Moncrieff: 130-165; Patterson: 88-112
by Dennis Abrams
Charlus meets Morel in the street: Morel works to “inflame his jealousy,” (and is sometimes kind sometimes cruel on other occasion) — Charlus, trying to cover, tells Marcel “He is a boy who is mad about women and thinks of nothing else,” not realizing that Morel, despite his disreputable past, had fallen in love with a woman who “managed to impose upon him an absolute fidelity.” Charlus on the war: Norpois and his admiration for the war, “But what a singular manner he has of writing about it!” (Marcel tells the reader that the Duc de Guermantes “by no means shared his brother’s pessimism. The treachery of Caillaux, and a change of opinion due to a cultivated Englishwoman.) Norpois and the future tense; Norpois and predictions that “Norpois has to revise..every six months.” Charlus defends his friendship with the Emperor Franz Joseph, and says he’s “shocked now to see all Frenchmen execrate…” “There is only one point in the conduct of the old monarch that I would wish to criticise at all severely, and that is that a nobleman of his rank, head of one of the most ancient and illustrious houses of Europe, should have allowed himself to be led astray by a petty landowner — a very intelligent man, of course, but still a complete upstart! like William of Hohenzollern. It is one of the more shocking anomalies of this war.” Genealogy and precedence. Newspapers and public opinion. Charlus’s speculations on the homosexual activities of Constantine of Greece, Emperor Nicholas, as well as “The Tsar of the Bulgars, he is an out-and-out nancy and a monstrous liar, but very intelligent, a remarkable man. He likes me very much.” “M. de Charlus, who would be so delightful, became horrid when he touched on these subjects.” Mme de Forcheville and her admiration for the English. Mme Verdurin and Brichot: Brichot’s articles on the war become fashionable, but “Brichot had become for the Verdurins, instead of the great men that he had once been in their eyes, if not actually a scapegoat like Saniette at any rate a target for their scarcely disguised ridicule.” Brichot’s articles are a mix of “images which had absolutely no meaning…there were trivialities…Yet mixed with all this, how much knowledge, how much intelligence, what just reasoning!” “Mme Verdurin, however, never began an article by Brichot without first dwelling upon the enjoyable thought that she was going to find ridiculous things in it…” Mme Verdurin’s attacks on Brichot, Mme Mole’s defense, “What one must allow him, is that it is well written,” and Mme Verdurin’s fatal jab: “‘You call that well written?’ said Mme Verdurin. ‘Personally, I consider that it might have been written by a pig’ — an audacity which always made her fashionable guests laugh, particularly as Mme Verdurin uttered it in a whisper, holding her hands to her lips.” Her rage against Brichot works its magic, “…it became the fashion to scoff at him as it had previously been to admire him…” Marcel’s continuing stroll with Charlus: Charlus speaks of Vandalism, the destruction of statues, “but the destruction of so many marvellous young men, who while they lived were incomparable polychrome statues, is that not also vandalism?” The decline of attractiveness amongst waiters. Charlus bemoans the loss of a way of life: “I am less horrified at the disappearance of a unique monument like Rheims than at that of all the living entities which once made the smallest village in France instructive and charming.” The Americans. Combray. Symbols. Pyrrhic victories, “we see Germany striving to make peace quickly and France to prolong the war…And the men who wish to continue it are as guilty as the men who began it, more guilty perhaps, for the latter perhaps did not see all its horrors.” The unintended negative consequences of winning. France’s militarism: “…can we say that the man who first began it was the Emperor William? I am very doubtful about that. And if it was, what has he done that Napoleon, for instance, did not do — something that I certainly find abominable, but that I am astonished to see also inspiring such horror in those who burn incense before Napoleon…” The similarities between France and Germany. Charlus, speaking thus at the top of his voice while walking through the crowded streets, “struck a discordant note there and caused astonishment and, worse than that, rendered audible to the people who turned around to look at us remarks which might well have made them take us for defeatists.” Suspicious looking individuals emerge from the shadows in the wake of Charlus, “I wondered whether it would be more agreeable to him if I left him alone or remained with him.” Charlus’s admiration for “the brilliant uniforms which passed before us, which made of Paris a town as cosmopolitan as a part, as unreal as a stage setting…” Human shooting stars. Aeroplanes and airmen, Charlus’s admiration for the bravery of French and German airmen, “they are heroes, there is no other word for it.” Bravery. Moonlight. Charlus asks Marcel to help bring about a reconciliation with Morel.
