Moncrieff: 146-157; Sturrock: 109-117
by Dennis Abrams
Answering Marcel’s question as to whether “the things that were said about M. de Charlus were true,” Swann answers that his friendship with him is “purely platonic,” adding that “Charlus is perhaps greatly attached to his men friends, but you may be quite certain that the attachment is only in his head and in his heart.” The Prince de Guermantes told Swann that, after examining the evidence, he is convinced that not only was their illegality involved, but that Dreyfus was, in fact, innocent, and to his surprise, he has learned that the Princesse has, independently of him, reached the same conclusion. The Duc de Guermantes extends an invitation to Marcel to stay at the Princesses’s for an intimate dinner after the party, but he turns it down in order to keep his “date” with Albertine. The different orders of pleasure: “The truth is that men can have several sorts of pleasure. The true pleasure is the one for which they abandon the other. But that latter, if it is apparent, may put people off the scent of the other, reassure or mislead the jealous, create a false impression. And yet, all that is needed to make us sacrifice it to the other is a little happiness or a little suffering. Sometimes a third category of pleasures, more serious, more essential, does not yet exist for us, its potential existence betraying itself only by arousing regrets and discouragement.” Swann’s regret at speaking at length to Marcel, his exhaustion. Swann praises the Prince’s “upright nature…forgetting that during the afternoon he had on the contrary told me that people’s opinions as to the Dreyfus case were dictated by atavism…And so it was to moral uprightness that he now assigned the role which had previously devolved upon intelligence.” Swann now appreciates the intelligence of anybody who agreed with him regarding Dreyfus, going so far as to invite Bloch, who he had previously avoided, to lunch. But Swann’s Dreyfusism only extends so far — he is unwilling to sign petitions and, not angry with the Army as a whole, wrote in his will that he wanted to be buried with full military honors, which meant that “if he passed in the eyes of many people as a fanatical Dreyfusard, my friend [Bloch] found him lukewarm, infected with nationalism, and jingoistic.” Swann takes his leave, asking Marcel to come and visit Gilberte, a request which leaves Marcel indifferent. The Princesse de Guermantes’ defense of M. de Charlus “I feel that any woman who feel in love with a man of such immense worth as Palamede ought to be magnanimous enough and devoted enough to accept him and understand him as a whole, for what he is, to respect his freedom, humour his whims, seek only to smooth out his difficulties and console him in his griefs.” Is the Princesse de Guermantes in love with M. de Charlus?
What a fascinating party!
1. I was struck by this observation of Marcel/the Narrator regarding Swann’s change of mind as to why people support Dreyfus:
“In reality we always discover afterwards that our adversaries had a reason for being on the side they espoused, which has nothing to do with any element of right that there may be on that side, and that those who think as we do do so because their intelligence, if their moral nature is too base to be invoked, or their uprightness, if their perception is weak, has compelled them to.”
2. And, again, the complete indifference that Marcel, who once lived and breathed nothing but Gilberte, now professes to feel for her:
“I no longer loved Gilberte. She was for me like a dead person for whom one has long mourned, and then forgetfulness has come, and if she were to be resuscitated would no longer fit into a life which has ceased to be fashioned for her. I no longer had any desire to see her, not even that desire to show her that I did not wish to see her which, every day, when I was in love with her, I vowed to myself that I would flaunt before her when I loved her no longer.
Hence, seeking now only to give myself in Gilberte’s eyes the air of having longed with all my heart to meet her again and of having been prevented by circumstances of the kind called ‘beyond our control,’ which indeed only occur, with any consistency at least, when we do nothing to thwart them, so far from accepting Swann’s invitation with reserve, I did not leave him until he had promised to explain in detail to his daughter the mischances that had prevented and would continue to prevent me from going to see her. ‘In any case I shall write to her as soon as I get home,’ I added. ‘But be sure to tell her it will be a threatening letter, for in a month or two I shall be quite free, and then let her tremble, for I shall be coming to your house as regularly as in the old days.'”
Is this indifference?
3. I find myself intrigued and slightly bewildered by the hint that the Princesse de Guermantes has a secret passion for M. de Charlus.
4. And finally, the Dreyfus case. I was moved by the Prince’s confession to Swann of his conversion regarding the case, and wanted to share this from Sean Wolitz’s The Proustian Community:
“The Dreyfus Affair is the most important political event in the novel which directly affects the social world; it appears from In a Budding Grove through The Cities of the Plain. The main discussions of the Affair take place at Doncieres, the salon of Mme de Villeparisis, and at the salon of the Prince de Guermantes. Political discussions of the affair are not so important in the novel, however, as in the revelation of character that comes out of the discussions. The absence of all but the most superficial political concern reveals in the characters a lack of political responsibility. The preservation or improvement of social status appears to be the main concern of the French citizen in the Proustian community vis a vis the Affair. The intensification of latent antisemitism for primarily social reasons in A la Recherche becomes the key to the shifts of the social kaleidoscope. ‘It was true that the social kaleidoscope was in the act of turning and that the Dreyfus case was shortly to hurl the Jews down to the lowest rung of the social ladder.’ The Affair is the focal point of many of society’s hates which find their easiest expression in antisemitism. Leon Blum saw the rapid rise of antisemitism in the salon and its social consequences, exclusion as the ‘indiscreet intrusion of nouveau riche Jews [Rufus Israel] or the penetration, judged too rapid of studious Jews [Bloch].’ This observation is typical of the age.
The only pro-Dreyfus characters in the novel are: Swann, Bloch, Mme Sazerat ‘alone of her kind at Combray’, Saint-Loup, and eventually the Prince…de Guermantes. Proust has given this small group a Dreyfusard from every social caste, and the development of their sympathy for Dreyfus is interesting. Swann and Bloch easily decided to support Dreyfus — they were Jews. The narrator mocks Bloch’s Jewish stereotype: ‘Bloch believed himself to have been led by a logical sequence to choose Dreyfusism, yet he knew that his nose, skin, and hair had been imposed on him by his race.’ This remark also underlines Proust’s belief that our positions are already predetermined and that our reason only builds a framework for our emotional persuasion. ‘Imposed by his race’ is a key word, for Proust is here clearly a determinist, more subtle than Zola but from the same school. Swann cannot escape his origins either. M. de Cambremer, no great thinker, becomes an anti-Dreyfusard because of his family background and social caste, again supporting Proust’s theory of determinism.
Mme Sazerat is the only bourgeois Dreyfusard in the novel accept for the narrator…Mme Sazerat represents the Republican sentiment, the spirit of ’89: she has rallied to the government because Le Gueuse is threatened. Yet Mme Sazerat embodies an extraordinary paradox: she is antisemitic and pro-Dreyfus!…One might almost accuse Proust of merely juxtaposing opposites for literary variety, but the truth is that there were many in the Mme Sazerat category, the most famous being Colonel Picquart.
Saint-Loup becomes a Dreyfussard because he is under the influence of his Jewish mistress, Rachel. Saint-Loup’s family, however, reacts according to Proust’s contention that one follows his race and social caste: ‘when one goes by the name of ‘Marquis de Saint-Loup’ one isn’t a Dreyfussard; what more can I say?’ The Prince…becomes a Dreyfussard late in the campaign…The Prince admits he has his prejudices. ‘But I come of a family of soldiers, I did not like to think that officers could be mistaken. I discussed the case again with Beauserfeuil, he admitted that there had been culpable intrigues, that the bordereau was possibly not in Dreyfus’s writing, but that an overwhelming proof of his guilt did exist. This was the Henry document. And, a few days later, we learned that it was forgery. After that, without letting the Princess see me, I began to read the Siecle and the Aurore every day; soon I had no doubt left, it kept me awake all night!’ The Prince, by making the great effort to be objective, broke with his racial and class prejudices and saw the truth: Dreyfus was innocent. Swann is ‘profoundly moved’ by this admission, for he had attacked the Prince as a typical antisemitic anti-Dreyfusard aristocrat.
Proust points out that objectivity is the one element missing in the Affair. In this sense the Prince’s change of attitude is enormous and noble, for while Swann may be emotionally correct about Dreyfus’ innocence, he has not arrived at this conclusion as did the Prince, through rational deduction in the light of objective fact.”
The Weekend’s Reading:
Moncrieff: Page 157 “To return to this first evening at the Princesse de Guermantes’s…” through Page 190 “…have changed their minds and reversed their alliances.”
Sturrock: Page 117 “To go back in time, and to that first soiree at the Princesse de Guermantes’s…” through Page 140 “…have changed their views and reversed their alliances.”
Enjoy. And enjoy your weekend.