Moncrieff: 32-43; Clark: 24-32
by Dennis Abrams
“The accessories of costume gave Albertine enormous pleasure.” Marcel’s desire to please Albertine with “some new trifle every day,” his secret visits to ask the Duchess “where, how, from what model the article had been created that had taken Albertine’s fancy…” Albertine’s snobbery and aversion for society people: “her republican contempt for a duchess gave way to a keen interest in a fashionable woman.” The Duchess, her grey crepe de Chine gown, her indoor Chinese gown with red and yellow flames. The garments made by Fortuny from old Venetian models: “Is it their historical character, or is it rather the fact that each of them is unique, that gives them so special a significance that the pose of the woman who is wearing one while she waits for you to appear or while she talks to you assumes an exceptional importance, as though the costume had been the fruit of a long deliberation and your conversation was somehow detached from everyday life like a scene in a novel?” “Mme de Guermantes seemed to me at this time more attractive than in the days when I was still in love with her.” Lowered expectations for Mme de Guermantes. “I listened to her conversation as to a folk song deliciously and purely French…” Her awareness of her “earthy and quasi-peasant quality.” Marcel’s pleasure “was in hearing her tell some anecdote which brought peasants into the picture with herself.” Her style of pronunciation “was a regular museum of French history displayed in conversation.” The Prince de Leon, his claim “to have the same shape of skull as the ancient Welsh,” and his style of dress “not at all in the style of these parts.” The Marquis du Lau, who would change into slippers before having tea with the King of England “to whom he did not regard himself as inferior, and with whom, as we see, he did not stand on ceremony.” The pronunciation and vocabulary of Mme de Guermantes shows the conversativism of the nobility. The gown that Mme de Guermantes wore to dinner with Mme de Saint-Euverte before the party at the Princesse de Guermantes, all red with red shoes, reminded Marcel “of a sort of great blood-red blossom, a glittering ruby…” Mme de Guermantes does not remember Mme de Chaussepierre attending the party. M. de Chaussepierre defeats M. de Guermantes for the presidency of the Jockey Club, brought about in part from the fallout of the Dreyfus Case.
I enjoyed this section a lot. My apologies for my post of yesterday — sometimes I have difficulties when the Narrator indulges in a little too much naval gazing…
I loved witnessing once again the linkage between Francoise and Mme de Guermantes as representatives of an older France:
“It is not in the bloodless pastiches of the writers of today…that we recapture the old speech and true pronunciation of words, but in conversing with a Mme de Guermantes or a Francoise. I had learned from the latter, when I was five years old, that one did not say ‘the Tarn’ but ‘the Tar”; not ‘Bearn’ but ‘Bear.’ The effect of which was that at twenty, when I began to go into society, I had no need to be taught there that one ought not to say, like Mme Bontemps, ‘Madame de Bearn.'”
And the fact that now that he’s no longer “in love” (in what sense WAS he in love?) with Mme de Guermantes, Marcel now can relax and enjoy himself with her.
“What is extraordinary is that of the evening in question, which after all was not so very remote, Mme de Guermantes remembered nothing but what she had been wearing, and had forgotten a certain incident which nevertheless, as we shall see presently, ought to have mattered to her greatly. It seems that among men and women of action (and society people are men and women of action on a minute, microscopic scale, but action none the less), the mind, overtaxed by a need to attend to what is going to happen in a hour’s time, commits very little to memory.”
And this brief description of Mme de Chaussepierre, which sums her up nicely:
“…the couple lived in a modest apartment, the wife went about dressed in black wool.”
“Of course, being president of the Jockey means little or nothing to princes of the highest rank such as the Guermantes. But not to be president when its your turn, to be passed over in favour of a Chaussepierre, whose wife’s greeting Oriane not only refused to acknowledge two years later but had gone so far as to show offence at being greeted by such an obscure scarecrow, this the Duke did find hard to swallow.”
