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…
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.”