Moncrieff: 414-424; Clark: 285-292
by Dennis Abrams
Mme Verdurin’s inability to stop what was about to happen: “There are certain desires, sometimes confined to the mouth, which as soon as we have allowed them to grow, insist upon being gratified, whatever the consequences may be…” Morel deplores the fact that the Queen of Naples left before he had had a chance to meet her, since “M. de Charlus had told him so often that she was the sister of the Empress Elizabeth and of the Duchesse d’Alencon that the sovereign had assumed an extraordinary importance in his eyes.” M. Verdurin sets the stage, praising Mme Verdurin’s judgment and her affection for him. Mme Verdurin swoops in: “‘I consider that you cannot put up with it any longer…I feel that you cannot possibly persist in this degrading promiscuity with a tainted person whom nobody will have in their house,’ she went on, regardless of the fact that this was untrue and forgetting that she herself entertained him almost daily…’You’re the talk of the Conservatoire…Another month of this life and your artistic future would be shattered.'” Mme Verdurin calls Charlus “a gentleman with a vile reputation and has been mixed up in some very nasty doings. I know that the police have their eye on him, and that’s perhaps the best thing for him if he’s not to end up like all such men, murdered by ruffians…” The memory of Mme de Duras inviting Morel to perform at her house inflames Mme Verdurin further. She informs Morel that Charlus is financially ruined due to all the people blackmailing him, and that everything he owns is mortgaged to the hilt, a lie that Morel was inclined to believe due to Charlus’s bragging about his relations with said ruffians, “a race for which the son of a valet, however villainous himself, professes a feeling of horror as strong as his attachment to Bonapartist principles.” Morel decides to drop Charlus and return to Jupien’s niece, not knowing that Charlus already has an appointment to see Jupien later that evening, at which point he will offer to adopt the ‘forsaken girl’ and bestow upon her one of the titles at his disposal, probably that of Mlle d’Oloron, and would educate her and get her married to a rich man. Mme Verdurin tells Morel he’s the talk of the Conservatoire, and that people are pointing their fingers and laughing at him. Afraid she’s gone to far and not wanting to disrupt the ‘little nucleus,” Mme Verdurin reassures Morel that he doesn’t have to break with Charlus completely, that it’s fine if he see him ‘among our little group,’ but that he must insist upon his freedom, and not allow Charlus to pimp him out to perform at society lady salons, or else he could “earn …the reputation of being an amateur, a mere salon performer,” with the exception, of course, of the Queen of Naples, who, Mme Verdurin insists “has a poor opinion of Charlus. I’m sure she came here chiefly to please me.” Attacking Mme de Duras. Mme Verdurin tells Morel that Charlus said of him “But what do you mean by calling him my friend. We’re not of the same class. Say rather that he is my creature, my protege,” then, giving in to her basest instincts added, “Someone actually told my husband that he had said ‘my servant,’ but for that I cannot vouch” The deft touch of the word ‘servant,’ “and if she added that she could not vouch for the word, this was so as to appear certain of the rest, thanks to this hint of uncertainty, and to show her impartiality.” Mme Verdurin tells Morel that Charlus is “dragging him to the abyss,” that Charlus could not do anything to get Morel the Cross of the Legion of Honor, and, in fact, “told us, with screams of laughter, that if you want the Cross it’s to please your uncle and that your uncle was a flunkey.” Mme Verdurin’s joy at Charlie’s reaction. M. Verdurin’s first name is Gustave. Morel declares he’s been betrayed, and, when Charlus returns to the house, laughing and saying “Well, are you pleased, young hero, and presently young knight of the Legion of Honor? For very soon you will be able to sport your Cross,” Morel turns on Charlus: “Leave me alone. I forbid you to come near me…You know what I mean all right. I’m not the first person you’ve tried to pervert!”
I’ve got to say…Mme Verdurin is good. She knew exactly what buttons to push in order to…well…push Morel over the edge. I know today’s reading was short, but it seemed the cleanest place to make the break before the weekend’s reading, which will give you Charlus’s perhaps unexpected reaction to Morel’s outburst.
I’d like to post an excerpt from Julia Kristeva’s book Time and Sense: Proust and the Experience of Literature, with a look at the character of the most extraordinary Mme Verdurin:
“With her distinguished ways, and even her melomania, Mme Verdurin displays some of the qualities of a madam. From her first appearance in the novel, she distrusts other women, whatever their origins. The only woman she entertains is Odette de Crecy, ‘a young woman almost of the demi-monde,’ whom she called by her Christian name and pronounced ‘a love.’ This bizarre complicity causes Swann to have a few fleeting thoughts (and we know how many of these he had!) about his future wife’s homosexual tendencies. Above all, Mme Verdurin’s acceptance of Odette points to one of the unsettling dualties that the narrator knows so well. If a bourgeois woman wishes to attain success in a divided society, she has no choice but to become a ‘tart’ like Odette or a ‘Mistress’ like Mme Verdurin. She must either manipulate sex or art; that is, she must become a vestal of one of the two secular religions — or both at the same time.