So, looking back, for those of you who might not remember, Mme de Guermantes’ original meeting with Mme de Chaussepierre (which ties in nicely with Clint’s post earlier this week about characters/subsidiary clauses returning…)
“‘And who in the world is that?’ Mme de Guermantes exclaimed, on seeing a little lady with a slightly lost air, in a black dress so simple that you would have taken for apauper, make her a deep bow, as did also her husband. She did not recognise the lady and, in her insolent way, drew herself up as though offended and stared at her without responding: ‘Who is that person, Basin?’ she said with an air of astonishment, while M. de Guermantes, to atone for Oriane’s impoliteness, bowed to the lady and shook hands with her husband. ‘Why, it’s Mme de Chaussepierre, you were most impolite.’ ‘I’ve never heard of Chaussepierre.’ ‘Old mother Chanlivault’s nephew.’ ‘I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about. Who is the woman, and why does she bow to me?’ But you know perfectly well; she’s Mme de Charleval’s daughter. Henriette Montmorency.’ ‘Oh, but I knew her mother quite well. She was charming, extremely intelligent. What made her go and marry all these people I’ve never heard of? You say she calls herself Mme de Chaussepierre?’ she asked, spelling out the name with a questioning look, as though she were afraid of getting it wrong. The Duke looked at her sternly. ‘It’s not so ridiculous as you appear to think, to be called ‘Chaussepierre! Old Chaussepierre was the brother of the aforesaid Chanlivault, of Mme de Senecour and of the Vicomtesse du Merlerault. They’re excellent people…’
Finally, a bit more from Clark’s introduction to The Prisoner:
“But against the narrator’s image of a vicious Albertine, Proust allows the reader to set his or her ownimage, formed from Albertine’s kindly actions (beginning with her agreement, at the end of Sodom and Gomorrah, to leave Balbec and come to Paris to comfort the narrator), and above all her speech. Her rather slangy language with its simple sentence constructions (all the more striking by contract with the narrator’s highly complex written style) establishes her as a modern girl, emancipated for the period, not very reflective, affectionate, fond of the narrator but (it seems) generally unable to follow the tortuous pathways of his jealous thinking. A healthy, outdoor girl — golfer, cyclist — who says what she thinks; on the face of it the most unsuitable of matches fore an aesthete — indoor, sedentary, physically frail — like the narrator. Can a girl like this really be the sexually rapacious incorrigible liar that the narrator imagines?
It is true that at the time of the action (not precisely specified but before 1914) middle- and upper-class young girls were strictly chaperoned and never allowed to be alone with young men; in such circumstances sexual contacts between girls might have been commoner than they would be today. Very late in the story, the narrator admits the possibility that the young Albertine might have had sexual contact with other girls while seeing in this only ‘games with a friend,’ and believing that the moral crime of ‘being a lesbian’ was something different. As well as a tragedy of possessive love, The Prisoner is also a dreadful comedy of misunderstanding.
Yet it is not the straightforward kind of ironic fiction (like, say, the first part of John Fowles’s The Collector) in which the reader’s sympathy goes to the narrator’s victim rather than to the narrator himself. For a start the narrator — what Proust called ‘le monseiur qui dis je’ — is at least double: he is the (presumably) middle-aged, older-and-wiser character who is telling the story in the past tense and who shares reflections with the reader about love, jealousy, the characteristic behaviour of men and women and so forth, and also the very young man living through the Albertine: his speech is presumably meant to reproduce that of the young man. The way the story is told suggests that a reader’s sympathies are expected to lie largely with the male character, even though, in his youthful incarnation, he is sometimes presented in a mildly comic light. In the many generalizations about how ‘we’ feel in our dealings with ‘them’, ‘we’ are always men and ‘they’ women. Yet Proust had close women friends, and must have hoped for many female readers for his book: how are women to take these generalizations, and the narrator’s behaviour?”
More to come…
The Weekend’s Reading:
Moncrieff: “One curious thing was that nobody had ever heard…” through “Andree was perhaps in league with Albertine.” Pages 43-72; Kindle locations 583-90 through 967-74
Clark: “It was characteristic that the Duc had never been heard…” through “Anyway, could I be certain that my first idea (that Andree was not telling me the whole truth) was not the right one? Pages 32-51; Kindle locations 966-71 through 1310-17
Enjoy. And enjoy your weekend.