A brilliant section, that reminds us of why M. de Charlus is such a vital character, and of, I think the greatest characters in all of literature. His humanity, his intelligence, his sense of self and his own importance (a letter to Emperor Franz Joseph?), his avid speculations and gossip on the sex life of others…it was all on display.
I LOVED this:
“Had the Duchesse de Guermantes been shot for trying to make a separate peace with Austria, he would still have considered her no less noble than before, no more dishonoured by this mischance than is Marie-Antoinette in our eyes from having been condemned to the guillotine.”
And this exchange between Marcel and Charlus:
“But recently I had occasion, to settle a matter of business, and in spite of a certain coolness that exists between the young couple and myself, to visit my niece Saint-Loup who lives at Combray. Combray was simply a small town like hundreds of others. But the ancestors of my family were portrayed as donors in some of the windows in the church, and in others our armorial bearings were depicted. We had our church there, and our tombs. And now this church has been destroyed by the French and the English because it served as an observation post to the Germans. All that mixture of art and still-living history that was France is being destroyed, and we have not seen the end of the process yet. Of course I am not so absurd as to compare, for family reasons, the destruction of the church of Combray with that of the cathedral of Rheims, that miracle of a Gothic cathedral which seemed, somehow naturally, to have rediscovered the purity of antique sculpture, or of the cathedral of Amiens. I do not know whether the raised arm of St. Firmin is still intact today or whether it has been broken. If so, the loftiest affirmation of faith and energy ever made has disappeared from this world.”
‘You mean its symbol, Monsieur, I interrupted. ‘And I adore certain symbols no less than you do. But it would be absurd to sacrifice to the symbol the reality that it symbolises. Cathedrals are to be adored until the day when, to preserve them, it would be necessary to deny the truths which they teach. The raised arm of St. Firmin said, with an almost military gesture of command: ‘Let us be broken, if honour requires.’ Do not sacrifice men to stones whose beauty comes precisely from their having for a moment given fixed form to human truths.'”
And of course, the destruction of the church of Combray brings us back to the beginning, to Swann’s Way, where a young Marcel, going to attend the marriage of the daughter of Dr. Percepied, sees Mme de Guermantes for the first time, “…a fair-haired lady with a large nose, piercing blue eyes, a billowy scarf of mauve silk, glossy and new and bright, and a little pimple at the corner of her nose.” “Now the chapel from which she was following the service was that of Gilbert the Bad, beneath the flat tombstones of which, yellowed and bulging like cells of honey in a comb, rested the bones of the old Counts of Brabant; and I remembered having heard it said that this chapel was reserved for the Guermantes family…” “…I was picturing her to myself in the colours of a tapestry or a stained-glass window, as living in another century, as being of another substance than the rest of the human race. Never had it occurred to me that she might have a red face, a mauve scarf like Mme Sazerat…” “…while Mme de Guermantes sat in the chapel of her dead ancestors, her gaze wandered here and there, rose to the capitals of the pillars, and even rested momentarily upon myself, like a ray of sunlight straying down the nave…” “And remembering the glance which she had let fall upon me during mass, blue as a ray of sunlight that had penetrated the window of Gilbert the Bad, I said to myself: ‘She must have taken notice of me.'”
That world is now gone.
Moncrieff: Pages 165-176 “Naturally I was familiar with the credulity,” through “cut from illustrated magazines and reviews.” Kindle locations 2132-40/2279-86
Patterson: Pages 112-119 “Of course, I was familiar with the naive or feigned credulity…” through “…brashly decorated with coloured pictures of women cut out of illustrated magazines and reviews.” Kindle locations 2125-22/2263-69