Mme Verdurin may be prudish and ‘honorable,’ but she clearly does not underestimate the empire of Eros. She begins by orchestrating the love affair between Odette and Swann, and she puts forth a concerted effort to make the magic of the ‘clan’ and of the ‘sonata’ transform the disillusioned aesthete into a Verdurin faithful and a bashful lover of Odette de Crecy. For the Mistress, Swann’s distinction, intelligence, abstraction, and high-society contacts are more troublesome than is his pathological jealousy. Mme Verdurin prefers Forcheville, and she hastens the fall from grace of the narrator’s primary alter ego. ‘In reality there was not one of the ‘faithful’ who was not infinitely more malicious than Swann…It was the novelty of his language which led his audience to suspect the blackness of his designs.’ As a result, the pretentious Swann will have to be punished. He will not be invited to the party at Charou, and the ‘drawing-room which had brought Swann and Odette together became an obstacle in the way of their meeting.’ Swann responds by declaring mutiny: ‘Idiot, liar! he shouted, ‘and a creature like that imagines that she loves Art!’…’Verdurin! What a name! Oh! it must be said that they’re perfect specimens of their disgusting kind! thank God, it was high time that I stopped condescending to promiscuous intercourse with such infamy, such dung.’
Mlle de Crecy becomes Mme Swann in spite of this obstacle — or perhaps because of it, for women like Odette and Verdurin are quite adept at keeping an admirer at a distance so that he will eventually succumb to their influence. From that point on, Mme Verdurin can go to Odette’s home only twice a year, although she seems to dominate the salon to such a degree that ‘the Prince d’Agrigente would enter it alone.’ Because of her unrelenting hold on Odette, the Mistress will never be able to call her ‘Mme Swann,’ referring to her instead as “Mme de Crecy.’
Mme Verdurin must extend this power to M. de Charlus. Although he feels attracted to Morel during the Mistress’s soirees, the baron continues to display a peremptory, contemptuous side. ‘Morel’s refusal to play at her friends’ party’ only intensifies the ‘rancorous arrogance of a crotchety nobleman.’ The Mistress thus decides to ‘enlighten’ Morel as to the ridiculous and detestable role that M. de Charlus was making him play. ‘Drunk with melodrama,’ Mme Verdurin send her husband to speak with Morel. ‘I agree entirely with my husband. I consider that you cannot put up with it any longer!’ The police and money enter into the picture, yet our music aficionado makes no effort to bring peace to her home: ‘this degrading promiscuity with a tainted person whom nobody will have in his house…You’re the talk of the Conservatoire…I know the police have their eye on him…Even financially he can be of no use to you.’
Once again, we will have to search for the source of this mean-spirited sexual manipulation of other people in the painful feeling of being of a lower social class, which the baron viciously communicates to this bourgeois woman so desperately sensitive about her ‘rank.’ He invites his friends to one of Mme Verdurin’s soirees. Aware of the ‘enormous setback that the social error of the Dreyfus case had inflicted upon her,’ Mme Verdurin wanted to use Palamede to ‘break through.’ Nevertheless, ‘the remainder of M. de Charlus’s guests drifted away fairly rapidly…Nobody paid the slightest attention to Mme Verdurin. Some pretended not to recognize her and deliberately said good-night to Mme Cottard.’ The duchesses go into fits of laughter in front of Elstir’s paintings, asking one another if there has ever really been a Monsieur Verdurin, and giving credit to M. de Charlus: ‘How clever Palamede is at arranging things! If he were to stage a ballet in a shed or a bathroom, it would still be perfectly ravishing.’ In sum, the Mistress is humiliated because people are trying to limit her position in society. This is really the height of imprudence — inviting patronizing marquises after stirring up trouble inside the ‘nucleus,’ through a lover’s aside: first Swann and Odette and now the baron and Morel. But beware: Mme Verdurin is not so easily caught off guard. She defends herself. She attacks.”
Moncrieff: “My sole consolation lay in the thought…” through “while I’m asleep.” Pages 425-459; Kindle locations 5536-43/5984-92
Clark: “My only comfort lay in the belief…” through “…so that I do not have to see you again.” Pages 292-315; Kindle locations 5502-9/5897-5904
Enjoy. And enjoy your weekend. And please…make some comments!!!!!