Moncrieff: 463-497; Sturrock: 331-355
by Dennis Abrams
Charlus misunderstands the comment by M Verdurin that “from the first words we exchanged I realised that you were one of us!” M. de Verdurin explains the dinner seating, that while M. de Cambremer is a marquise, Charlus is only a baron; leading Charlus to haughtily reply “pardon me…I am also Duke of Brabant, Squire of Montargia, Prince of Oleron, of Carency, of Viareggio and of the Dunes,” protesting all the while that it’s not of the slightest importance, while getting in a dig “I could see at a glance that you were out of your depth.” Mme Verdurin shows Marcel Elstir’s roses, a present “which epitomised not merely his great talent but their long friendship which survived only in these mementos that he had bequeathed to her…” “From the day he left the little nucleus, he was finished. It seems my dinners made him waste his time, that I hindered the development of his genius…As if the society of a woman like myself could fail to be beneficial to an artist!” Marcel praises “a piece of green lustre plugging a broken pane,” which leads the Cambremers to disparage what the Verdurins have done to the place. “Mme Cambremer, whose entirely spurious culture was confined exclusively to the idealist philosophy, Impressionist painting, and Debussy’s music.” A letter from the elder Mme de Cambremer to Marcel. Her handwriting reveals all. The rule of the three adjectives: “One laudatory adjective was not enough for her, she followed it (after a little dash) with a second, then (after another dash) with a third…But…the sequence of the three epithets assumed in Mme de Camberemer’s letters the aspect not of a progression but of a diminuendo.” The Baron de Charlus informs M. de Cambremer that he can, by rights, be referred to as “Monseigneur.” Marcel tells Mme de Verdurin that he finds Brichot most interesting, to which she responds, “He has a cultured mind and is an excellent man…Of course, what he lacks is originality and taste, and he has a fearsome memory…Brichot knows everything, and hurls chunks of dictionary at our heads during dinner.” Marcel, because he values the strip of green lustre and Brichot, feels that he seems stupid in the eyes of Mme Verdurin. Marcel realises that he was not one of the little clan. Brichot, who heard the Verudrins’ comments and knows how little he can expect of human affection, realizes that he is no longer valued by the clan. Mme Verdurin tries to make up with Brichot. Mme Verdurin defends her treatment of Saniette, “When you rely on other people you should try not to be such an idiot.” Charlus continues to inform M. de Cambremer of his illustrious background, largely for the benefit of the flabbergasted Morel. Brichot, Maecenas, Charlus, and a compliment for Mme Verdurin. A musical interlude as Morel, who’d rather be playing cards, plays the closing passage of Faure’s sonata for piano and violin, accompanied, in the purest style, by M. de Charlus. The similarities between the Duc de Guermantes and M. de Charlus. Marcel requests some Franck, much to the displeasure of Mme de Cambremer, who requests Debussy’s Fetes, which Morel begins to play before transitioning into a March by Meyerbeer, which Mme de Cambremer continues to acclaim as “Sublime!” before Morel reveals the truth, creating “a certain chill.” Ski continues to insist that Charlus is not a prince, but is instead from a family of architects. Brichot and the all-powerful god, “Dun Gifa Hoot.” The laughter of Mme Verdurin. Brichot blasphemes “against the Gods of Youth,” disparaging ‘these intellectuals worshipping art with a capital A, who, when they can no longer intoxicate themselves upon Zola, inject themselves with Verlaine. Having become etheromaniacs out of Baudelerian devotion, they would no longer be capable of the virile effort which the country may one day or another demand of them, anaesthetised as they are by the great literary neurosis in the heated enervating atmosphere, heavy with unwholesome vapours, of a symbolism of the opium den.” Charlus informs Mme Verdurin that he intends to stay at Balbec until the end of September, so that he can visit Mt. Saint-Michel for the feat day of his patron saint, the Archangel Michael. Mme Verdurin, despite her discomfort with all things pertaining to the Church, suggests that they all go in a party. Whist. M. Verdurin informs M. de Cambremer that the unknown man playing cards is Dr. Cottard. “In a deep armchair in the middle of the room, Mme Cottard, yielding to the effect, which she always found irresistible, of a good dinner, had succumbed after vain efforts to the vest if gentle slumbers that were overpowering her.” Dreams of Mme Swann. Sleeping medications. The puns of Dr. Cottard. Mme Verdurin invites Charlus and Morel to stay the night, referring to Morel as “my young Mozart.”
A fairly straight-forward section, as Proust uses dialogue to reveal character.
I did enjoy this description of Charlus’ laugh:
“And he gave a little laugh that was all his own — a laugh that came down to him probably from some Bavarian or Lorraine grandmother, who herself had inherited it, in identical form, from an ancestress, so that it had tinkled now, unchanged, for a good many centuries in little old-fashioned European courts, and one could appreciate its precious quality, like that of certain old musical instruments that have become very rare.”
And this description of Brichot just made me sad:
“He saw how little was to be expected of human affection, and had resigned himself to the fact. Undoubtedly the discovery pained him. It may happen that even the men who on one evening only, in a circle where he is usually greeted with pleasure, realises that the others have found him too frivolous or too pedantic or too clumsy or too cavalier, or whatever it may be, returns home miserable.”
In the comments section over the weekend, there has been much discussion of Proust’s use of “real-life” in In Search of Lost Time, and whether it can truly be called a work of imagination. For those of you who may not get the opportunity to read all the comments (perfectly understandable of course), this was my response:
While Proust, like most other novelists used elements of his life in his fiction (and perhaps more than others), it what he does with the characters that he created out of bits and pieces taken from “real-life,” and the world he builds around them (along with all the other elements found in the work), that makes it a supreme work of imagination, of fiction, of art. It is this that makes it last, unlike so many autobiographies of the period (or of any other period for that matter) that sit dusty and forgotten on library shelves.
A quote from Richard Bates:
“For although Proust clearly built his fiction out of what he had known in his own life, it is manifest that A la recherche du temps perdu is one of those fictions which, once set it motion, behaves according to its own internal rules, and not those of the world outside it.”
Bates goes on to give an example from early on in Swann’s Way, when the young Narrator is day-dreaming about the train he hopes one day to take to Balbec. The time given for the train’s departure is very specific, “but in doing so it ‘opens out’ time as it advances in space, permitting desires and fantasies to be gratified, in the Narrator’s case, visiting places which in his mind have acquired mythical status. Not just Balbec, whose fantastical ‘Persian’ church is the avidly wished-for goal, but the real towns through which the train progresses, each of them possessing poetic dimensions invented by the Narrator’s imagination alone…” Bates goes on to talk about the names of the towns on the itinerary, and adds “but whatever the order, a cursory glance at a map of Normandy and Brittany would tell one that not even the bravest of trains could hope to take in all of those places, irrespective of the order. Of course, mention of Balbec here provides the key: this is a voyage, which, although seemingly traversing areas of reality, is essentially a journey into realms of imagination. This is confusion to a purpose, and that purpose is the ongoing construction of a wholly self-defining fictional world, in which the imaginary life of an individual (the Narrator) is mapped onto verifiable and objective realities.”
This strikes me as exactly right.
Tuesday’s Reading: (Sorry if it’s a little long, but it gets us to a good clean break.)
Moncrieff: Page 497 “Refreshments were set out on a table.” through Page 514 “…for a martyr’s crown.”
Sturrock: Page 355 “Refreshments were being served from a table.” through Page 368 “…for a martyr’s crown.”