Moncrieff: 450-462; Sturrock: 324-332
by Dennis Abrams
The starchy look of the Baron de Charlus. Ski informs Cottard (under his breath of course) of Charlus’ vice, to which he responds “Really! I didn’t know that. So he’s a gentleman who knows how to cope with life. He’s one of the happy band, is he? And yet he hasn’t got rings of fat round his eyes I shall have to watch out for my feet under the table or he might take a fancy to me.” The Verdurins turn on Saniette, mocking his stammer, the way he called the play Chercheuse d’Espirit by Favart simply Chercheuse, even though “M. Verdurin nevertheless would have decided immediately that you were not literary, not artistic, were not ‘one of us,’ if he had heard you quote the full title of certain works. For instance, one ws expected to say the Malade, the Bourgeois, and anyone who added imaginaire or genitlhomme would have shown that he did not ‘belong…” Mme de Verdurin appears shocked to learn that Charlus knows the Comtesse Mole and that she did not know that he knew the Comtesse, despite the fact that “she was meeting M. de Charlus for the first time, and his relations with Mme Mole were far from being the only thing she did not know about him, for in fact she knew nothing.” Mme Verdurin makes fun of Saniette’s penury. Marcel, “to put an end to Saniette’s torture, which hurt me more than it hurt him…asked Brichot if he knew what the word Balbec meant,'” leading to more Brichot etymologies, and a mention of the river that “seems to be reflecting” the spires of the church, which leads to a discussion of Elstir. Mme Verdurin disparages Elstir. “Elstir! You know Tiche? But do you know that we used to be the closest friends. Thank heaven, I never see him now…Now, there’s a man of whom you can say that it did him no good to leave our little nucleus…” Cottard’s portrait with purple hair. Mme Verdurin’s contempt for Mme Cottard. Saniette comes to Elstier’s defense: “He has revived the grace of the eighteenth century but in a modern form…but I prefer Helleu.” Mme Verdurin on Elstir: “I’m sorry about it…because he was really gifted, he has wasted a very remarkable painterly talent. Ah, of only he’d stayed with us! Why, he would have become the greatest landscape painter of our day. And it was a woman who dragged him down so low!” Mme Verdurin insists she turned Elstir out after he married a trollop, but the truth is that after Mme Verdurin tried to turn Elstir away from the woman he loved, he broke from the salon. Mme Verdurin praises Ski over Elstir. “…this one is far more gifted. Elstir is simply hard work, the man who can’t tear himself away from his painting when he feels like it. He’s the good pupil, the exam fiend. Ski, now, only follows his own fancy. You’ll see him light a cigarette in the middle of dinner.” Elstir’s alleged stupidity. M. Verdurin speaks to Charlus of rank, “And he was anxious to make clear to M. de Charlus that intellectually he esteemed him too highly to suppose that he could pay any attention to these trivialities.”
1. All the great art lost, the artists destroyed when they dared to leave the Verdurins’ salon…Elstir…Dechambre…if only they’d stayed under Mme Verdurin’s loving all-powerful influence…
2. Loved this:
“For Mme Verdurin was convinced that men who are truly remarkable are capable of all sorts of follies. A false idea in which there is nevertheless a grain of truth. Certainly, people’s ‘follies’ are insupportable. But a want of balance which we discover only in course of time is the consequence of the entering into a human brain of refinements for which it is not normally adapted. So that the oddities off charming people exasperate us, but there are few if any charming people who are not, at the same time, odd.”
3. And this description of the “faithful” turning on Saniette, following the lead of M and Mme Verdurin:
“Almost without exception, the faithful burst out laughing, looking like a group of cannibals in whom the sight of a wounded white man has aroused the thirst for blood. For the instinct of imitation and absence of courage govern society and the mob alike.”
