Moncrieff: 891-902; Clark: 621-628
by Dennis Abrams
News of two marriages: Marcel tells his mother that Robert de Saint-Loup is marring Gilberte Swann; Marcel’s mother tells him she’s received word of an even astonishing wedding, that of “the Cambremer boy,” to Mlle d’Oloron, who turns out to be the adopted daughter of M. de Charlus, Jupien’s daughter. “‘It’s the reward of virtue, It’s a chapter of one of Mme Sand’s novels,’ said my mother.” The Cambremer’s need for money to add to their name. “A bastard of a semi-royal house has always been regarded as a flattering alliance by the nobility of France and other countries.” Would Marcel’s grandmother approve of the marriages? Marcel’s mother remembers how fond grandmother was of Jupien’s niece when she first met her in the Guermante’s courtyard “She found the little niece of a jobbing tailor more ‘noble’ than the Duc de Guermantes.” Marcel’s mother refuses to believe that Odette was a whore, to which Marcel responds “Yes, a whore; indeed I shall let you have some family revelations one of these days.” More from Marcel’s mother: “And the son of Mme de Cambremer to whom Legrandin was so afraid of having to give us a letter of introduction because he didn’t think us smart enough, marrying the niece of a man who would never dare to come to our flat except by the service stairs!” Would grandmother have been shocked by the marriages? “She always imagined my grandmother as being above the assaults even of any evil which might not have been expected to occur, and told herself that my grandmother’s death had been a blessing on the whole, inasmuch as it had shut off the too ugly spectacle of the present day from that noble nature which could never have become resigned to it. For optimism is the philosophy of the past.” Marcel later learns that Gilberte’s hand had been sought after by both the Duc de Chatellerault and by the Prince de Silistrie, helped in no small part by her possessing one hundred million francs. The maneuvering between Saint-Loup’s mother, Mme de Marsantes and the Princesse de Silistrie over whose son would marry Gilberte, and Mme de Marsante’s ultimate victory. Responses to the engagement. Marcel’s unhappiness that neither Saint-Loup nor M. de Charlus had informed him of their plans. The house of ill repute, M. de Charlus, and a suggestion that both Saint-Loup and Cambremer were “one of those.” The unhappiness of the Marquise de Cambremer-Legrandin over her son’s marriage to Jupien’s niece. Marcel’s unhappiness at the upcoming marriages “…I felt an immense sadness, as when two parts of one’s past existence, which have been anchored near to one, and upon which one has perhaps been basing idly from day to day an unacknowledged hope, remove themselves finally, with a joyous flapping of pennants, for unknown destinations, like a pair of ships,” is misinterpreted, “And the gloom, as dismal as the depression of moving house, as bitter as jealousy, that these marriages caused me by the accident of their sudden impact was so profound that people used to remind me of it later, congratulating me absurdly on my perspicacity, as having been, quite contrary to what it was at the time, a twofold, indeed a threefold and fourfold presentiment.”
I don’t want to say anything about today’s section until we get to the end of the book this weekend, so in the meantime, an excerpt from an essay “Proust and social spaces,” from the Cambridge Companion to Proust, by Edward J. Hughes:
“…the evocation of Venice in Albertine disparue, where conscious links are made with Combray, one of the dominant social matrices in the novel. The mother, now mourning the loss of her own mother, is described as a well of affection, no longer holding back as she had at Combray. The tone is confirmed when the Narrator visits the baptistery in the company of his mother, who appears to be immortalised in the basilica: ‘she has her place reserved there as immutable as a mosaic.’ Ironically, Venice becomes a site in which the Narrator’s grandmother is commemorated, even though she had never visited the city. But as the Narrator’s mother repeatedly asserts, the grandmother would have adored Venice. The desire for the deceased to return is captured in the pathetic fallacy whereby the Doges’ Palace waits loyally and thoughtfully for its revered, long since departed occupants to return, [its mute attendance on its vanished lords’] shadowing the mother’s patient mourning for her absent mother.
Yet beyond the city’s tourist destinations and their capacity to absorb the melancholy of mourning — while primarily it is the mother who pines for her mother, the Narrator is still getting over Albertine — there is another Venice, that of the campi [squares] and the abandoned rii [narrow side-canals], where the Narrator engages in the pursuit of promiscuous sexual pleasure on those afternoons when not in the company of his mother. As Peter Collier observes: ‘Tendentiously, the cultural image of Venice itself is distorted by the gravity of desire.’ And if Uncle Adolphe’s nephew inherits the former’s instinct to preserve the separation between family and hedonism, he has also picked up his lasciviousness, acknowledged in Albertine disparue in the Narrator’s passionate search for Venetian women. In place of the uncle’s Parisian haunts, we have a populous Venice in which the Narrator is guided as through an oriental maze. It is in the Venice of urchins and market gardeners, humble parish churches and crowds of urban poor that the Narrator thinks feverishly of Albertine’s earlier, unfettered sexual predation as well as exercising his own.
The detour via the back streets and non-touristic waterways serves as a prelude to meeting up again with Mother in the Piazetta, a symbolic return to high-cultural seriousness. But for the Narrator, this convenient compartmentalisation of the social spaces of the city disintegrates when the mother’s decision to leave for Paris conincides with her son’s learning that Mme Putbus and her entourage are due to arrive at the hotel that day. This latter news and the prospect of sexual pleasure that it portends awakens in the Narrator the strongest and most destructive of emotions: he talks of his state of febrile agitation, of parental plots to frustrate his pursuit of pleasure, and of a brutal desire to impose his will. What such mental violence destroys it not only the Narrator’s sense of selfhood but also the powerful cultural symbolism of Venice itself:
[‘My irrevocable solitude was…complete. For I felt myself to be alone, things had become alien to me…The town that I saw before me had ceased to be Venice. It’s personality, it’s name, seemed to me to be mendacious fictions which I no longer had the will to impress upon its stones…[this place] contracted me into myself…]
Hence the disintegration both of self-identification and the social spaces of the external world that shape it. The sociological dictum seen earlier, that the group precedes the individual, is here radically contested. As Leo Bersani writes, recognising the social, in this case Venice, depends on the Narrator projecting himself on the city, a projection that becomes impossible with the departure of the mother. As Venice is thus reduced to a heap of stones and water, we are invited to reflect on this undoing of the social subject, precipitated by an alienating desire that society, in the form of the mother, refuses to sanction.
It is instructive to return to the Combray/Venice analogy which the Narrator underscores at the beginning of the ‘Sejour a Venice’ section. In aesthetic terms, the two locations are markedly different: the solid architecturally unspectacular Combray recalls the painter Chardin’s down-to-earthness, whereas Venice exudes the grand style of Veronese. Yet in sociological terms, great play is made of the rituals that are common to the two locations — Sunday mornings, the churches of Saint-Hilaire and of San Giorgio Maggiore, the ordinary folk in the street or on the water. Indeed reference to [‘the pleasure of stepping down into a festive street’] signals a literal entry into a social community noted for its cohesiveness and gaiety. But where as, as Descombes observes, Combray is the place in which everyone knows the Narrator, Venice is not. Moreover, its obliteration following the Narrator’s mother’s departure represents the temporary dissolution of the social being that is the Narrator. Thus is marked contrast with the carefully constructed social matrix of Combray stands the Venice from which the mother has been evacuated, where the Rialto bridge and the Canal lose their magic, as desire occludes culture. In this apocalyptic scenario, what emerges is the denial of a shared cultural history and the self-identification that goes with it.”
The Weekend’s Reading:
Finish “The Fugitive.” Both translations, print or Kindle.
Enjoy. And enjoy your weekend.