurins’ name in the course of a visit of condolence which she had paid to Mme Swann after the death of her husbnad, and had asked whether she knew them.”  That’s it?

I loved the description of the sculptor Ski:

“Mme Verdurin thought that Ski had more temperament than Elstir because there was no art in which he did not have some aptitude, and she was convinced that he would have developed that aptitude into talent if he had been less indolent.  This indolence seemed to the Mistress to be actually an additional gift, being the opposite of hard work which she regarded as the lot of people devoid of genius.  Ski would paint anything you asked, on cuff-links or on lintels.  He sang like a professional and played from memory, giving the piano the effect of an orchestra, less by his virtuosity than by his vamped basses which suggested the inability of the fingers to indicate that a certain point the cornet entered, which in any case he would imitate with his lips.  Searching for words when he spoke so as to convey an interesting impression, just as he would pause before banging out a chord with the exclamation ‘Ping!’ to bring out the brass, he was regarded as being marvellously intelligent, but as a matter of fact his ideas boiled down to two or three, extremely limited.  Bored with his reputation for whimsicality, he had taken it into his head to show that he was a practical, down-to-earth person, whence a triumphant affection of fake precision, of fake common sense, aggravated by his having no memory and a fund of information that was always inaccurate.  The movements of his head, his neck and his limbs would have been graceful if he had still been nine years old, with golden curls, a wide lace collar, and red leather bootees.”

As I did the reason for Elstir’s dislike of Ski:

“Any resemblance that there may have been between them was, however, purely external.  It was sufficient to make Elstir, who had met Ski once, feel for him the profound repulsion that is inspired in us not so much by the people who are completely different from us as by those who are less satisfactory versions of ourselves, in whom are displayed our less attractive qualities, the faults of which we have cured ourselves, unpleasantly reminding us of how we must have appeared to certain other people before we became what we are now.’

For me, that’s another one of those Proustian observations that makes me shake my head and ask, “How does he KNOW that?”

Thursday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  Page 371 “If this is your first appearance at Mme Verdurins’s, Monsieur…” through Page 381 “…and remained left of centre until his dying day.”

Sturrock:  Page 269 “If this is your first time at Mme Verdurin’s, monsieur,” through Page 276 “…and died an incorrigible member of the center-left.”


Read Full Post »

Moncrieff:  348-358; Sturrock:  252=259

by Dennis Abrams

Saint-Loup, with only an hour to spare, meets Marcel and Albertine at the train station at Doncieres.  Albertine devotes her attention to Saint-Loup, angering Marcel.  Saint-Loup offers to try and find the friends with whom he used to dine with Marcel, but Marcel declines, “for I did not wish to run the risk of being parted from Albertine, but also because now I was detached from them.”  Alterations within us.  Albertine apologizes for her behavior, telling Marcel that “she had intended, by her coldness towards me, to dispel any idea that he might have formed if, at the moment when the train stopped, he had seen me leaning against her with my arm around her waist.”  M. de Charlus, appearing much aged, arrives at the station to return home to Paris.  “Now, in a light travelling suit which made him appear stouter, as he waddled along with his swaying paunch and almost symbolic behind, the cruel light of day decomposed, into pain on his lips, into face-powder fixed by cold cream on the tip of his nose, into mascara on his dyed moustache whose ebony hue contrasted with his grizzled hair, everything that in an artificial light would have seemed the healthy complexion of a man who was stil young.”  Charlus send Marcel  to “summon a soldier, a relative of his, who was standing on the opposite platform…’He is in the regimental band,’ said M. de Charlus….”  Marcel discovers that the soldier is in fact Morel, the son of his uncle’s valet.  Charlus arrives on the other platform himself, and offers Morel 500 frances for the evening, “which may perhaps be of interest to one of your friends, if you have any in the band,” before dismissing Marcel.  Marcel wonders how Charlus, by knwoing Morel, could have “bridged the social gulf to which I had not given a thought,”  before realizing that “M. Charlus had never in his life set eyes upon Morel, nor Morel upon M. de Charlus, who, dazzled but also intimidated by a soldier even though he carried no weapon but a lyre, in his agitation had called upon me to bring him a person whom he never suspected that I already knew.  In any case, for Morel, the offer of five hundred francs must have made up for the absence of any previous relations…I saw at once the resemblance to certain of his relatives when they picked up a woman in the street.  The desired object had merely changed sex.”  Morel drives away a particularly annoying flower seller with an “authoritative, virile gesture, wielded by the graceful hand  for which it ought still to have been too weighty, too massively brutal, with a precocious firmness and suppleness which gave to this still beardless adolescent the air of young David capable of challenging Goliath.”  The Baron’s admiration.  Marcel and Albertine discuss Saint-Loup, and Marcel, ‘since she had seemed to desire Saint-Loup…felt more or less cured for the time being of the idea that she cared for women, assuming that the two things were irreconcilable.”

