Moncrieff: 83-93; Patterson: 56-63
by Dennis Abrams
Francoise’s unsuccessful attempts to get her nephew exempted. The butler torments Francoise regarding the war, attempting to “make her flesh creep,” “Anyhow, the young men, one and all, will be off to the front and there won’t be many to come back. In one way it’ll do some good. A good bloodletting, you know, is useful now and then…And I promise you, if there are any lads who are a bit soft and think twice about it, they’ll be for the firing-squad — bang, bang, bang!” Francoise’s old faults remain: her prying into Marcel’s affairs, her “odd remarks which someone of my own class could not have made…” “But you’re absolutely dripping!” “Finally, she no longer spoke good French as she had in the past…She no longer slept, no longer ate. Every day she insisted on the bulletins, of which she understood nothing, being read to her by the butler who understood hardly more of them than she did…” Her happiness that the new butcher boy was not old enough to be called up. The butler’s lack of imagination. During his first stay at the sanitarium, Marcel receives two letters. One from Gilberte from September 1914, telling him that she (and her little daughter) had fled Paris for Combray, only to find it had been occupied by the Germans, “Whether the German staff had really behaved well, or whether it was right to detect in Gilberte’s letter the influence, by contagion, of the spirit of those Guermantes who were of Bavarian stock and related to the highest aristocracy of Germany, she was lavish in her praise of the perfect breeding of the staff-officers, and even of the soldiers who had only asked her for ‘permission to pick a few of the forget-me-nots growing near the pond…” The other letter from Robert Saint-Loup, “much more Saint-Loup than Guermantes [which] reflected in addition all the liberal culture which he had acquired. No discussion of generals, no names mentioned, no strategy discussed. Saint-Loup praises the working men as soldiers, “…if you could see everybody here, particularly the men of the humbler classes, working men and small shopkeepers, who did not suspect what heroism they concealed within them and might have died in their beds without suspecting it…The epic is so magnificent that you would find, as I do, that words no longer matter.” The death of Vaugoubert, the Ambassador’s son. Saint-Loup, despite the war and bloodshed around him, “by nature much more intelligent and an artist, and it was with the greatest good taste that he now recorded for my benefit the observations of landscape which he made if he had to halt at the edge of a marshy forest, very much as if he had been out duck hunting…when at dawn on the edge of the forest he had heard the first twittering of a bird, his rapture had been as great as though he had been addressed by the bird in that ‘sublime Siegfried‘ which he so looked forward to hearing after the war.”
1. It is nice to see Saint-Loup return to being…himself. Or, at least the formerly known version of himself.
2. Reading the bickering between Francoise and the butler brought back strong memories of the old series “Upstairs, Downstairs,” during the war, and the arguments that took place there as well beneath the stairs.
I’d like to give you another excerpt from Celeste Albaret’s Monsieur Proust, giving a glimpse at Proust’s life in Paris during the war.
“But still, though it wasn’t a time for elegance and great receptions, there were enough people he knew in Paris for M. Proust to go out and see friends if he wanted to. If private houses no longer entertained in style, there were still the fashionable restaurants. And as people kept talking more and more about [his] recently published book, [Swann’s Way] new acquaintances increased both in number and in importance. And when M. Proust did feel like going out, it was the same as with Bourdaloue pear and many other things: neither the hour or the circumstances mattered — nothing could have changed his mind.
I know what people will think if I say this sometimes took a certain amount of courage. They’ll say it was nothing in comparison with the real dangers faced by the soldiers at the front, or that it showed a certain kind of insensibility on his part. But I remember a particular example, after the Germans had started bombing Paris and the city was plunged into almost total darkness at night.
One night he wanted to pay a visit to the poet Francis Jammes, one of the first to have written favorably about Du cote de chez Swann. He lived quite a long way off, near the place des Invalides. With my husband away at war, M. Proust didn’t have a regular taxi, so I had to go and look for one. They weren’t always eager to go out in the dark those nights, and it didn’t make my search any easier to know he must be growing impatient waiting. But at least he got off. And then, before he would come home again, the antiaircraft guns would start — I can’t remember whether they were shooting at a zeppelin or planes, the Gothas. I was not myself, what with the noise and the bombs, wondering what he could be doing, where he was, and whether he’d be able to get back.
Once — the second and last time — I went down into the cellar during an attack. Then suddenly I heard the main doorbell ring.
‘Imagine!” said the concierge. ‘What’s he doing out? I’ll have to go up and let him in.’
I ran up to the apartment by the service stairs so as to be there by the time he was. I can still see him getting out of the lift, tranquil and smiling and obviously very pleased about something.
‘Were you waiting for me, Celeste?’ he said. ‘But I told you to go down to the cellar. Go back right away, please.’
I protested that I didn’t want to, knowing he wouldn’t go down because of the dust and smell. But he insisted that I go and finally I did. But when I saw Antoine, the concierge, and his wife shaking with fright, I thought: ‘If a bomb drops we’ll be suffocated whether we’re in the cellar or anywhere else. I’d sooner die a bit farther up the heap than underneath everything.’ So up I went again. He laughed when I told him why. Then I began to put away the things he’d taken off when he came in — coat, gloves…When I got to the hat I couldn’t help exclaiming. The brim was full of bits of shrapnel.
‘Monsieur, look at all this metal!’ I said. ‘Did you walk home then? Weren’t you afraid?’
‘No, Celeste, ‘ he said. ‘Why should I be? It was such a beautiful sight.’
And he described the searchlights and the shellbursts in the sky and the reflections in the river. Then he said he’d had a very pleasant night at Francis Jammes’s — Tristan Bernard was there and was very amusing — and as M. Proust didn’t think there would be a taxi on a night like this, he’d set out to walk.
It was so unlike him, who never set foot in the street, to have trudged so far, that I in all innocence asked him:
‘But how did you find the way?’
He laughed and said, ‘Your celestial protection must have sent me a guardian angel, in place de la Concorde.’
The square was deserted, he told me, and when he entered it a man came up to him in the darkness.
‘He might have been following me already and seen me hesitate or stumble in the dark, because I had only the light of the bursting shells to go by. He said, ‘You don’t look as if you know your way very well. Would you like me to come with you? Where are you going?’ I told him, boulevard Haussmann, and we walked along chatting, side by side. He asked me what I was doing out in the dark like that. I told him I was going home after visiting a friend, and he said it wasn’t a very suitable hour for walking the streets. We took rue Boissy-d’Anglas at the side of the Crillon Hotel, which brought us to boulevard Malesherbes, and he didn’t leave me until he’d seen me across the street.’
He stopped and gave me an amused little look.
‘And do you know, Celeste, to tell you the truth, he was a bad lot. I guessed it right away, but I didn’t show it until we parted. I thanked him and said, ‘It was very kind of you to see me home. Will you allow me to ask you, though — why didn’t you attack me?’ And you’ll never guess what he said. ‘Oh, not someone like you, monsieur.'”
He was very proud of that.”
Moncrieff: Pages 93-104 “And now, on my second return to Paris…” through “have found both the one and the other either dazzling or insufferably tedious.” Kindle locations 1226-33/1360-66
Patterson: Pages 63-69 “And now, returning to Paris for the second time…” through “…tended to find them both, depending on the situation, either dazzling or a complete bore.” Kindle locations 1261-68/1375-82