Moncrieff: 425-459; Clark: 292-315
by Dennis Abrams
The fallout from Morel’s: “‘Leave me alone. I forbid you to come near me,’ Morel shouted at the Baron. ‘You know what I mean all right. I’m not the first person you’ve tried to pervert!'” Marcel’s sole consolation “lay in the thought that I was about to see Morel and the Verdurins pulverised by M. de Charlus,” but instead, M. de Charlus stood speechless, dumbfounded, measuring the depths of his misery without understand its cause, unable to think of a word to say, raising his eyes to gaze at each of the company in turn, with a questioning, outraged, supplicant air, which seemed to be asking them not so much what had happened as what answer he ought to make.” Why didn’t he explode in anger, reducing the Verdurins to despair “with the most cruel words?” Was it because no one was coming to his rescue? Was it fear of worse to come? Was it because he had been blind-sided “and struck down suddenly at a moment when he was unarmed?” Was it because he was in a milieu that was not his own?” [Flash forward: Charlus believes that Morel, no longer “needing him,” betrayed him to Mme Verdurin, writes “ferocious letters” to a number of the faithful, and, when Mme de Verdurin refuses to bring about a reconciliation, sent her “angry and sarcastic” letters as well. Rumors spread that Charlus had “been turned out of the Verudrins’ house when he had attempted to rape a young musician.” No member of the little clan will ever speak to Charlus again.] Mme Verdurin enjoys the fact that Charlus was in tears. The Queen of Naples returns to collect her forgotten fan, which reminds Morel that he wanted to meet her. Mme Verdurin offers to do so but is snubbed by the Queen, who offers her arm to Charlus and takes him from the Verdurins. “You don’t look at all well, my dear cousin…Lean on my arm. You may be sure that it will always support you. It is strong enough for that…You know how in the past, at Gaeta, it held the mob at bay. It will be a shield to you.” [Another flash-forward: Charlus is unable to take his revenge because shortly after the incident at the Verdurins he becomes ill and nearly dies of septic pneumonia, gaining momentarily at least a “quasi-mystical eloquence,” a “moral improvement…far above the level at which he had lived in the past,” before he “redescended the downward slope with a speed which, as we shall see, continued steadily to increase.”] The Verdurins, learning that Saniette is deeply in debt and has had a stroke, give up their summer rental at La Raspliere in order to be able to afford to set up an anonymous trust for him so that he can live his last years in comfort. M. Verdurin’s unknown expression. Finally departing the Verdurin’s, Marcel returns home with Brichot, who discusses his fondness for Charlus. The author of the treatise on ethics and the telegraph messenger. Brichot’s mixed message on Charlus: “And as this Satan is the most obliging of men…” Marcel feels Albertine’s presence even when she’s not there. The electric light of her bedroom as seen from the pavement, “as I raised my eyes for one last time from the outside at the window of the room in which I should presently find myself, I seemed to behold the luminous gates which were about to close behind me and of which I myself had forged, for an eternal slavery, the inflexible bars of gold.” Albertine has never told Marcel that she is aware of his jealousy. Albertine hides her feelings, but is angered when learns that Marcel had been at the Verdurins. Mlle Vinteuil. Albertine confesses that her three day trip to Balbec with the chauffeur had never taken place: she says that he dropped her off at at a friend’s at Auteuil, while he attended to business of his own. The late arrival of her postcards “from Balbec.” Albertine admits going out in public at Auteuil “dressed as a man,” for a joke and for “fear of being seen,” and running into “your Yid friend Bloch,” who didn’t recognize her. Marcel’s disappointment that during that three day period, Albertine had never sent word to visit him, or to send him word to come visit her. Albertine announces that she had lied when she said that she had been brought up by Mlle Vinteuil’s friend in order to “make myself seem more interesting to you…I felt that I bored you, that you thought me a goose; I thought that if I told you that those people used to see a lot of me, that I could easily tell you all sorts of things about Vinteuil’s work, you’d think more highly of me, that it would bring us closer together. When I lie to you, it’s always out of affection for you.” Marcel’s offer to give Albertine the money to “play the fashionable lady wherever you please and invite M and Mme Verdurin to a grand dinner,” brings about a surprising and vulgar response (basically, that she’d rather get fucked up the ass), that despite an attempt to cut herself short and cover up with lies (I was asleep) Marcel manages to reconstruct, much to his horror, since the only kind of woman who would say it was “a woman alone, if she loves women, she might say it, to excuse herself for giving herself presently to a man.” Aghast, and not wanting to let Albertine see the depths of his despair, Marcel tells her that it’s better that they part, and she should make plans to leave the next morning.
A momentous section, to say the least.
1. For me, the scene of the broken Charlus being gently escorted out of the party by his peer (in every sense of the word) the Queen of Naples is one of the most heartrending in the book. (As I typed this, I had a sudden image of Superman being rendered powerless by kryptonite.) A question for the group: Who would have expected that response from Charlus? Or, perhaps more importantly, did Proust lay the groundwork for it to be a believable response? And then, of course, the villainy of the Verdurins (who would have thought those bourgeois climbers would be the ones) being, at least slightly redeemed by their generosity towards Saniette. Which leads me to…
2. An important note on translations. In the Clark edition, immediately following the concert, M. Verdurin has another scene with a stuttering Saniette, and kicks him out of the house, where he collapses moments later in the courtyard. In the Moncrieff translation, this is included not within the text, but as addenda. By including it, of course, Clark changes the meaning of the Verdurin’s generosity from a sudden act of kindness to one perhaps driven by guilt. (I have an email inquiry into Eric Karpeles to get his take on this, and whether or not this scene should actually be included in the text.)