There was a lot packed into that ten pages:  A look at friendship, ourselves, and paradise, Charlus picking up Morel, (a violinist who we previously met as a very good looking young man, a bit of a poseur, bringing to Marcel some of his uncle’s belongings, including the photograph of “Miss Sacripant,” aka the Lady in Pink, and who, at the time,  seemed to be interested in Jupien’s niece) as well as  Marcel’s abandonment of his idea that Albertine was interested in women.  Loved it.

One of my favorite passages in all of Proust:

“We passionately long for there to be another life in which we shall be similar to what we are below.  But we do not pause to reflect that, even without waiting for that other life, in this life, after a few years, we are unfaithful to what we once were, to what we wished to remain immortally.  Even without supposing that death is to alter us more completely than the changes that occur in the course of our lives, if in that other life we were to encounter the self that we have been, we should turn away from ourselves as from those people with whom were once on friendly berms but whom we have not seen for years — such as Saint-Loup’s friends whom I used to so much to enjoy meeting every evening at the Faisan Dore, and whose conversation would now have seemed to me merely a boring importunity.  In this respect, and because I preferred not to go there in search of what had given me pleasure in the past, a stroll through Doncieres might have seemed to me a prefiguration of an arrival in paradise.  We dream much of paradise, or rather of a number of successive paradises, but each of them is, long before we die, a paradise lost, in which we should feel ourselves lost too.”

Amazing.  How many of our former selves would we recognize, want to know, even acknowledge as being ours?  How many paradises have we lost along the way?

If you have never before left a comment, now is the time — what did you think of this section?  Is this as good as I think it is, or is it just me?   And for the regulars…you know what to do.


Wednesday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  Page 358 “Two days later, on the famous Wednesday…” through Page 371 “…he stood and gazed at the scenery from the other end of the ‘twister.'”

Sturrock:  Page 259 “Two days later, on the famous Wednesday…” through Page 269 “…he gazed at the countryside from the other end of the ‘slow coach.'”


Read Full Post »

Moncrieff:  337-348; Sturrock:  244-252

by Dennis Abrams

Mlle Bloch and her friend, under the protection of M. Nissim Bernard, “were delighted to show those respectable family men who held aloof from them that they might with impunity take the utmost liberties,” and, passing Marcel, Albertine, and bloch, “they came by, linked together, kissing each other incessantly, and, as they passed us, crowed and chortles and uttered indecent cries.”  Marcel is convinced that “this private and horrifying language was addressed perhaps to Albertine.”  “A handsome young woman, slender and pale,” arrived at Balbec, and Marcel observes “that she never ceased to fasten upon Albertine the alternating and revolving beam of her gaze,” once again focusing his preoccupations “even more in the direction of Gomorrah.”  Marcel’s jealousy of Albertine with other women.   Bloch’s cousin is picked up by the unknown woman while reading a magazine.  “Presently the young woman came and sat down beside her with an abstracted air.  But under the table one could presently see their feet wriggling, then their legs and hands intertwined.  Words followed, a conversation began, and the young woman’s guileless husband, who had been looking everywhere for her, was astonished to find her making plans for that very evening with a girl whom he did not know.”   Marcel believes that Albertine’s indifference towards other girls is simply a ruse to throw him off the track, as is her professed hostility to a friend of her aunt.  “Yes, I ran into her on the beach and knocked against her as I passed, on purpose, to be rude to her,” leading Marcel to worry that she did so simply “to tease this woman’s senses, or wantonly to remind her of former propositions.”  Marcel’s jealousy caused by the women who Albertine “perhaps loved was abruptly to cease.”  Wanting to keep her entertained and away from other women, Marcel takes Albertine by train to meet Saint-Loup at Doncieres.  M. Nissim Bernard, his black eye, and the twin waiters, the two tomatoes.  “To the detached observer, the charm of these perfect resemblances between twins is that nature, as if momentarily industrialised, seems to be turning out identical products.”  An invitation fro Mme Verdurin to attend one of her “Wednesdays,” and Marcel’s need to find out the whereabouts of Mme Potbus’ maid to keep her away from Albertine.  The woman on the train, “with a massive face, old and ugly, and a masculine expression, very much in her Sunday best, who was reading the Revue des Deux Mondes,” who Marcel “at once concluded that she must be te manageress of some large brothel, a procuress on holiday…Only, I had hitherto been unaware that such ladies read the Revue des Deux Mondes.”   Marcel’s pride.

