Archive for August, 2010

Moncrieff:  378-391; Clark:  261-271

by Dennis Abrams

Marcel’s lack of interest in Mme Verdurin’s tableware.  Brichot, the Verdurin’s furnishings, and nostalgia for Rue Montalivet.   Brichot’s appreciation for the beauty of the furnishings, which it could not have for newcomers, due to the memories it brought back, “all this sent echoing round him so many scattered chords, as it were, awakening in his heart cherished resemblances, confused reminiscences which…called to life, a form which as it were the idealisation, immanent in each of their successive homes, of the Verdurin drawing-room.  Brichot suggests that he and Marcel “get the Baron on to his favourite topic.  He’s prodigious.” Marcel’s desire not to leave Albertine alone for too long.  Charlus looks back at the performance, praising Morel, wanting to congratulate him, “this is the moment made for tender words and embraces…” the moment the lock of Morel’s hair came loose.”  The Baron offers to get Marcel his coat “Since you haven’t been well, you must take care of yourself.  Let me go and fetch your coat.  No, don’t go for it yourself, you’ll lose your way and catch cold,” but Brichot, anxious not to let “the prisoner,” interrupt the Mistress’s plan, goes instead.   Ski at the piano, Bizet’s music. M. de Charlus announces his fondness for Marcel “everyone’s fond of you…” and his surprising fondness for Brichot, “He is a man of great merit, immensely learned, and his learning hasn’t shrivelled him up, hasn’t turned him into a pedantic bookworm like so many others who smell of ink.”  Charlus at the Sorbonne attending Brichot’s lectures.  Charlus is influenced by Brichot’s kindness to Morel, and because “he would cull from the Greek philosophers, the Latin poets, the oriental storytellers, appropriate texts which decorated the Baron’s propensity with a strange and charming florilegium.”   Marcel’s pity for Charlus, now that he knows Mme Verdurin’s plan, “the sufferings that were in store for M. de Charlus was intolerable to me.  I would have liked to warn him, but did not know how to do so.”   Marcel’s lack of self-regard, “I derived from my grandmother such a want of self-importance as could easily make me seem lacking in dignity.”  Pride and duels.  Marcel asks Charlus if he will warn him if Mlle Vinteuil should return to Paris; Charlus, reminding Marcel of his former interest in him, agrees, “First of all because I owe you a great deal of gratitude. By not accepting what I proposed to you long ago, you rendered me, to your own loss, an immense service; you left me my liberty…For always man proposes and God disposes.  If, that day when we came away together from Mme de Villeparisis’s, you had accepted, perhaps — who knows? — many things that have since happened would never have occured.” Mme de Villeparisis’s death, and her true place in society, as “the niece of the famous Duchesse de –, the most celebrated member of the higher aristocracy during the July Monarchy…”  Brichot brings back the Baron’s coat instead of Marcel’s; Charlus, “arranging his overcoat round me, he smoothed it over my shoulders, fastened it round my throat, and brushed my chin with his hand apologetically.”


And all the while M. and Mme Verdurin are getting ready to make their revenge against M. de Charlus. Proust’s depiction of Charlus is among his finest, and the scene with Brichot and Marcel, I think, shows him from all sides — his arrogance, his pleasure in his own words, his potential for kindness, his love the arts and of Morel…

1. “This is the pleasant moment at a party, the moment when all the guests have gone, the hour of Dona Sol; let us hope that it will end less tragically.  Unfortunately you’re in a hurry, in a hurry, no doubt, to go and do things which you would much better leave undone.  People are always in a hurry, and leave at the moment when they ought to be arriving.  We’re like Couture’s philosophers, this is time we go over the events of the evening, to carry out what is called in military parlance a review of operations.  We might ask Mme Verdurin to send us in a little supper to which we should not care to invite her, and we might request Charlie — still Hernani — to play for us alone the sublime adagio.  Isn’t it simply beautiful, that adagio?  But where is the young violinist, I should like to congratulate him; this is the moment for tender words and embraces.  Do admit, Brichot, that they played like gods, Morel especially.  Did you notice the moment when that lock of hair came loose?  Ah, my dear fellow, then you saw nothing at all.  There was an F sharp which was enough to make Enseco, Capet and Thibaud die of jealousy.  Calm though I am, I don’t mind telling you that at the sound of it I had such a lump in the throat I could scarcely control my tears…You know, that lock was a revelatory sign even for the most obtuse.  The Princess of Taormina, deaf until then, for there are none so deaf as those that have ears and hear not, the Princess of Taormina, confronted by the message of the miraculous forelock, suddenly realised that it was music they were playing and not poker.  Oh, that was indeed a solemn moment.”

Could a paragraph of his speech be confused with that of anybody else?

2.  Mme de Villeparisis dead?

3.  Charlus’s gratitude (if that’s the word) that Marcel did not accept his proposal, which left him at “liberty” as it were, to meet and fall for Morel.

4.  And yet another prisoner in this book filled with prisoners — Charlus being held “prisoner” by Brichot and Marcel as his fate is being determined by the Verdurins.

