Moncrieff: 461-473; Patterson: 311-319
by Dennis Abrams
Bloch introduces a newly arrived friend to Rachel, praising her to the skies. “To this, Rachel, who was no acquainted with ladies of the best society and unwittingly copied them, replied: ‘Oh! I am most flattered, most honoured by your appreciation.'” Rachel speaks disparagingly of Berma: “She was once, I won’t say not without talent, for what she possessed was not true talent — her taste was appalling — still, one must admit she had merit of a kind: she was more alive on the stage than most actresses…And as it is years now since she has earned a penny, because the public these days loathes the sort of things she does…I must admit that someone of my generation, naturally, only heard her right at the end of her career, and even then I was really too young to form an opinion…” Marcel: “In spite of Rachel’s words, I was thinking myself that time, as it passes, does not necessarily bring progress in the arts….so Berma was, as the phrase goes, head and shoulders above Rachel, and Time, when simultaneously it turned Rachel into a star and Elstir into a famous painter, had inflated the reputation of a mediocrity as well as consecrated a genius.” It is not surprising that Rachel should speak maliciously about Berma. The Duchesse de Guermante’s commonplace comments praising Rachel: “But then, since even the best writers cease often, as the approach of old age or after producing too much, to have any talent, society women may well be excused if sooner or later they case to have any wit. Swann already in the sharp-edged wit of the Duchesse de Guermantes found it difficult to recognise the gentle raillery of the young Princesse des Laumes. And now, late in life, wearied by the least effort, Mme de Guermantes said a prodigious number of stupid things.” Her “wit” no longer comes easily. “As her life drew to its close, Mme de Guermantes had felt the quickening within her of new curiosities. Society no longer had anything to teach her…Her tired mind required a new form of food, and in order to get to know theatrical and literary people she now made herself pleasant to women with whom formerly she would have refused to exchange cards…” The Duchesse doesn’t recognize the decline in her social position, but, despite her name and that “she alone could boast of a blood that was absolutely without taint…she the purest of the pure had now, sacrificing no doubt in that hereditary need for spiritual nourishment which had brought about the social decline of Mme de Villeparisis, herself become a Mme de Villeparisis, in whose house snobbish women were afraid of meeting this or that undesirable…” Mme de Guermantes’s memories of the past are very different from Marcel’s: M. de Breaute and when Marcel met him; when Marcel became friends with Mme de Guermantes, “she no longer knew exactly at what period our friendship had begun and was unaware of the grave anachronisms that she was perpetrating in supposing that we had become friends a few years earlier than in fact we had,” and when Marcel became friends with Swann. “And again it struck me that, in spite of the apparent unity of that thing which we call ‘society,’ in which, it is true, social relations reach their maximum of concentration (for all paths meet at the top) there exist nevertheless within it, or at least there are created within it by Time, separate provinces which after a while change their names and are no longer comprehensible to those who arrive in society only when its pattern has been altered. ‘Mme de Varambon was a good lady who said things of an incredible stupidity,’ continued the Duchess, who failed to appreciate that poetry of the incomprehensible which is an effect of Time and chose rather to extract from every situation its element of ironic humour…” Geraudel lozenges.
Am I the only one whose heart broke just a bit when he read, “As her life drew to its close, Mme de Guermantes…” Or as we learn of her declining wit and status, and…how is one to feel about her becoming her aunt, Mme de Villeparisis?
And to remind you exactly who M. de Breaute is:
Marquis (or Comte) Hannibal de (“Babal”)Breaute-Consalvi. We first encounter him talking with General de Froberville at Mme de Saint-Euverte’s concert wearing a monocle “…that which M. de Breaute sported, as a festive badge, with his pearl-gray gloves, his crush hat and white tie, substituting it for the familiar pair of glasses (as Swann himself did) whenhe went to society functions.” Swann received an anonymous letter listing him among Odette’s lovers. In The Guermantes Way, Mme de Guermantes tells Mme de Villeparisis that Bergotte is witter than M. de Breaute. It is at the Duchesse de Guermante’s dinner that M. de Breaute first sees Marcel, recognizes him as a unfamiliar guest, and is introduced to him by the Duke, “M. de Breaute…finding the name to be completely unknown to him, had no longer any doubt that since I was there, I must be a celebrity of some sort…Accordingly M. de Breaute began to lick his chops and to sniff the air greedily, his appetite whetted not only by the good dinner he could count on, but by the character of the party, which my presence could not fail to make interesting and which would furnish him with an intriguing topic of conversation next day at the Duc de Chartres’s luncheon-table.” He has a reputation for being an intellectual, and discusses vanilla with the Duchess. At the Princesse de Guermantes’s party, it is M. de Breaute who finally introduces Marcel to the Prince. It is M. de Breaute who erroneously reports to Marcel that the Prince through Swann out of the party for being a Dreyfusard. He thoroughly enjoyed Mme de Guermantes’s excuse for avoiding Mme Saint-Euverte’s garden party. He is seen in Mme Swann’s box at the theatre, along with Bergotte, the Prince d’Agrigente, and Comte Louis de Tuerenne. He becomes a habitue of Mme Swann’s salon, “M. de Breaute, suddenly enhanced by the absence of the people with whom he was normally surrounded, by his air of self-satisfaction at finding himself there, just as if instead of going out to a party he had slipped on his spectacles to shut himself up and read the Revue des Deux Mondes, by the mystic rite that he appeared to be performing in coming to see Odette, M. de Breaute himself seemed a new man.” By the time of The Captive, he is a regular at Orianne’s, “…always there at that hour and who sat beaming behind his monocle..” His voice, “like a knife on a grindstone, emitted a few vague and rusty sounds.”
That was a fascinating exercise for me. He’s just a minor character, yet he is, in his way, a crucial part of the tapestry.
Tuesday’s Reading: (I realize I’m slowing this down a bit…but…I’m trying to slow down Time as much as possible…)
Moncrieff: Pages 473-483 “The past had been so transformed in the mind of the Duchess…” through “…to alienate their possessors from their proper social sphere.” Kindle locations: 6017-25/6147-54
Patterson: Pages 319-326 “The past had been so transformed in the Duchesse’s mind…” through “to damage their position in society.” Kindle locations: 5722-29/5836-43