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.
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