Moncrieff: 602-615; Sturrock: 431-439
by Dennis Abrams
M. de Charlus has “for the moment become for Mme Verdurin the faithfullest of the faithful, a second Princess Sherbatoff.” Mme Verdurin still does not understand Charlus’s position in society, does not quite believe Charlus when he says that the Duc de Guermantes is his brother “this was perhaps the untruthful boast of an adventurer,” and worries about whether Charlus should be invited to meet the Prince de Guermantes who, drawn by the Verdurins’ Dreyfusism, decides to visit La Raspliere. Charlus, sailors, and the Jockey Club. Marcel speaks to Mme de Villeparisis on the train in the presence of Princess Sherbatoff;and since Mme de Villeparisis refuses to acknowledge her presence, the Princess no longer speaks to Marcel. An eminent musician will, in the future, introduce Morel into Parisian musical society, earning the gratitude of Charlus, who does not realize that the musician, who understands their relationship, will do so “from moral indifference, a kindness and readiness to oblige characteristic of his profession, social affability, and snobbery.” Nobody repeats to Charlus the things that are said about him and Morel behind his back. Charlus does not realize “that in the case of the Verdurins, on whose affection and goodwill he had no reason to rely, the remarks which they made behind his back (and they did not, as we shall see, confine themselves to remarks) should have been so different from what he imagined them to be, that is to say no more than a reflexion of the remarks that he heard when he was present.” The ideal bower and the hostile bower. Charlus lives in a fool’s paradise. Charlus speaks of his admiration for Morel’s beauty “as though it had no connexion with a proclivity known as a vice, but as though he himself were in no way addicted to it.” Charlus’s admiration for Balzac, the Comedie humaine and in particular Les Illusions perdues, and his argument with Brichot about Balzac and Chateaubriand. “‘Chaubeaubriend is far more alive than you say, and Balzac is, after all, a great writer,’ replied M. de Charlus, still too much impregnated with Swann’s tastes not to be irritated by Brichot, ‘and Balzac was acquainted even with those passions which the rest of the world ignores, or studies only to castigate them.”
Much to look at in this section:
1. Is Mme Verdurin purposely prodding Charlus? “You must know far better than I do, M. de Charlus, how to get round sailors.” “Perhaps he’s one of those idiots from the Jockey Club. Oh! heavens. I’m running down the Jockey Club, and I seem to remember that you’re one of them.” “Look, here’s a book that has just come which I think you’ll find interesting. It’s by Roujon. The title is attractive: Among Men.”
2. I was struck by Marcel/the Narrator’s defense of gossip:
“For nobody was ever base enough to repeat to M. de Charlus the things that were said behind his back, and the jokes about Morel. And yet this simple situation is enough to show that even that thing which is universally decried, which no one would dream of defending — gossip — has itself, whether it is aimed at ourselves and thus becomes especially disagreeable to us, or whether it tells us something about a third person of which we were unaware, a certain psychological value. It prevents the mind from falling asleep over the factitious view which it has of what it imagines things to be and is actually no more than their outward appearance. It turns this appearance inside out with the magic dexterity of an idealist philosopher and rapidly presents to our gaze an unsuspected corner of the reverse side of the fabric.”
I think I see his point.
3. Proust goes on to discuss the difference between the comments and actions the Verdurins make behind Charlus’s back versus the way they speak to him in person, “the remarks that he heard when he was present.”
“These latter alone decorated with affectionate inscriptions the little ideal bower to which M. de Charlus retired at times to dream, when he introduced his imagination for a moment into the idea that the Verdurins had of him. Its atmosphere was so congenial, so cordial, the repose it offered so comforting, that when M. de Charlus, before going to sleep, had withdrawn to it for a momentary relaxation from his worries, he never emerged from it without a smile. But, for each of us, a bower of this sort is double: opposite the one which we imagine to be unique, there is the other one which is normally invisible to us, the real one, symmetrical with the one we know, but very different, whose decoration, in which we should recognize nothing of what we expected to see, would horrify us as though it were composed of the odious symbols of an unsuspected hostility. What a shock it would have been for M. de Charlus if he had found his way into one of these hostile bowers, thanks to some piece of scandal, as though by one of those service staircases where obscene graffiti are scribbled outside the back doors of flats by unpaid tradesmen or dismissed servants! But, just as we do not possess that sense of direction with which certain birds are endowed, so we lack the sense of our own visibility as we lack that of distances, imagining as quite close to us the interested attention of people who on the contrary never give us a thought, and not suspecting that we are at that same moment the sole preoccupation of others. Thus M. de Charlus lived in a fool’s paradise like the fish that thinks that the water in which it is swimming extends beyond the glass wall of its aquarium which mirrors it, while it does not see close beside it in the shadow the amused stroller who is watching its gyrations, or the all-powerful keeper who, at the unforeseen and fatal moment, postponed for the present in the case of the Baron (for whom the keeper, in Paris, will be Mme Verdurin), will extract it without compunction from the environment in which it was happily living to fling it into another.”
Sometimes I think I spend more time in the invisible “real” bower than the “little ideal bower.” And…is it possible that we’re going to feel sorry for Charlus? Indeed, now that we’ve gotten “to know” Charlus much better in this volume, what are your feelings about him? How would you describe him?
4. And this question brings to mind a quote from Harold Bloom from his book Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, which I’m certain I posted early in our journey through Proust, but seems to me always appropriate when talking about literature, reading, and Proust:
“I am naive enough to read incessantly because I cannot, on my own, get to know enough people profoundly enough.”
At this stage, approximately two thirds of the way through In Search of Lost Time, take a moment to think of the characters Proust has introduced us to, characters that we indeed know “profoundly.”
5. And finally, a thought for the weekend, spurred on by the discussion of Balzac. I have long thought that the title of the volume of the Comedie humaine Charlus especially praises, Illusions perdues is, in fact the ideal and near universal title for any work of literature. Seriously — can you think of a novel that cannot legitimately be titled “Lost Illusions?”
The Weekend’s Reading:
Moncrieff: Page 615 “Nevertheless, in spite of these ridiculous social affectations…” through Page 646 “…in short he did not ‘trust the people’ as I have always done.”
Sturrock: Page 439 “Despite these ridiculous society habits…” through Page 461 “…and ‘did not have confidence’ in the people as I myself always have.”
Enjoy. And enjoy your weekend.