Moncrieff: 191-205; Patterson: 130-140
by Dennis Abrams
Jupien’s “hotel”: Two Russians in white tie and tails stand in the doorway and discuss going in, “Well, After all, what do we care?” Portentous language, “in which emotion deflects what we had intended to say and causes to emerge in its place an entirely different phrase, issued from an unknown lake wherein dwell these expressions alien to our thoughts which by virtue of that very fact reveal them.” Albertine’s nakedness, Francoise’s blindness, “the beautiful Francoise.” The Russians enter, as does Jupien, who is horrified to find Marcel there. Clients ask the patron for introductions — “to a footman, a choir-boy, a negro chauffeur. Every profession interested those lunatics, every branch of the armed forces, every one of the allied nations.” The particular attraction of Canadians “influenced perhaps unconsciously by the charm of an accent so slight that ones does not know whether it comes from the past or from England,” and of Scots. Looking for a disabled soldier. With Charlus about to enter the scene, Jupien hides Marcel in an adjoining bedroom. Marcel’s earlier room has been taken by the Vicomte de Courvoisier who “had come to Paris for an hour’s entertainment before going on to the Chateau de Courvoisier to be reunited with his wife, to whom he could explain that he had not been able to catch the fast train.” Charlus and his pleasure at speaking with the young men in their own language. Sarah Bernhardt’s view of the war. Charlus’s disappointment at Maurice’s denial that he was a murderer, “This declaration of virtuous principles had the effect of a douche of cold water upon the Baron…” Jupien warns the young men that they need to be more perverse. The men at Jupien’s regret the death of one of their favorite clients, the Prince de Foix, the father of Saint-Loup’s ‘friend.’ The Abbe and the soldier, “‘What did you expect? I am not’ (I expected him to say ‘a saint’) ‘a good girl.'” Jupien’s defense of his establishment as a safe place for Charlus. Marcel regrets that Charlus was not a novelist, “‘Not merely so that he could describe what he sees, but because the position in which a Charlus finds himself with respect to desire causes scandals to spring up around him, and compels him to take life seriously, to load pleasure with a weight of emotion. He cannot get stuck in an ironical and superficial view of things because a current of pain is perpetually reawakened with him. Almost every time he makes a declaration of love he is violently snubbed, if he does not run the risk of being sent to prison.’ A slap in the face or a box on the ear helps to educate not only children but poets.”
I’d like to continue with something I mentioned in yesterday’s post — the continuing theme of Marcel and windows. This is from Howard Moss’s The Magic Lantern of Marcel Proust, part of which I may have posted earlier:
“The linking of the ‘mother’ window at Combray, and the two ‘homosexual’ windows — the one at Montjouvain and the one overlooking the Duchesses’s courtyard — provide a tension between two subjects, establishes a bond between two emotions that is reinforced again in a further association. In Venice, Marcel describes a particular window at the hotel:
‘On the piazza, the shadow that would have been cast at Combray by the linen-draper’s awning and the barber’s pole, turned into the tiny blue flowers scattered at its feet upon the desert of sun-scorched tiles by the silhouette of a Renaissance facade, which is not to say that, when the sun was hot, we were not obliged, in Venice as at Combray, to pull down the blinds between ourselves and the Canal, but they hung behind the quatrefoils and foliage of gothic windows. Of this sort was the window in our hotel behind the pillars of which m mother sat waiting for me, gazing at the Canal with a patience which she would not have displayed in the old days at Combray, at that time when, reposing in myself hopes which had never been realized, she was unwilling to let me see how much she loved me. Nowadays she was well aware that an apparent coldness on her part would alter nothing, and the affection she lavished upon me was like those forbidden foods which are no longer withheld from invalids, when it is certain that they are past recovery. To be sure, the humble details which gave an individuality to the window of my aunt Leonie’s bedroom, seen from the Rue de l’Oiseau…the equivalent of all these things existed in this hotel in Venice…she (his mother) sent out to me, from the bottom of her heart, a love which stopped only where there was no longer any material substance to support it on the surface of her impassioned gaze which she brought as close to me as possible, which she tried to thrust forward to the advancing post of her lips, in a smile which seemed to be kissing me, in the framework the canopy of the more discreet smile of the arched window illuminated by the midday sun; for these reasons…ever since then, whenever I see a cast of the window in a museum, I feel the tears starting to my eyes, it is simply because the window says to me the thing that touches me more than anything else in the world: “I remember your mother so well”.’
