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.”
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.”