A few things…

1.  It pained me, in part because I can personally recognize the thought process, to read Marcel’s mounting fears and jealousy regarding Albertine and the “handsome young woman, slender and pale…”

“…I saw that she never ceased to fasten upon Albertine the alternating and revolving beam of her gaze.  It was as though she were making signals to her with a lamp.  It pained me that Albertine should see that she was being so closely observed, and I was afraid that these incessantly rekindled glances might be the agreed signal for an amorous assignation next day.  For all I knew, this assignation might not be the first.  The young woman with the flashing eyes might have come another year to Balbec.  It was perhaps because Albertine had already yielded to her desires, or to those of a friend, that this woman allowed herself to address to her those flashing signals.  If so, they were doing more than demand something for the present; they invoked a justification for it in pleasant hours in the past.

This assignation, in that case, must be not the first, but the sequel to adventures shared in past years.  And indeed her glance did not say:  ‘Will you?’  As soon as the young woman had caught sight of Albertine, she had turned her head and beamed upon her glances charged with recollection, as though she were afraid and amazed that my beloved did not remember.”

I was, and probably still am, capable of this kind of mounting fear/insecurity/jealousy.

2.  Was this the first example of Marcel’s social preening and pride?

“The lady wore an air of extreme dignity; and as I, for my part, was inwardly aware that I was invited, two days hence, to the house of the celebrated Mme Verdurin at the terminal point of the little railway line, that at an intermediate station I was awaited by Robert de Saint-Loup, and that a little further on I would have given great pleasure to Mme de Cambremer by going to stay at Feterne, my eyes sparkled with irony as I gazed at this self-important lady who seemed to think that, because of her elaborate attire, the feathers in her hat, her Revue des Deux Mondes, she was a more considerable personage than myself.”

3.  And finally, from an essay by Harold Bloom on Proust, focusing on jealousy:

“Sexual jealousy is the most novelistic of circumstances, just as incest, according to Shelley, is the most poetical of circumstances.  Proust is the novelist of our era, even as Freud is our moralist.  Both are speculative thinkers, who divide between the eminence of being the prime wisdom writers of the age.

Proust died in 1922, the year of Freud’s grim and splendid essay, “Certain Neurotic Mechanisms in Jealousy, Paranoia, and Homosexuality.”  Both of them great ironists, tragic celebrants of the comic spirit, Proust and Freud are not much in agreement on jealousy, paranoia, and homosexuality, though both start with the realization that all of us are bisexual in nature.

Freud charmingly begins his essay by remarking that jealousy, like grief, is normal and comes in three stages:  competitive or normal, projected, delusional.  The competitive, or garden variety, is compounded of grief, due to the loss of the loved object, and of the reactivation of the narcissistic scar, the tragic first loss, by the infant, of the parent of the other sex to the parent of the same sex.  As normal, competitive jealousy is really normal Hell, Freud genially throws into the compound such delights as enmity against the successful rival, some self-blaming, self-criticism, and a generous portion of bisexuality.

Projected jealousy attributes to the erotic partner one’s own actual unfaithfulness or repressed impulses, and is cheerfully regarded by Freud as being relatively innocuous, since its almost delusional character is highly amenable to analytic exposure of unconscious fantasies.  But delusional jealousy proper is more serious; it also takes its origin in repressed impulses towards infidelity, but the object of those impulses is of one’s own sex, and this, for Freud, moves one across the border into paranoia.

What the three stages of jealousy have in common is a bisexual component, since even projected jealousy trades in repressed impulses, and these include homosexual desires.  Proust, our other authority on jealousy, preferred to call homosexuality ‘inversion,’ and in a brilliant mythological fantasia traced the sons of Sodom and the daughters of Gomorrah to the surviving exiles from the Cities of the Plain.  Inversion and jealousy, so intimately related in Freud, become in Proust a dialectical pairing, with the aesthetic sensibility linked to both as a third term in a complex series.

On the topos of jealousy, Proust is fecund and generous; no writer has devoted himself so lovingly to expounding and illustrating the emotion, except of course Shakespeare in Othello and Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter.  Proust’s jealous lovers — Swann, Saint-Loup, above all Marcel himself — suffer so intensely that we sometimes need to make an effort not to empathize too closely.  It is difficult to determine just what Proust’s stance towards their suffering is, partly because Proust’s ironies are both pervasive and cunning.  Comedy hovers nearby; but even tragicomedy seems an inadequate term for the compulsive sorrows of Proust’s protagnoists.  Swann, after complimenting himself that he has not, proved to Odette that he loves her too much, falls into the mouth of Hell:”

More later…

Tuesday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  Page 348 “At Doncieres, Saint-Loup had come to meet me at the station…” through Page 358 “…by the parallel chains of distant blue hills.”

Sturrock:  Page 252 “At Doncieres, Saint-Loup had come to wait for me at the station…” through Page 259 “…by the parallel ranges of distant, blue-colored foothills.”


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »