Moncrieff: 157-190; Sturrock: 117-140
by Dennis Abrams
A long series of “goodbyes” as the guests prepare to leave the Prince and Princesse de Guermantes’ party. M. de Guermantes, pleased that his brother M. de Charlus had been polite to his new mistress Mme de Sturgis (and not realizing his brother’s ulterior motives) embraces him, reminisces with him, and, much to his embarrassment, mentions that even as a young man that Charlus “never had the same tastes as other people.” The Duchess, “devoured by rage and jealousy” at the conversation between Charlus and her husband, attempts to speed up their departure. Mme de Gallardon, furious because her cousin the Duchess continues to ignore her, speaks badly about her on the steps “…she’s beginning to show her age. It seems she can’t get over it…And I can well understand it because she hasn’t any brains, is as nasty as can be, and has bad manners,” but changes her tune just moments later when she is greeted kindly by the Duchess, “Oriane is really very beautiful still!” Is it better to put on one’s overcoat before one goes out or after? The somewhat socially unacceptable Princesse d’Orvillers, the same woman who had made eyes at Marcel in the street, arrives as everybody else is leaving, “In this way she gave herself the appearance of attaching no importance to the party, not to being seen at it, but simply of having come to pay the Prince and Princess a visit, for their own sakes.” Marcel drives home with the Duc and Duchesse de Guermantes, but can only think about the two very different women, “the young girl of good family who frequented a house of ill-fame and…the Baroness Putbus’s chambermaid,” who Saint-Loup had informed him were easily available to him. Mme de Guermantes, who had asked Marcel to whom she could introduce him, was dismayed when he said the Baroness Potbus, “But she is the dregs of society. It’s as though you were to ask me for an introduction to my dressmaker.” The Guermantes ask Marcel to come to the ball with them, but he refuses because he is expecting Albertine to visit. The Duc learns from the “two ladies with the walking-sticks…[the] accursed mountaineers,” that his cousin M. d’Osmond had indeed died, but, not willing to give up going to the ball pushes past them saying “He’s dead! No, no, they’re exaggerating, they’re exaggerating!” Marcel interrupts Francoise and her daughter eating at the table, and learns that Albertine has not yet arrived. Language and the difference in dialects. Marcel goes to his room to await Albertine’s arrival, and “to make my room look a little more attractive, in case Albertine should come, and because it was one of the prettiest things that I possessed, for the first time in years I placed on the bedside table that turquoise-studded cover which Gilberte had made for me to hold Bergotte’s booklet and which for so long I had insisted on keeping by me while I slept, along with the agate marble.” Albertine calls (Marcel has a telephone in his room) and tries to beg off coming, telling him that she misread his note. Marcel, wanting her to come but not willing to ask her to do so, guilts her into doing so, despite her protests that she is at a friend’s house. “What do you suppose I care about your friend? Either come or don’t? It’s for you to decide. I’m not asking you to come, it was you who suggested it.” Marcel contemplates the mysteries of Albertine’s life. Francoise announces Albertine’s arrival, making clear how much she dislikes her. “But she must have been in some place that she was having a good time because she never so much as said she was sorry she had kept Monsieur waiting, she answered me as saucy as you can please: ‘Better late than never!’ And Francoise added these words that pierced my heart: ‘When she said that she gave herself away. Perhaps she would really have liked to hide herself, but…’ Francoise mocks Albertine’s hat. Marcel’s cruel words to Francoise, and his later guilt. When Albertine arrives, she finds Marcel at his desk pretending to write a letter to Gilberte Swann. Kisses tasting like orangeade. Marcel gives Albertine Gilberte’s bookcover. We learn that the M. de Guermantes, decided to go to a retreat at a spa rather than go into mourning for his cousin, where, under the influence of an Italian princess and her two sisters-in-law, he became a fervent Dreyfusard. Marcel writes Gilberte.
And with this section, we conclude yet another of Proust’s great set pieces — the reception held by the Prince and Prince de Guermantes. This scene, not counting the preparations for the party that began in the previous volume, The Guermantes Way, goes on for more than 120 pages in the Moncrieff et al. translation, yet, to my mind at least, is not one page too long. As our perspectives kept shifting throughout the scene, so too, I suspect, do your feelings regarding the book’s main (and minor) characters.
( For example, I was both amused and impressed by the manner in which the woman who made eyes at him in The Guermantes Way “A tall woman whom I frequently encountered near the house was less discreet with me. For although I did not know her, she would turn around to look at me, would wait for me, unavailingly, in front of shop windows, smile at me as though she were going to kiss me, make gestures indicative of complete surrender. She resumed an icy coldness towards me if anyone appeared whom she knew,” reappeared as the late arriving, more than slightly disreputable Princess d’Orvilliers, who will, you can be sure appear yet again in a slightly different guise before we’re through.)
Please share with the group your take on this whole scene. How did Proust keep it so continuously interesting? (Or, if you feel differently, what didn’t work for you in the scene?) Were your feelings and thoughts about any of the characters different going into the scene than they were coming out? Please post your thoughts…
In this weekend’s section, I was particularly struck by Marcel’s musing on the mysteries of Albertine:
“I was beginning to understand that Albertine’s life was situated (not in a physical sense, of course) at so great a distance from mine that I should alway shave to make exhausting explorations in order to seize hold of it, and moreover was organised like a system of earthworks which, for greater security, were of the kind that at a later period we learned to call ‘camouflaged.’ Albertine, in fact, belonged, although at a slightly higher social level, to that type of person to whom the concierge promises your messenger that she will deliver your letter when she comes in — until the day when you realise that it precisely she, the person you have met in a public place and to whom you have ventured to write, who is the concierge, so she does indeed live — though in the lodge only — at the address she has given you (which moreover is a private brothel of which the concierge is the madame). Or else she gives as her address an apartment house, where she is known to accomplices who will not reveal her secret to you, from which your letters will be forwarded, but where she doesn’t live, where at the very most she has left some belongings. Lives entrenched behind five or six lives of defence, so that when you try to see this woman, or to find out about her, you invariably aim too far to the right, or to the left, or too far in front, or too far behind, and can remain in ignorance for months, even years. In the case of Albertine, I felt that I should never discover anything, that, out of the tangled mass of details of fact and falsehood, I should never unravel the truth: and that it would always be so, unless I were to shut her up in prison (but prisoners escape) until the end. That evening, this conviction gave me only a vague anxiety, in which however I could detect a shuddering anticipation of prolonged suffering to come.”
A crucial passage, to say the least.
Moncrieff: Page 190 “I ceased for some time to see Albertine…” through Page 203 “…of which she never guessed the cause.”
Sturrock: Page 140 “I did not see Albertine again for some time…” through Page 150 “…in a state of euphoria whose source she never divined.”