Moncrieff: 104-117; Patterson: 69-79
by Dennis Abrams
An evening walk by Marcel to the Verdurins: Daylight savings time. “Over that whole portion of the city which is dominated by the towers of the Trocadero the sky looked like a vast sea the colour of turquoise…” Marcel’s oriental vision of Paris: “and I thought too of the Paris of an earlier age, not now so much of the Paris of the Directory as of the Paris of 1815. As in 1815 there was a march past of allied troops in the most variegated uniforms, and among them, the Africans in their red divided skirts, the Indians in their white turbans were enough to transform for me this Paris through which I was walking into a whole imaginary exotic city…just as out of the town in which he lived Carpaccio made a Jerusalem or a Constantinople by assembling in its streets a crowd whose marvellous motley was not more rich in colour than that of the crowd around me.” Marcel sees “a tall, stout man in a soft felt hat and a long heavy overcoat, to whose purplish face I hesitated whether I should give the name of an actor or a painter, both equally notorious for innumerable sodomist scandals…it was M. de Charlus.” “M. de Charlus had travelled as far as was possible from himself, or rather had was himself but so perfectly masked by what he had become, by what belonged not to him alone but to many other inverts, that for a moment I had taken him for some other invert…” The quarrel between M. de Charlus and Mme Verdurin “had grown steadily more bitter and Mme Verdurin even took advantage of present events to discredit him further.” According to Mme Verdurin, Charlus was a man of the past, he was “pre-war.” He sees “nobody, nobody invites him,” which is true due largely to his own cantankerous personality, “So that what was really the result of his own spleen seemed to be due to the contempt of the people upon whom he vented it.” Charlus and the Courvoisiers. The Verdurins continue their campaign against Charlus: “‘What is his nationality, exactly, isn’t he Austrian?’ M. Verdurin would ask innocently. ‘No, certainly not,’ Comtesse Mole would reply, her first reaction being of common sense than of resentment. ‘No, he is Prussian,’ the Mistress would say.” Mme de Verdurin proclaims that the Queen of Naples “is a dreadful spy,’ and that “I have not the slightest doubt that for two years Charlus did nothing but spy on us all…Let me tell you, I said to my husband the very first day: ‘I don’t like the way that man wormed his way into my house. There’s something shady here.’ We had a property which stood on very high ground, looking down over a bay. Quite obviously he had been sent by the Germans to prepare a base for their submarines.'” The unfashionability of M. de Charlus. Morel has written a series of nasty articles attacking Charlus, including “The Misfortunes of a Dowager ending in -us or the Latter Days of the Baroness,” of which “Mme Verdurin had bought fifty copies in order to be able to lend it to her acquaintances and M. Verdurin, declaring that Voltaire himself did not write better, took to reading aloud.” Brichot’s pleasure. Morel’s writing style, stolen from Bergotte’s speaking style. Mme Verdurin’s attacks on those who left her salon for the war; her attempts to keep those still in her salon from enlisting. With older men scarce, Charlus’s taste has turned to little boys, as well as the occasional soldier home on leave. Cottard dies from overexertion. M. Verdurin dies, “whose death caused grief to one person only and that strangely enough, was Elstir…No doubt young men had come along who also loved painting, but painting of another kind; they had not, like Swann, like M. Verdurin, received lessons in taste from Whistler, lessons in truth from Monet, lessons which alone would have qualified them to judge Elstir with justice. So the death of M. Verdurin left Elstir feeling lonelier…it was for him as though a little of the beauty of his own work had been eclipsed, since there had perished a little of the universe’s sum total of awareness of its special beauty.”
A beautiful section…
1. I love (as zungg mentioned in the comments) the descriptions of wartime Paris. I was struck, in today’s reading by the reiteration of a theme we’ve seen throughout the book — the merging of the sky and the sea.
“Over that whole portion of the city which is dominated by the towers of the Trocadero the sky looked like a vast sea the colour of turquoise, from which gradually there emerged, as it ebbed, a whole line of little black rocks, which might even have been nothing more than a row of fishermen’s nets and which were in fact small clouds– a sea at that moment the colour of turquoise, sweeping along with it, without their noticing, the whole human race in the wake of the vast revolution of the earth, that earth upon which they are mad enough to continue their revolutions, their futile wars, like the war which at this very moment was staining France crimson with blood. But if one looked for long at the sky, this lazy, too beautiful sky which did not condescend to change its timetable and above the city, where the lamps had been lit, indolently prolonged its lingering day in these bluish tones, one was seized with giddiness: it was no longer a flat expanse of sea but a vertically stepped series of blue glaciers. And the towers of the Trocadero which seemed so near to the turquoise steps must, one realised, be infinitely remote from them, like the twin towers of certain towns in Switzerland which at a distance one would suppose to be near neighbours of the upper mountain slopes.”
2. I know she’s a monster, but am I the only glad to see the return of Mme Verdurin? Despite her sheer awfulness…(Charlus a Prussian spy? Members of her salon would be more useful to France if they stayed in Paris? “…if a man had lost his mother she had not hesitated to try to convince him that there was no objection to his continuing to come to her parties?”) she’s…fascinating.
3. The death of M. Verdurin. What did he die of? Elstir was the only one to grieve? (Does that include Mme Verdurin?) I was, I have to say, extraordinarily touched by Marcel’s description of Elstir’s feelings, self-centered as they might have been. “…it was for him as though a little of the beauty of his own work had been eclipsed, since there had perished a little of the universe’s sum total of awareness of its special beauty.”
Moncrieff: Pages 117-130 “At the time when I believed what people said…” through “I am the older man, it is not for me to make a move.” Kindle locations: 1524-31/1693-1700
Patterson: Pages 79-88 “At the time when I believed what people said…” through “…I am the older, it is not up to me to initiate it.” Kindle locations 1548-55/1703-10