3. Albertine’s lie. And lies on top of lies.
4. I loved this, musings from Marcel (or probably the Narrator) after learning of the Verdurin’s act of kindness towards poor Saniette:
“I was worry that I had not know of it earlier. For one thing the knowledge would have brought me more rapidly to the idea that we ought never to bear a grudge against people, ought never to judge them by some memory of an unkind action, for we do not know all the good that, at other moments, their hearts may have sincerely desired and realised. And thus, even simply from the point of view of prediction, one is mistaken. For doubtless the evil aspect which we have noted once and for all will recur; but the heart is richer than that, has many other aspects which will recur also in the same person and which we refuse to acknowledge because of his earlier bad behavior.”
5. And this:
“…Chemists have at least the means of analysis; sick men suffering from a disease the origin of which they do not know can send for the doctor; criminal mysteries are more or less unravelled by the examining magistrate. But for the disconcerting actions of our fellow-men we rarely discover the motives.
6. And finally this:
“Nevertheless, at the moment of my discovery, M. Verdurin’s nature offered me a new and unsuspected facet; and I concluded that it is as difficult to present a fixed image of a character as of societies and passions. For a character alters no less than they do, and if one tries to take a snapshot of what is relatively immutable in it, one finds it presenting a succession of different aspects (implying that it is incapable of keeping still but keeps moving) to the disconcerted lens.”
And to conclude (I know this is a long post, but it is an important section), an essay by Louis Auchincloss “I Saw Big Tears Glistening in His Eyes,” from Andre Aciman’s The Proust Project:
“That the upper middle class in Paris of the Mauve Decade should ultimately succeed in crashing the gates of the ‘old faubourg’ (Saint-Germain) where the ancient aristocracy still held sway was clearly foreseen by as acute a social observer as Proust…But the clashes along the way provided some of the most dramatic scenes of his novel, and none is finer than the one where Madame Verdurin wreaks her ultimate revenge on the Baron de Charlus.
Charlus, though almost insanely proud of his birth — he ranks his family higher than the House of France — has consented to frequent the Verdurin salon because his protege and lover, the handsome young violinist Charles Morel, is a fixture there. And madame Verdurin, who hides her passion to have aristocratic friends under a professed scorn of titles, hopes that the baron will provide a nucleus for his acquaintance to meet at her house. An example of the rudeness she and her husband have to endure from Charlus is shown in the latter’s response to Verdurin’s misguided apology for seating him at dinner below the Marquis de Cambremer, a marquis, according to the benighted host, outranking a mere baron. Charlus replies haughtily: ‘I am also Duc de Brabant, Damoiseau de Montargis, Prince d’Orleans, de Carency, and des Dunes. However, it is not of the slightest importance. Please do not distress yourself. I could see at a glance that you were not accustomed to society.’
Madame Verdurin finally hopes that she had succeeded in her objective when Charlus agrees to act as cohost at her house at a concert in which Morel will play for all his noble friends. But this time Charlus has gone too far.
‘What ruined M. de Charlus that evening was the ill-breeding — so common in their class — of the people who were no beginning to arrive. Having come there partly out of friendship for M. de Charlus and also out of curiosity to explore these novel surroundings, each Duchess made straight for the Baron as though it were he who was giving the party and said, within a yard of the Verdurins, who could hear every word: ‘Show me which is Mother Verdurin; do you think I really need speak to her?'”
This was too much, even for so determined a social climber as Madame Verdurin. She and her husband took Morel aside after the concert and poured into his ear grossly exaggerated accounts of the public horror of Charlus’s vices and warned him that any continued association of Morel with this monster of perversion would ruin his artistic career. The result of this was that when Charlus, beaming with delight at the great success of the concert, approached his beloved protege with congratulatory arms outstretched, Morel shouted: ‘Leave me alone, I forbid you to come near me. You know what I mean, all right, I’m not the first young man you’ve tried to pervert!’
It is at this point that the deposed Queen of Naples, sister of the Empress Elisabeth, returns to the party to retrieve the fan she had left behind and which, as Charlus has already observed, the poor exile can ill afford to replace. Unobserved, she had witnessed the terrible scene and the prostration of the devastated baron. Morel, catching sight of her, recalls his great desire to be presented to her, but remarks ruefully to Madame Verdurin that he can hardly ask the baron to introduce him now.
“‘Wait, I shall take you to her myself,’ said Madame Verdurin, and she advanced upon the queen who was talking to Charlus. She made the queen a curtsy. Seeing the other appeared not to recognize her: ‘I am Madame Verdurin. Your Majesty does not remember me.’
‘Quite well,’ said the queen with an air of such complete indifference that Madame Verdurin doubted that it was to herself that this ‘Quite well’ had been addressed, uttered with a marvellously detached intonation, which wrung from Charlus, despite his broken heart, a smile of expert and delighted appreciation of the art of impertinence. The Queen offered her arm to Charlus.
‘Lean upon my arm. Be sure that it will support you. It is firm enough for that.’ Then, raising her eyes proudly to face her adversaries: ‘You know that in the past, in Gaeta, it held a mob in defiance. It will be able to serve you as a rampart.’ And it was thus, taking the baron on her arm, and without having allowed Morel to be presented to her, that the splendid sister of the Empress Elisabeth left the house.”
Moncrieff: “She appeared stunned, incredulous and desolate:…” through “Before the second time, yes.” Pages 459-471; Kindle locations 5984-92/6142-52
Clark: “She seemed astonished, still unbelieving and already heartbroken,” through “Before the second time, yes.” Pages 315-323; Kindle locations 5897-5904/6040-48