And finally, more from George Painter on the women who helped to inspire Mme Verdurin and her salon:
“The last of Proust’s chief hostesses at this time was Mme Madeleine Lemaire. She conducted the most brilliant and crowded of the bourgeois salons, the only one where it was possible to meet in large numbers all but the most exclusive of the nobility. She began with a few fellow-artists, Puvis de Chavannes, Bonnat, Detaille, Georges Clairin, and the talented genre painter Jean Beraud, whose pictures of social life in clubs, soirees, the Opera and the Bois are nowadays appreciated anew after fifty years of oblivion, and contributed to the paintings by Elstir on similar themes. But soon the Faubourg Saint-Germain arrived, because it was so delightful to meet artists, and then still more artists, because it was so delightful to meet the Faubourg. On Tuesdays from April to June her exiguous house at 31 Rue de Monceau was crowded to suffocation. The neighbouring streets were obstructed with waiting carriages, and ever more drew up, emitting duchesses and countesses with their consorts, the La Rouche-Foucaulds, Uzes’s, Luynes’s, Haussonvilles, Chevignes, Greffuhles. Thanks to some long-forgotten excuse for violating the building laws of Paris, Mme Lemaire’s little house encroached upon the pavement far beyond its larger neighbours; but the passer-by, irritated here by being pushed into the gutter, would be consoled by the rural scent of the lilacs in her garden. Her receptions were held in a glass-roofed studio-annexe, which despite its huge size rapidly became overcrowded. A late-coming duchess might not only fail to find a seat, amid her hostess’s cries of ‘A chair for Mme la Duchesse!’ but even be forced out into the garden. There, pale in the light of lamps inside and streetlamps outside, hung the clusters of flowering lilac; and over the wall and across the street the dim masses of trees in Prince Joachim Murat’s garden made Mme Lemaire’s yard seem like a glade in a forest.
She ws a tall, energetic woman, with arched eyebrows, hair that was not all her own, a great deal of rouge, a spangled evening-gown that seemed to have been thrown on in a hurry, and the remains of pleasant good looks — though later she is said to have become hideous. All day she had indefatigably painted her flower-pieces, which were reputed to fetch 500 francs apiece, and enormous roses still stood in a corner of the studio posing in their glasses of water. ‘No one, except God, has created more roses,’ the younger Dumas had said (her daughter Suzette remarked long afterwards that Dumas was the only one of her mother’s lovers she felt quite certain about, ‘because she always called him “Monsieur'”); and Montesquiou nicknamed her ‘the Empress of roses’.
As a painter of flowers Madeleine Lemaire helped to suggest Mme de Villeparisis; but the chief original of Mme de Villeparisis, as will be seen later, only made artificial flowers. Mme Lemaire contributed more to Mme Verdurin. She was known as ‘la Patronne‘, ‘the Mistress’, and she used to call the painter Clairin by the nickname given by Mme Verdurin to Brichot, ‘Chochotte.’ Like Mmes Arman and Aubernon, Mme Lemaire spoke incesantly of her dread of bores, ‘les ennuyeux‘; but for her this word had the special sense given to it by Mme Verdurin, of people who felt too distinguished to come to her evenings. But like Mme Verdurin, though far more rapidly, she experienced a rise in social standing which made the numerous race of bores dwindle to the point of extinction. She, too, was not averse to executions of unsatisfactory guests, which would be heralded in the Verdurin manner by ominous pronouncements of ‘The fact is, that man has lot his talent’, or ‘that woman is a goose’, or ‘I won’t allow that sort of behaviour in my house.’ She frequently interfered in the private lives of her friends, though not as a rule to their detriment. She owned a magnificent country-house called Reveillon in Seine-et-Marne, where we shall see Proust a few years later, and her system of interior decoration there is said to have resembled Mme Verdurin’s at La Raspeliere. Alone of the hostesses we have so far met, she provided music as an essential part of her evenings, and saw to it that many a great artist was first launched in paris by performing to the nobility in her house. She insisted on absolute silence during a recital, and would shout across the studio to suppress any offender; but as no memorialist has thought her own behaviour under the influence of music worthy of special attention, it is perhaps unlikely that she gave way to the pantomime of intense emotion attributed to Mme Verdurin. Indeed, if any incident in A la Recherche resembles a musical evening at Madeleine Lemaire’s, it is rather the soiree at Mme de Saint-Euverte’s in Du Cote de chez Swann than any Wednesday of Mme Verdurin’s. One of her guests, Frederic de Madrazo, known as ‘Coco’ to his friends, was an original of the sculptor Ski, the dabbler in all the arts at Mme Verdurin’s. Coco composed a little and sang a little, both very badly, and painted, rather better, a great deal: ‘This dear young man is so artissstic,’ Mme Lemaire would coo. He was a lifelong friend of Proust and of many of friends of Proust: so the unsympathetic character of Ski seems to have had a more sympathetic original.”
The Weekend’s Reading: (And since it’s a holiday weekend, I won’t be posting again until Monday evening.)
Moncrieff: Page 462 “Forgive my mentioning these trifles…” through Page 497 “What, you’ve gained a half a stone in two months? I say, that’s really fine!”
Sturrock: Page 331 “Forgive me for mentioning these trifles…” through Page 355 “What, you’ve put back three kilos in two months? You know, that’s fine!”
Enjoy. And enjoy your weekend.