Moncrieff: 133-146; Sturrock: 100-109
by Dennis Abrams
Charlus offers to show Mme de Surgis’s son, Victurnien, his collection. “I will show you mine if you will give me the pleasure of coming to luncheon with me someday.” Swann’s state of exhaustion, his face mottled “with tiny spots of Prussian blue…” Charlus asks Marcel to accompany him and Mme de Surgis. Settled into a small alcove, they are interrupted by Mme de Saint-Euverte, who gives a “disdainfully friendly greeting” to Mme de Surgis. Marcel gives Charlus an opening and, while Mme de Saint-Euverte is trapped behind them, lets loose a disgusting diatribe on why he would never attend her garden party, saying, for example, “What would prevent me from questioning her about those thrilling times is the sensitiveness of my olfactory organ. The proximity of the lady is enough. I suddenly say to myself: oh, good lord, someone has broken the lid of my cesspool, when it’s simply the Marquise opening her mouth to emit some invitation.” Mme de Surgis, who “would give days of her life rather than miss the Saint-Euverte party,” equivocates when Charlus asks if she will be attending, blaming it on the question of a summer frock. Despite the insults, Mme de Saint-Euverte presses Marcel to bring Charlus to her garden party. Marcel goes in search of Swann, who tells Marcel he wants to confide in him about his conversation with the Prince de Guermantes. Swann talks of past jealousies before longingly examining the bosom of Mme de Surgis through his monocle.
Again, I love this scene. I love the way that it moves, like a scene in a film, as Marcel becomes the camera, moving through the party, catching a little bit here, moving on, and catching something else. Very much like a scene from Altman, or, to go totally off the deep end, the opening scene of “Boogie Nights.”
A few comments:
1. Jean Cocteau wrote in his journal that Charlus”s diatribe against Mme de Saint-Euverte was actually delivered by Robert de Montesquiou. Which makes Charlus’s reference to his “inspiration,” “No, I’m wrong in saying the first. There also a Polignac and a Montesquiou,” all the better.
2. Is there anyone reading this who cannot failed to be moved by Swann’s ruminations on jealousy?
“A little jealousy is not too unpleasant, for two reasons. In the first place, it enables people who are not inquisitive to take an interest in the lives of others, or of one other at any rate. And then it makes one feel the pleasure of possession, of getting into a carriage with a woman, of not allowing her to go about by herself. But that’s only in the very first stages of the disease, or when the cure is almost complete. In between, it’s the most agonising torment. However, I must confess that I haven’t had much experience even of the two pleasures I’ve mentioned — the first because of my own nature, which is incapable of sustained reflexion; the second because of circumstances, because of the woman, I should say the women, of whom I’ve been jealous. But that makes no difference. Even when one is no longer attached to things, it’s still something to have been attached to them; because it was always for reasons which other people didn’t grasp. The memory of those feelings is something that’s to be found in ourselves, we must go back into ourselves to look at it. You mustn’t laugh at this idealistic jargon, but what I mean to say is that I’ve been very fond of life and very fond of art. Well, now that I’m a little too weary to live with other people, those old feelings, so personal and individual, that I had in the past, seem to me — it’s the mania of collectors — very precious. I open my heart to myself like a sort of showcase, and examine one by one all those love affairs of which the rest of the world can have known nothing. And of this collection, to which I’m no even more attached to my others, I say to myself, rather as Mazarin said of his books, but in fact without the last distress, that it will be very tiresome to leave it all.”
Very fond of art, very fond of life. And his memories are what pains him to leave the most.
Finally, to answer yesterday’s question from Sean Wolitz’s The Proustian Community: Was Proust a social success?
“It appears so; apparently he knew some of the highest members of the Faubourg. But was he a full member of the Faubourg? We may doubt it. He was not part of high society like the social climber Charles Haas, who was the only Jew to become a member of the Jockey Club and who did know superficially the Comte de Paris and the Prince of Wales [My note: like Swann] (whom Proust did not know). Actually Proust was friendly mainly with the ‘intellectually’ inclined members of the Faubourg and not with the horsey set. His acquaintance with such really great society names as Brissac, Fitz-James, d’Harcourt, and La Tremoille, which are continually mentioned in A la Recherche, seem to have eluded Proust in life; that is, he probably met them but he never knew them intimately. And Lucien Daudet, his friend, was no doubt correct when he said of Proust: ‘He failed to be received in the genuine and constant intimacy of some Madame de Guermantes or other, in order to see the inner workings of some French families apart from the formal hours.’ This is supported by the Comte de Luppe, who said: ‘[Proust] knew the public life of society, but he did not penetrate its intimacy. The club life, the chateau — important in soceity — Proust never penetrated.’ This may explain in part why the aristocracy in the novel appears mainly in salon scenes.
Proust seems to have served as an ornament to the Salon (like a Bloch) and did not become a integral member. The strange Charles Briand in his book Le Secret de Marcel Proust, the Kama-Sutra of French criticism, states that Proust’s role in Society was at best that of a ‘reporter of social events’ for Le Figaro. This may be overstating the case, but there is strong evidence from those who saw him in society that ‘Proust appeared to be a non-conformist,’ because of his old-fashioned mannerisms, excessive flattery, his constant interests in genealogy and protocol; in short, because of his exotic personality, which was no doubt the original reason he was admitted into high society. It is clear, then, that Proust was a small figure in the Faubourg; he enriched it by his presence but was not a full member. He fulfilled by his conversation and wit the same role as other artists in society: that of the entertainer. He was, one could say, a jongleur to the court and perhaps Hofjude. It is the error of later generations to see Proust as an important member of his chosen society. No doubt the narrator Marcel, moving nimbly from one social success to the other in the masterwork, might give this impression; but until Marcel Proust received the Goncourt Prize in 1919, the author was always known as ‘our little Marcel,’ a witty, sensitive hypochondriac.”
Moncrieff: Page 146 “I asked him whether the things that were said about M. de Charlus were true…” through Page 157 “…I could not help seeing that it was addressed to M. de Charlus.”
Sturrock: Page 109 “I asked him whether what was said about M. de Charlus was true…” through Page 117 “…I saw, without wanting to, that it was addressed to M. de Charlus.”