Tuesday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  “I wanted to leave, but M. de Charlus…”  through “M. de Charlus drew himself up with a haughty air.”  Pages 393-404; Kindle locations 5110-18/5251-59

Clark:  “I wanted to leave but, M. de Charlus…” through “M. de Charlus drew himself up haughtily.”  Pages 271-278; Kindle locations 5140-46/5265-71



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Moncrieff:  348-378; Clark:  240-261

by Dennis Abrams

Mlle Vinteuil’s friend had “acquired from his daughter the veneration that the latter felt for her father, ” and “tormented by the thought that she might have hastened Vinteuil’s death, had for years unraveled the scribblings he had left behind, transcribing his compositions, and achieving “the consolation of ensuring an immortal and compensatory glory for the composer over whose last years she had cast such a shadow.”  The carnal relations between Mlle Vinteuil and her friend had “gradually given way to the flame of a pure and lofty friendship.” Mlle Vinteuil did not act out of sadism against her father’s photograph, but “merely morbidity, silliness, and not the true and joyous wickedness she would have liked to feel.”    Marcel’s mixed feelings towards Mlle Vinteuil’s friend. The union between “genius (talent too and even virtue) and the sheath of vices” apparent in the crowd at the Verdurin’s:  Morel and Charlus; Mlle Vinteuil and her friend.   M. de Charlus, repeating his earlier error, does not ask his friends to shake hands or show their gratitude to the Verdurins as they file past him.  M. de Charlus puts his “wit” on loud display:  an invitation from Mme de Montmorency to think of her on Friday at half past nine; an invitation to a dancing tea; Mme Verdurin’s iced coffee cups.  Mixed signals as Mme de Mortemart tries to get Charlus to agree to allow Morel to perform at her house without letting Mme de Valcourt, who she doesn’t want to have to invite, hear about it.  Who should she invite?  Not the Prince de Guermantes.  M d’Argencourt and his new politeness towards Charlus due to his new mistresses and his desire to surround her “with innocuous men, whom he thus cast in the role of guardians of his seraglio.”  The refusal of the Baron’s guests to even acknowledge Mme Verdurin, even pretending “not to recognize her and deliberately [saying] good-night to Mme Cottard…”   Some of the guests invite Morel to come to their homes and play the Vinteuil septet, “but it never occurred to any of them to invite Mme Verdurin.  Her blind fury, which is not assuaged when Charlus goes overboard describing the event and its guest the Queen of Naples, saying “It’s a historic event…It may well be that the history books will record as climactic dates the day of the fall of Gaeta and that of the Verdurin reception.”  The Queen of Naples’s fan.   Her poverty.  Charlus praises Mme Verdurin’s contribution to the evening.  “…you yourself have played your part on this occasion.  Your name will not go unrecorded.  History has preserved that of the page who armed Joan of Arc when she set out for battle.  In sum, you served as a connecting link, you made possible the fusion between Vinteuil’s music and its inspired interpreter…”  Charlus praises his/Mme Verdurin’s decision not to invite the Countess Mole.    “The Baron’s volubility was in itself an irritation to Mme Verdurin, who did not like people to form separate conversation groups within the little clan.”  Her sole consolation for vexations:  “destroy the happiness of others.”  Not able to stand the thought of Morel going out into society without her approval, “There was only one remedy, to make Morel choose between the Baron and herself,” using “reports she had commissioned and lies which she herself concocted,” she would make him choose herself in preference to the Baron.  Charlus and General Deltour.  Mme Verdurin orders Brichot to distract Charlus, so that M. Verdurin could talk to Morel.  ‘He’s unspeakable…Suggest to him that he should come and smoke a cigarette with you, so that my husband can get hold of his Dulcinea without his noticing and warn him of the abyss at his feet.”  Mme Verdurin tells Brichot that she doesn’t feel safe with Charlus in her home, that “he’s been involved in some nasty business and the police have their eye on him…Apparently he’s been in prison…In any case I know from a person who lives in his street that you can’t imagine the ruffians he brings to his house.”  After much pedantic equivocating, Brichot agrees to take Charlus outside to have a cigarette, dragging Marcel, protesting, along with him.


And so the stage is set.  Mme Verdurin has been pushed to the breaking point by Charlus, well, by Charlus being Charlus, and he has no idea of what is to befall him.  And again, note Proust’s skill at slowing down narrative time will still keeping the narrative moving…an evening of currents and undercurrents, of things said and not said, of understandings and complete misunderstandings…

1.  Once again a new perspective on a character when Mlle Vinteuil’s friend, who until now had been one of the more purely “villainous” characters in the book, is now a woman redeemed, whose labors had “enabled us…to know…the whole of Vinteuil’s work.”

2.  I loved this passage about the “little Peruvian,” who misinterpreted Mme de Mortemart’s secretive glance towards Mme de Valcourt, as being directed towards himself:

“This glance was indeed so potent that after it had struck Mme de Valcourt, the obvious secrecy and intention to conceal that it betrayed rebounded upon a young Peruvian whom Mme de Mortemart intended, on the contrary, to invite.  But being of a suspicious nature, seeing all too plainly the mystery that was being made without realising that it was not intended to mystify him, he at once conceived a violent hatred for Mme de Mortemart and vowed to play all sorts of disagreeable hoaxes on her, such as ordering fifty iced coffees to be sent to her house on a day when she was not entertaining, or, on a day when she was, inserting a notice in the papers to the effect that the party was postponed, and publishing mendacious accounts of subsequent parties in which would appear the notorious names of all the people whom for various reasons a hostess does not invite or even allow to be introduced to her.”

That made me laugh.