The ‘equivalence’ between the Combray bedroom window and the window in Venice, both maternal shrines, is here made explicit.
In the ultimate horror scene of Remembrance of Things Past, a scene whose implications project backwards through four transparencies — the Venetian window, the window overlooking the Duchesse de Guermante’s courtyard, the Montjouvain window, and the window of Marcel’s bedroom at Combray — we come upon the following passage:
‘I heard the crack of a cat-o’-nine-tails, probably loaded with nails for it was followed by cries of pain. Then I perceived that there was a lateral peep-hole in the room, the curtain of which they had forgotten to draw. Creeping softly in that direction, I glided up to the peep-hole, and there on the bed, like Prometheus bound to his rock, squirming under the strokes of a cat-o’nine-tails, which was, as a fact, loaded with nails, wielded by Maurice, already bleeding and covered with bruises which proved he was not submitting to the torture for the first time, i saw before me M. de Charlus.’
The ‘ultimate horror scene’ for specific reasons. For, if earlier, ‘My Hell was all that Balbec…’, this further vision of Hell peculiarly transcends the personal and fuses the sexual and social motifs of the novel. During a blackout, Marcel has taken refuge in a building that turns out to be a male brothel run by Jupien and supported by Charlus…The brothel scene is immediately followed by the bombing of Paris. The Paradise of Aunt Leonie’s garden has led, by inevitable stages, to a vision of Hell that is, psychologically, the product of inversion (the brothel), and, socially, the coup de grace of Europe’s ruling classes (the bombing). Stupidity, corruption, malevolence, selfishness, disease — they are combined in two acts of aggression: the beating of Charlus, the end product of centuries of civilization, and the attempted destruction of Paris, the historical and material centre of the same civilization.
It is no accident that three out of the four major male representatives of the French aristocracy in Proust’s novel — Prince Gilbert de Guermantes (who spends a night with Morel at a house of prostitution at Mainville), Saint-Loup, and Baron de Charlus– are all depicted at one point or another as patrons of male prostitutes. The one male Guermantes who eludes this category, the Duc, substitutes for it a lifelong obsession with adultery.
In The Captive, at a moment of great anxiety, Marcel experiences the following:
‘Suddenly, in the silence of the night, I was startled by a sound apparently insignificant which, however, filled me with terror, the sound of Albertine’s window being violently opened.’
The sound, apparently insignificant, is of the utmost importance. It signals the departure of Albertine — an action suspected, dismissed, then actual, like Marcel’s vision of the Persian church at Balbec, which is oriental in imagination, prosaic in reality, and, then, partly Persian in fact. But between the opening of this window, when Albertine makes the preparations for her departure, and her actual escape, she and Marcel take a trip to Versailles. Hearing a sound they cannot at first identify, Albertine says, ‘Why…there is an aeroplane…high up in the sky…’
It is at the violent opening of a window in his own house that Marcel suffers in anticipation of the departure of Albertine. Like the other windows, this one sets the stage for a further surprise; Albertine not only parts from Marcel, she departs from life itself. This image of a window being violently opened which fills Marcel ‘with terror’ is thematically linked to the earlier brothel scene. Each one — for Marcel and Albertine have quarreled about her relationship with Andree — involves the rediscovery of inversion, a real or symbolic reference to the French aristocracy (Guermantes, croix de guerre, Versailles) and the presence of an aeroplane (the bombing of Paris, Albertine’s remark about the plane ‘high in the sky’).
Like the ringing of the garden gate bell — a sound heard both at the beginning and the end of Proust’s novel — the bedroom window at Combray becomes a repetitive motif. It narrows into a ‘peep-hole’ behind which a once unimagined, and now desired and detested action takes place, transforming the childhood pictures of legend and history projected by Marcel’s magic lantern into a horrifying vision of sexual love.”
Moncrieff: Pages 205-218 “And the truth is that, when one knew M. de Charlus well…” through “and replace it with an iron bed which went better with the chains.” Kindle locations 2664-70/2818-25
Patterson: Pages 140-148 “And to tell the truth, when one knew M. de Charlus well…” through “…and replace it with an iron bed better suited to the chains.” Kindle locations 2629-36/2779-85