3.  I loved this description of the waves of genius and vice, talent and virtue that occurred at the Verdurin’s that went into the performance for the unknowing audience of Vinteuil’s septet:

“…the proximate, immediate cause of their presence lay in the relations that existed between M. de Charlus and Morel, relations which made the Baron anxious to give as wide a celebrity as possible to the artistic triumphs of his young idol, and to obtain for him the cross of the Legion of Honour; the remoter cause which had made this assembly possible was that a girl who enjoyed a relationship Mlle Vinteuil analogous to that of Charlie and the Baron had brought to light a whole series of works of genius which had been such a revelation that before long a subscription was to be opened under the patronage of the Minister of Education, with the object of erecting a statue of Vinteuil. Moreover, these works had been assisted, no less than by Mlle Vinteuil’s relations with her friend, by the Baron’s relations with Charlie, a sort of short cut, as it were, thanks to which the world was enable to catch up with these works without the detour, if not of an incomprehension which would long persist, at least of a complete ignorance which might have lasted for years…In the case of this gather, the impure elements that came together therein struck me from another aspect; true, I was a well as able as anyone to dissociate them, having learned to know them separately; but those which concerned Mlle Vinteuil and her friend, speaking to me of Combray, spoke to me also of Albertine, that is to say of Balbec, since it was because I had long ago seen Mlle Vinteuil at Montjouvain and had learned of her friend’s intimacy with Albertine that I was presently, when I returned home, to find, instead of solitude, Albertine awaiting me; and those which concerned Morel and M. de Charlus, speaking to me of Balbec, where I had seen, on the platform at Doncieres, their intimacy begin, spoke to me of Combray and of its two ‘ways,’ for M. de Charlus was one of those Guermantes, Counts of Combray, inhabiting Combray without having any dwelling there, suspended in mid-air, like Gilbert the Bad in his window, while Morel was the son of that old valet who had introduced me to the lady in pink and enabled me, years after, to identify her as Mme Swann.


Monday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  “I did not venture to tell him…” through “…I was born to be a nanny.”  Pages 378-391; Kindle edition 4912-19/5110-18

Clark: “I dared not tell him that what would have really interested me…” through “…I should have been a children’s nurse.”  Pages 261-271; Kindle edition 4951-58/5132-40


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Moncrieff:  335-348; Clark:  231-240

by Dennis Abrams

Vinteuil’s Septet.  Mme Verdurin’s face is buried in her hands.  The music brings to mind thoughts of Marcel’s love for Albertine.  “Of every person we know we possess a double…” Memories of the wound suffered at Balbec, “it was deep in my heart, and very difficult to extricate, that Albertine’s double was lodged.  What I saw of her hurt me…”  Had his daughter’s sleep inspired the music? “Asleep or awake, I should find her again this evening.  Albertine, my little child, when I chose to return home.” Marcel’s thoughts turn to the musician:  “It was as though, reincarnate, the composer lived for all time in his music; one could feel the joy with which he chose the colour of some timbre, harmonising it with the others.”  The mystery of the music; its sonorities.  “If life was indeed but a prolongation of life,was it worth while to sacrifice anything to it?  Was it not as unreal as life itself?  The more I listened to this septet, the less I could believe this to be so.”  “The impression conveyed by these Vinteuil phrases was different from any other, as though, in spite of the conclusions which seem to emerge from science, the individual did exist.”  “…Vinteuil, striving to do something new, interrogated himself, with all the power of his creative energy, reached down to his essential self at those depths where, whatever the question asked, it is in the same accent, that is to say its own, that it replies.”   The individual voice of the artist “is a prove of the irreducibly individual existence of the soul.”  “Each artist seems thus to be the native of an unknown country, which he himself has forgotten, and which is different from that whence another great artist, setting sail for the earth, will eventually emerge.”  The pleasing harshness of the music.  “One simply sensed that it was a question of the transposition of profundity into terms of sound.”  Unconscious memories of “this lost fatherland.”  Everything that we are forced to keep to ourselves, “which cannot be transmitted in talk…are brought out by art, the art of a Vinteuil like that of an Elstir, which exteriorises in the colours of the spectrum the intimate composition of those worlds which we call individuals and which, but for art, we should never know?”  The only voyage is “to see the universe through the eyes of another…”  The andante.  The interval.  “I wondered whether music might not be the unique example of what might have been– if the invention of language, the formation of words, the analysis of ideas had not intervened — the means of communications between souls.”  “…I had associated with the music scarcely more than the memory of one person only, which was Albertine.”  The audience disapproves of Charlus’s familiarities with the footmen.  The septet begins again.  The wrestling of the two motifs, but “…in the end the joyous motif was left triumphant…it was en ineffable joy which seemed to come from paradise…I knew that this joy, this summons to a supraterrestrial joy, was a thing I would never forget.  But would it ever be attainable to me?”  “…how strange it was that that the presentiment most different from what life assigns to us on earth, the boldest approximation to the bliss of the Beyond, should have materialised precisely in the melancholy, respectable little bourgeois whom we used to meet in the Month of Mary at Combray!”  The revelation that Mlle Vinteuil’s friend is responsible for the music.


What an amazing section.  Art, music, Marcel’s revelation (or re-revelation) regarding the transcendent power of art, and this, one of my favorite passages in all of Proust:

“The only true voyage, the only bath in the Fountain of Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is; and this we can do with an Elstir, with a Vinteuil, with men like these we really do fly from star to star.”


From The Proust Project by Jonathan Burnham:

“When Marcel hears Vinteuil’s septet for the first time he is attending a Verdurin soiree, and is taken by surprise when the musicians start to play.  He is expecting a work by Vinteuil, but the first notes mean nothing to him — he describes himself as being in a ‘strange land’ — but he then recognizes the little phrase, the musical motif from Vinteuil’s sonata, an earlier work, that represented the ‘national anthem’ of Swann and Odette’s love.  But the atmosphere of the music has changed; what was once gentle and evocative is now fierce and charged with eroticism “so persuasive…shimmering.”

There are several currents of tortured  erotic love running alongside each other in this scene:  Marcel, in the full throes of his jealous passion for Albertine, is wondering whether Albertine has been deceiving him with Vinteuil’s daughter; the unfaithful Morel is playing the violin in the ensemble, watched over by Charlus; the distant memory of Swann’s love for Odette is conjured up by the little phrase.  And in a long digression Marcel reflects that the septet has emerged from the indecipherable scraps of manuscript painstakingly pieced together by the lesbian lover of Mademoiselle Vinteuil after Vinteuil’s death, in an act of atonement for the perverse games of sexual desecration the lovers used to play out in front of the composer’s photograph. He recalls that their sexual relationship developed from a carnal one– a ‘smouldering conflagration’ — into a ‘pure and lofty friendship,’ and out of this shift was born a succession of restored masterpieces.  From sexual love to the deeper joy of art:  The story has a shape which prefigures the transformation that is about to take place in Marcel.

Gathering up the strands of the erotic tension, the music seems to move forward in a new direction, toward a higher sphere of creative revelation.  Again, Marcel refers us back to the earlier work, almost in astonishment.  Where the sonata was marked by pastoral limpidity, the septet is pregnant with meaning:  it is alive with a ‘mysterious hope’ which might be love, or something more.  The composer could only be Vinteuil, but the septet seems the work of a new order of artist.  In a key passage, Vinteuil is described as composing the septet in a state of creative frenzy that fuses the artist’s energy with sexual ecstasy:  ‘panting, intoxicated, unbridled, vertiginous, while he painted his great musical fresco’ — like Michelangelo ‘hurling tumultuous brush-strokes’ at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel while strapped in his scaffold.  The timid, sad music teacher has been transformed into a turbulent, fecund genius, channeling an erotic life force into the creation of a masterpiece.

Aware that he is about to make a significant discovery, Marcel is led away from the web of love and sexual enthrallment toward a brave new world where creative vision transfigures everything it touches.  It is now that the septet triggers a rush of revelation — about art, about vocation, about truth.  Marcel is struck by the new authenticity of Vinteuil’s art:  this is because he is being faithful to his ‘inner homeland,’ and as a result his work has attained new depths, ‘a transposition of profundity into terms of sound.’  Only music, being nonverbal and non representative, can transmit ideas, visions, directly from the artist’s inner world to another human being; music is the true communication des ames.

The definitive epiphany comes when Marcel hears in the music a call toward a joy that is ‘supraterrestrial,’ a transcendent happiness above and beyond the elusive rewards of love.  He is now ready to move away from social life, from the torment of living with Albertine, from the toils of erotic enslavement, toward the ‘real life’ of literature, ‘life at least laid bard and illuminated.’

Close to the end of the novel Marcel will think back to this moment and connect it to the ‘extratemporal joy’ caused by the taste of the madeleine or the sound of a spoon on a plate.  The performance of the septet thus joins the line of sacred, time-confusing revelations which propel Marcel toward his true destiny as a writer.’

And from the same book, by Jeremy Eicher:

“When I go to concerts, I often bring along a colleague or a friend, but my most frequent companion, the one who always arrives just as the lights have dimmed and the silence fallen, is Marcel Proust.  Indeed, ever since I first read Proust, his musical sensibilities have joined me in the concert hall, for in addition to being the poet of love, of longing, of memory, and of loss, Proust is the poet of listening.

And nowhere more so than when Marcel attends a performance of a septet by Vinteuil, a master composer of Proust’s own invention.  As he does with so many other experiences, Proust here brilliantly discloses the interior monologue of listening.  His long spiraling sentences unspool in the mind the way a warm sinuous melody by Brahms might unspool in the air.  Of course, the concert scene itself is also ripe for Proustian mischief.  The contrast between the intensely private act of listening and the experience of doing so while surrounded by members of Parisian society, each brimming with envy and spite, allows Marcel to toggle magisterially between his two favorite roles:  the social critic, who illuminates the outer world of masks; and the writer-philosopher, who spins around the searchlights, pointing them at once inward and beyond.

But the rewards of Proust’s writing on music originate from someplace deeper than simply the public-private nature of a concert experience.  They stem from the very essence of musical art.  Whereas painters work on canvas, musicians work on Proust’s favorite medium of all — time.   They transform time by painting it with sound, and in Proust’s world, if the composer is attuned to his own inner depths, then the colors he chooses will reflect those depths; his melodies and harmonies will speak in an accent that is uniquely his own, like a fingerprint of his soul.   The composer’s music thus becomes a summary of his memories, a distillation of a past that even he may have forgotten.  It is preserved through notation and immortalized in the pages of a score.  When the piece is then brought to life in a concert setting, the performance represents nothing less than the very act of time regained.  In this passage, the concert enables the deceased Vinteuil to return to this earth ‘in the sound of those instruments which he had loved.’

But as Proust shows us, the septet is more than the embodiment of a composer’s lost time.  For the listener, it is also a bridge in Vinteuil’s interior world, a way for Marcel to glimpse the mysteries of another self that lie hopelessly beyond the reach of language.  This is an essential function of great art for Proust:  it permits us to bend the prison bars of our own subjectivity — ‘to possess other eyes’ — and thereby to transcend our own limitations.  A piece of music can thus become like a narrow isthmus connecting two distant islands otherwise engulfed by oceans of solitude.

Proust was indeed the ultimate cartographer of loneliness, but one need not share his radical sense of isolation to appreciate its antidote in music; powerful works can draw us blissfully away from ourselves and into another state of mind.  Each music lover no doubt has his favorite routes of departure.  My own include the solo violin and cello works by Bach, with their sense of somber nobility, and the late quartets of Beethoven, to which we could easily apply Proust’s phrase ‘the transposition of profundity into terms of sound.’  And yet, the magic of this music is not only the journey out that it affords but also the journey in, the journey back.  As Proust of all writers would appreciate, each of our most cherished pieces of music can over time become a diary into which we unconsciously inscribe a history of private moments, associations, and memories.  Hearing the piece performed again can be an invitation to leaf back through its pages, and discover in its wash of sound the tokens of a past life that seem all the more precious because we never knew they had been saved.

Of course, as Marcel discovers time and again, drawing heavily on memories can leave one disappointed when faced with the thing itself; the performance in the here and now can seem pallid in comparison to those that resonate with the special depth conferred on them by memory alone.  Even so, a piece as magisterial as Beethoven’s Quarter Opus 132 will reveal new previously invisible details in every life performance, and one can simply sit back and relish the ways that past and present intermingle in finely woven counterpoint.  Once this otherworldly music has concluded, it can be difficult, as Marcel alludes to in the original passage, to make idle conversation with a concert date.  But then again, that depends on who has joined you for the program.”

The Weekend’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  “Even in the lifetime of the great composer…” through “…a dozen times at La Raspeliere.”  Pages 348-378; Kindle locations: 4510-17/4912-19

Clark:  “During the lifetime of the great composer…” through “…you’ve seen them time and again at La Raspliere.”  Pages 240-261; Kindle locations:  4578-85/4951-58

Enjoy.  And enjoy your weekend.

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Moncrieff:  323-335; Clark:  223-230

by Dennis Abrams

Charlus pulls Morel aside, ostensibly to discuss his upcoming performance, but, “above all taking a sweet delight..in displaying thus publicly their secret intimacy.”  Marcel notes the relatively large number of young girls in attendance, and “The air was thus continually embellished with charming girlish smiles.”   Afterwards, Charlus has a quiet conversation with “two dukes, a distinguished general, an eminent physician and a great lawyer,” discussing the attributes of the footman, “a little blond person in short breeches, who seemed to me most attractive…a big strapping fellow over six feet tall, with a perfect skin…”  Mme Verdurin announces to Brichot that even though Charlus is an agreeable man who she knew wouldn’t flirt with the other women of the little group and cause problems, now that he’s preventing Morel from performing at a party he hasn’t been invited to, “he’s going to be taught a lesson, and I hope he’ll profit by it, otherwise he can simply take his hat and go.”  M. Verdurin offers to speak to Morel, but Mme Verdurin, afraid that it will effect his performance, asks her husband to wait.  M. de Charlus’s downfall will be caused by the behavior of the guests he invited to the Verdurins, who, with the exception of the Queen of  Naples, absolutely ignore their hosts, and “formed a group by themselves, watched, bubbling over with ironical curiosity, the arrival of the faithful, but were able at the most to point a finger at the somewhat peculiar hair-style of a person who, a few years later, was to make this the fashion in the highest society…”   Charlus never thinks to ask his guests to say a few words to Mme Verdurin, but with a sudden glare, silences the crowd before the performance.  “They were all hypnotised; no one dared to utter another sound, to move a chair; respect for music — by virtue of Palamede’s prestige — had been instantaneously inculcated in a crowd as ill-bred as it was elegant.”  Mme Verdurin sits alone.  The concert begins, there is no program, “I did not know what was being played; I found myself in a strange land.”  but as Marcel listens, “all of a sudden, I found myself, in the midst of this music that was new to me, right in the heart of Vinteuil’s sonata; and more marvelous than any girl, the little phrase, sheathed, harnessed in silver, glittering with brilliant sonorities, as light and soft as silken scarves, came to me, recognisable in this new guise….No sooner was it thus recalled than it vanished, and I found myself once more in an unknown world, but I knew now, and everything that followed only confirmed my knowledge, that this world was one of those which I had never even been capable of imagining that Vinteuil could have created…”  Mme Verdurin’s “upright,motionless body, her expressionless eyes…spoke of her courage, said the musicians could carry on, that they need not spare her nerves, that she would not flinch at the andante, would not cry out at the allegro.”

And so the performance begins…both the musical performance, and what, on its face seems to be an unevenly matched performance of the upstart Mme Verdurin vs. her unknowing opponent, Palamede, Baron de Charlus, Prince des Laumes, Duke of Brabant, Squire of Montargis, Prince d’Oloron, of Carency, Viareggio and of the Dunes.

1.  Loved this:

“There is no so great social function that does not, if one takes a cross-section of it and cuts sufficiently deep, resemble those parties to which doctors invite their patients, who utter the most intelligent remarks, have perfect manners, and would never show that they were mad if they did not whisper in your ear, pointing to some old gentleman going past:  ‘That’s  Joan of Arc.'”

2.  And this from yesterday’s reading from Mme Verdurin:

“‘I have nothing against Vinteuil; to my mind, he’s the greatest composer of the age.  Only, I can never listen to that sort of stuff without weeping all the time’ (there was not the slightest suggestion of pathos in the way she said ‘weeping’; she would have used precisely the same tone for ‘sleeping’; certain slandermongers used indeed to insist that the latter verb would have been more applicable, though no one could ever be certain, for she listened to the music with her face buried in her hands, and certain snoring sounds might after all have been sobs).”

“…and certain snoring sounds might after all have been sobs.”  Delicious.


Thursday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  “I turned my head slightly…” through “…by the only person who had been sufficiently close to Vinteuil to understand his method of working, to interpret his orchestral indications:  Mlle Vinteuil’s friend.”  Pages 335-348; Kindle locations:  4346-52/4510-17

Clark:  “I turned my head a fraction toward the audience…” through “…to understand his hints for orchestration:  Mlle Vinteuil’s friend.”  Pages 231-240; Kindle locations: 4427-33/4578-85


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Moncrieff:  311-323; Clark:  215-222

by Dennis Abrams

Mme Verdurin is worried that personages that Charlus might think of as “negligible” might not be such for herself.  “Mme Verdurin was beginning to feel that she had already on more than one occasion missed the bus, not to mention the enormous setback that the social error of the Dreyfus case had inflicted upon her– though it had not been an unmixed bane.”  Politics and salons. “Society people who refuse to allow politics into their world are as far-sighted as soldiers who refuse to allow politics to permeate the army…but political passions are like all the rest, they no not last.”    From each political crisis, with every change,”Mme Verdurin had picked up one by one, like a bird building its nest, the several scraps, temporarily unusable, of what would one day be her salon.  The Dreyfus case had passed, Anatole France remained.” Mme Verdurin, the Ballets Russes, and an improvement in her social standing.  After performances of Sheherazade or the dances from Prince Igor, they would go to Mme Verdurin’s, under the auspices of Princess Yourbeletieff, where “an exquisite supper brought together every night the dancers themselves, who had abstained from dinner in order to remain more elastic, their director, their designers, the great composers Igor Stravinsky and Richard Strauss, a permanent little nucleus around which…the greatest ladies in Paris and foreign royalty were not too proud to gather.”  Mme Bontemps, and Mme Verdurin’s hopes for greater social status. Mme Verdurin’s lack of feeling for the death of Princess Sherbatoff:  “You know, I’m bound to confess that I feel no regret at all.  It’s no use feigning emotions one doesn’t feel…” Mme Verdurin earns points for her obvious “sincerity,” and her originality in admitting her lack of feeling.  The Verdurins turn on the dead princess:  “‘Of course, I don’t mean to say I wouldn’t rather she were still alive, she wasn’t a bad person.’ Yes, she was,’ put in M. Verdurin…’but I’ve never heard a thing against her,’ protested Saniette.”  The faithful listen attentively to Mme Verdurin’s words.   Mme Verdurin and her use of nose drops to keep getting bronchitis from weeping too much while listening to Vinteuil’s music.  Cottard’s death is mentioned in passing.  Marcel learns that Mlle Vinteuil and her friend will not be attending that evening.  Morel is polite to Marcel.  M. de Charlus and the old manners of France.


The Verdurins are certainly the busy social climbers aren’t they?  From Cottard and Odette to Anatole France and Mme Zola to Richard Strauss and Igor Stravinsky.  Most impressive indeed.

But obviously, as we have seen, one can never turn your back on them for a second.  (Dying too is obviously a betrayal.)  I was taken by this:

“And the faithful listened to Mme Verdurin’s words with the mixture of admiration and uneasiness which certain cruelly realistic and painfully observant plays used to cause, and while they marvelled to see their beloved Mistress display her rectitude and independence in a new form, more than one of them, although he assured himself that it would not be the same thing, thought of his own death, and wondered whether, on the day it occurred, they would drop a tear or give a party at the Quai Conti.”

Well, we’ve seen how they reacted to the death of the pianist Dechambre, we saw today how they reacted to the death of the Princess Sherbatoff, “Why, earlier this evening he offered to put off the rehearsal, and I insisted upon having it because I should have thought it a farce to show a grief which I don’t feel,” as well as that of Cottard, “Ah, yes, there we are, he died, as everyone has to.  He’d killed enough people for it to be his turn to have a bit of his own medicine.”

And a reminder from The Guermantes Way on how the Verdurins felt about the princess, before she betrayed them by dying and missing their party.  (Or, perhaps, because the princess had outlived her usefulness.)

“Since, for the last three years, as soon as she came away from the Grand Duchess, Mme Sherbatoff would go to Mme Verdurin, who had just woken up, and stick to her for the rest of the day, one might saythat the Princess’s loyalty surpassed even that of Brichot…Her want of friends had enabled Princess Sherbatoff for some years past to display towards the Verdurins a fidelity which made her more than an ordinary member of the ‘faithful,’ the classic example of the breed, the ideal which Mme Verdurin had long thought unattainable and which now, in her later years, she at length found incarnate in this new feminine recruit.”

And finally, this from The Magic Lantern of Marcel Proust by Howard Moss:

“Two rival salons develop out of the Dreyfus case.  Mme Verdurin, a Dreyfusard, is temporarily out of the running, but surrounded by her faithful ‘clan,’ she reaps an ultimate social benefit from the case:

‘Mme Verdurin, by the bond of Dreyfusism, had attracted to her house certain writers of distinction who for the moment were of no advantage to her socially, because they were Dreyfusards.  But political passions are like the rest…they do not last…it was thus that, at each political crisis, at each artistic revival, Mme Verdurin had collected one by one, like a bird building its next, the several items, useless for the moment, of what would one day be her Salon.  The Dreyfus case had passed, Anatole France remained.’

Odette, vaguely ‘Nationalistic’, was felt to hold ‘sound opinions’.  Married to a Jew — Swann’s conversion mattered little in the Dreyfus case — she got credit for patriotism and disinterestedness:

‘Mme Swann had won by this attitude the privilege of membership in several of the women’s leagues that were beginning to be formed in anti-semetic society, and had succeeded in making friends with various members of the aristocracy.’

On opposite sides of the fence, Odette and Mme Verdurin are still two sides of the same coin.  Mme Verdurin, for all her ‘liberalism’, is a firm member of her social group:  ‘[Odette] was only following the example of Mme Verdurin, in whom a middle-class anti-semitism, latent hitherto, had awakened and grown to a positive fury.’

The scales are balanced:  a temporary social mistake in strategy, the result of stupidity on the part of Mme Verdurin, and a social success, fired in the crucible of a convenient political tragedy on the part of Odette.”


Wednesday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  “M. de Charlus took Morel aside…” through “…and formed a curl on his forehead.”  Pages 323-335; Kindle locations:  4202-9/4346-52

Clark: “He walked away with Morel…” through “…and now formed a curl on his forehead.”  Pages 223-230; Kindle locations:  4282-89/4424-27


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Moncrieff:  298-311; Clark:  206-215

by Dennis Abrams

Marcel, Charlus, and Brichot are joined at the Verdurin’s courtyard by Saniette.  “Is it not curious.”  Charlus asks Marcel if he’s working on anything; Marcel responds that he was “greatly interested at the moment in old dinner-services of silver and porcelain…”   Charlus’s hair “had now turned silver in patches.”  “And yet, even beneath the layers of different expressions, of paint and of hypocrisy which formed such a bad ‘make-up,’ his face continued to hide from almost everyone the secret that it seemed to me to be crying aloud….For we have so extravagant a notion of certain entities that we cannot identify it with the familiar features of a person of our acquaintance.”  M. de Charlus’s familiarity with the new footman.  “‘It’s just the way he has,’ said the butler…”  Will Marcel be returning to Incarville? The death of Princess Sherbatoff is announced.  M. Verdurin’s anger at Saniette for bringing it up, and for using the phrase “Charged with the cloakroom.”  Morel has declined an invitation from Mme Verdurin to perform at the house of friends because Charlus will not be able to attend, which annoys her.  M. and Mme  Verdurin’s enjoyment at bringing guests together, and their equal enjoyment in setting “people at odds, to estrange them from one another.”   Their use of grievances and ridicule.  “If two of the faithful went for walks together without first obtaining permission from the Mistress, these walks were the subject of endless comment, however innocent they may be.  Those of M. de Charlus with Morel were not innocent.”  Mme Verdurin’s desire to “‘enlighten’ Morel as to the ridiculous and detestable role that M. de Charlus was making him play.”  Mme Verdurin’s anger at M. de Charlus for vetoing guests that she had wanted to invite to the evening’s performance.  Saintine, his wife, and Mme Verdurin’s misunderstanding of who was more important. M. de Charlus’s enjoyment of his performance as an ‘actor’ when explaining why certain guests should be excluded.  The Baron’s temper.  “Now these pariahs were often people who ruled the roost, as the saying is, but who in M. de Charlus’s eyes had ceased to rule it from the day on which he had quarreled with them.  For his imagination, in addition to manufacturing faults in people in order to quarrel with them, was no less ingenious in stripping them of all importance as soon as they ceased to be friends.” Charlus’s rejection of Countess Mole.


Once again, a party scene, and as we’ve learned, it’s at the parties that the plot moves on, new aspects of characters are revealed, and relationships change.

1.  This made me laugh out loud, regarding the Verdurin’s dinner-service:

“…he assured me that I could not see any finer than those that the Verdurins had; that indeed I might have seen them at La Raspeliere, since, on the pretext that one’s possessions are also one’s friends, they were foolish enough to take everything down there with them…”

2.  And, as you may recall, I wondered in previous posts what exactly happened when M. and Mme Verdurin were forced to spend time together alone.  Now we know they almost never were — so instead of going at each other, they went after others:

“This was the desire to set people at odds, to estrange them from one another.  It had been strengthened, had almost been carried to a frenzy during the months spent at La Raspeliere, where they were all together morning, noon, and night.  M. Verdurin would go out of his way to catch someone out, to spin webs in which he might hand over to his spider mate some innocent fly.  Failing a grievance, he would try ridicule.  As soon as one of the faithful had been out of the house for half an hour, the Verdurins would make fun of him in front of the others, would feign surprise that their guests had not noticed how his teeth were never clean, or how on the contrary he had a mania for brushing them twenty times a day.”

Loved the “might hand over to his spider mate some innocent fly.”  And, when it comes down to it, is their game of ridicule those who displease them any different than Charlus’s “…in addition to manufacturing faults in people in order to quarrel with them, was no less ingenious in stripping them of all importance as soon as they ceased to be his friends.”

3.  And speaking of Charlus, I have to include part of Charlus’s diatribe against the very notion of Mme Verdurin inviting Countess Mole:

“Goodness gracious me!  I suppose it takes all sorts to make a world…and if you, Madame, feel a desire to converse with Mme Pipelet, Mme Gibout and Mme Joseph Prudhomme, I’m only too delighted, but let it be on an evening when I am not present.  I could see as soon as you opened your mouth that we don’t speak the same language, since I was talking of aristocratic names and you come up with the most obscure names of lawyers, of crooked little commoners, evil-minded tittle-tattles, and of little ladies who imagine themselves patronesses of the arts because they echo an octave lower the manners of my Guermantes sister-in-law, like a jay trying to imitate a peacock.  I must add that is would be positively indecent to admit to a celebration which I am pleased to give at Mme Verdurin’s a person whom I have with good reason excluded from my society, a goose of a woman devoid of birth, loyalty or wit who is foolish enough to suppose that she is capable of playing the Duchesse de Guermantes and the Princesse de Guermantes, a combination which is in itself idiotic, since the Duchesse de Guermantes and the Princesse de Guermantes are poles apart.”

One can only imagine the look on Mme Verdurin’s face, the set of her jaw, while she listened to Charlus.

4.  And finally, this description of Mme Verdurin:

“…she would become restless and excited, assuming that the newcomer occupied a ‘position’ which would make him a brilliant recruit to the little clan, and while pretending not to have heard anything, and preserving in her fine eyes, ringed with dark shadows by addiction to Debussy more than they would have been by cocaine, the exhausted look induced by musical intoxication alone, would resolve nevertheless behind her splendid brow, bulging with all those quarters and the headaches, thoughts which were not exclusively polyphonic…”


Tuesday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  “In addition to this, certain persons whom M. de Charlus regarded as negligible…” through “to become a father.”  Pages 311-323; 4051-58/4202-9

Clark:  “However, certain persons judged insignificant by M. de Charlus…” through “to be a father.”  Pages 215-222;  Kindle locations 4151-58/4282-89


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Moncrieff:  269-298; Clark: 186-206

by Dennis Abrams

Still on the threshold of entering the Verdurin’s, Brichot reassures himself regarding Charlus by thinking about Plato and Virgil, “because, being mentally as well as physically blind, he did not understand that in their day to love a young man was the equivalent (Socrates’s jokes reveal this more clearly than Plato’s theories) of keeping a dancing girl before getting engaged to be married in ours.”   Charlus’s ‘tastes’ reveal themselves in the furnishing of his home.  The Baron’s appearance, his mascara’ed eyelids and powdered cheeks, “gave him the appearance of a Grand Inquisitor painted by El Greco.”   Charlus’s ‘vice” once a secret, is now apparent in his language and appearance.  Charlus embarrasses Brichot with his speech:  “So this is how you prowl the streets at night, Brichot, with a good-looking young man…”   Charlus’s vice has bored him to the point where he sometimes spends the night with a woman.  Why has Charlus taken off his mask?  Age?  Contempt for the opinion of others? “A vice (so M. de Charlus used at one time to style it) to which the Baron now gave the genial aspect of a mere failing, extremely common, attractive on the whole and almost amusing, like laziness, absent-mindedness or greed.” Camping.   Charlus admits to seeing Morel that morning, which Marcel translates to mean that he has seen him within the hour.  The reason for such lies.  Charlus speaks of Morel as “his nice little friend.”  Several weeks after the evening at the Verdurin’s, Charlus is “plunged into a state of grief and stupification,” when he reads a letter from the actress to Lea, which indicates that Morel shares with Lea a taste for women.  “One of us.”  The Baron’s jealousy “could not longer confine itself to the men of Morel’s acquaintance, but would have to extend to the women also.”   Charlus hires spies to watch Morel.  Despite his jealousy regarding Morel, Charlus is still interested in other young men, and uses Morel’s fame to “provide the bait.”  The Baron’s continued interest in Bloch.   The magnificence of the programme Charlus has planned for the Verdurin’s, spread over two nights.  His invitation to Oriane, “it is not certain that she will come, but it is on the other hand certain that if she does come, she will understand absolutely nothing. But one doesn’t ask her to understand, which is beyond her capacity, but to talk, a task for which she is admirably suited, and which she never fails to perform.”  Morel’s compositions and lampoons.  Charlus’s fashion advice for Marcel’s “cousin” Albertine, and his gift of “observing minutely and distinguishing the detail’s of a woman’s clothes as much as of a painting…a fondness for male attractions is balanced by an innate taste, a knowledge and feeling for female dress.”  The dressmaker.  Marcel’s regret that Charlus never wrote, and his conviction that he would have been a good writer, “In any case, even if I am mistaken about what he might have achieved with the merest page of prose, he would have performed a rare service by writing, for, while he observed and distinguished everything, he also knew that name of everything he distinguished.”   Marcel learns from Charlus that Vinteuil’s daughter and her friend “who both have a terrible reputation,” are expected at the Verdurin’s, and were supposed to have been at the rehearsal earlier that afternoon.  Marcel turns green at the news, realizing why Albertine wanted to be at the Verdurin’s that afternoon.  New doubts are introduced.  Doubt revives pain. “A single word is enough…for all the preconceived happiness towards which we were reaching out to collapse, for the sun to hide its face…”  “At that moment I would have gladly allowed Albertine to go out by herself, to go wherever she might choose, provided that I might lock up Mlle Vinteuil and her friend somewhere and be certain that Albertine would not meet them.”  Jealousy is partial, intermittent and localised.

This weekend’s reading is a nice example of Proust’s ability to slow down time at his will — how long have Marcel, Brichot, and Charlus been standing at the Verdurin’s door?  The similarities between Marcel and Charlus’s jealousy…

I liked this a lot:

“The shepherd in Theocritus who sighs for love of a boy will have no reason later to be less hard of heart, less dull of wit than the other shepherd whose flute sounds for Amaryllis.  For the former is not suffering from a disease; he is conforming to the customs of his time.  It is the homosexuality that survives in spite of obstacles, shameful, execrated, that is the only true form, the only form that corresponds in one and the same person to an intensification of the intellectual qualities.  One is dismayed at the relationship that can exist between these and a person’s bodily attributes when one thinks of the tiny dislocation of a purely physical taste, the slight blemish in one of the senses, that explains why the world of poets and musicians, so firmly barred against the Duc de Guermantes, opens its portals to M. de Charlus.”

And this…

“The poet is to be pitied the most, with no Virgil to guide him, pass through the circles of an inferno of sulphur and brimstone, who must cast himself into the fire that falls from heaven in order to rescue a few of the inhabitants of Sodom!”

Was he thinking of himself?


Monday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  “Just as we were about to enter the courtyard…” through “…he will not tolerate the collaboration of a homeopath.”  Pages 298-311; Kindle locations 3877-85/4051-58

Clark: “As we were about to enter the courtyard of the Verdurin’s house…” through “intends not to have forced on him the collaboration of a homeopath.”  Pages 206-215; Kindle locations 3998-4006/4151-58


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