Moncrieff: 483-493; Patterson: 326-333
by Dennis Abrams
“The old Duke no longer went anywhere, for he spent his days and his evenings with Mme de Forcheville.” But because she is at the party, the Duke is as well, but “He was no more than a ruin now, a magnificent ruin…his face, like a crumbling block of marble, preserved the style and poise which I had always admired…” Odette treats him publicly with contempt, “reserving her favours for younger wooers…” The Duke, like his brother, “had now assumed an appearance of true grandeur..But he was very old and when, wanting to leave, he passed laboriously through the doorway and down the stairs, one saw that old age, which is after all the most miserable of human conditions, which more than anything else precipitates us from the summit of our fortunes like a king in a Greek tragedy, old age, forcing him to halt in the via dolorosa which life must become for us when we are impotent and surrounded by menace…” “Thus, in the Faubourg Saint-Germain three apparently impregnable positions, of the Duc and the Duchesse de Guermantes and of the Baron de Charlus, had lost their inviolability, changing, as all things change in this world, under the action of an inherent principle which had at first attracted nobody’s attention: in M. de Charlus his love for Charlie…in Mme de Guermantes a taste for novelty and for art; in the Duke an exclusive amorous passion, of a kind of which he had had several in the course of his life but one which now, through the feebleness of age, was more tyrannical than those that had gone before and of which the ignominy was no longer compensated by the opposing, the socially redeeming respectability of the Duchess’s salon, where the Duke himself no longer appeared and which altogether had almost ceased to function. This it is that the pattern of the things of this world changes, that centres of empire, assessments of wealth, letters patent of social prestige, all that seemed to be for ever fixed is constantly being refashioned, so that the eyes of a man who has lived can contemplate the most total transformation exactly where change would have seemed to him to be most impossible.” M. de Guermantes only allows Odette to receive friends who are pleased to be presented to the Duke. Giving Odette the same looks he gave to his wife, “So for a moment the Duke glared at the audacious lady in pink.” The Duke’s attempts to control Mme de Forcheville similar to those of Swann. “Needless to say, the moment he was out of the house she went off to meet other people. But of this the Duke had no suspicion or perhaps preferred her to think he had no suspicion. The sight of old men grows dim as their hearing grows less acute, their insight too becomes clouded and even their vigilance is relaxed by fatigue, and at a certain age, inevitably, Jupiter himself is transformed into a character in one of Moliere’s plays, and not even into the Olympian lover of Alcmene but into a ludicrous Geronte.” Odette’s unfaithfulness to the Duke “without charm and without dignity. She was commonplace in this role as she had been in all her others. Not that life had not frequently given her good parts; it had, but she had not known how to play them.” After the party, the Duke attempts to keep Marcel from seeing Odette, but they finally meet. She imagines him to having become a well-known author, and to interest him, “reassumed the character of an unashamed tart,” telling him stories of her past. The man who wanted to take her to America. Odette and M. de Breaute, her ridiculous hat, “For two years we were madly in love with each other.” Her love for Swann, “Poor Charles, how intelligent he was, how fascinating, just the type of man I liked.” Swann and his love for a woman, Odette, who was not his type: because she is not your type you let yourself be loved by her without loving her in return allows your life to be “gripped by a habit” which would not otherwise take place, we are not “wary” of women who are not our type and when we come to love them “we love them a hundred times more than we love other women…the fact that our greatest unhappinessess come to us from women who are ‘not our type’ is not simply an instance of that mockery of fate which never grants us our wishes except in the form which pleases us least. A woman who is ‘our type’ is seldom dangerous, she is not interest in us, she gives us a limited contentment and then quickly leaves us without establishing herself in our life, and what on the contrary,in love, is dangerous and prolific of suffering is not a woman herself but her presence beside us every day and our curiosity about what she is doing every minute: not the beloved woman, but habit.” How much Swann did not know. Was it possible that Mme de Guermantes had also been unfaithful? Had her first look at Marcel in the church been a “glance of love?”
A continuation of yesterday’s selection from Malcolm Bowie’s Proust Among the Stars:
“In the process of gathering its epic weight and bulk, Proust’s A la recherche du demps perdu absorbs into itself, as we have seen, an ever-changing comic pageant of human individuals and types. Garros the air-ace, Peary the explorer, Rosita and Doodica the Siamese twins, assorted politicians and princes, a president of the Republic, a tribe of largely nameless footmen, waiters and mechanics, a bevy of minor aristocrats, many of them famous only for a moment or two, and only on the strength of a fleeting fatuity, writers and musicians by the score, heroes and villains from the four corners of European history — all of them move forward inside the text as a variegated throng. This is astral multiplicity in the human sphere. And although Proust has limitless reserves of sarcasm and derision at his disposal, and shows unerring precision in shooting his satirical darts, he also has the underlying tenderness and generosity that all the greatest comic writers share. Follies and foibles define our humanity, and must be safeguarded. Proust’s narrator clings to his airy Albertine as tenaciously as Don Quixote clings, even upon his deathbed, to his delusional Dulcinea. And, in a certain light, Proust is closer to the inimitable Cervantes than to any other writer, ancient or modern. Erich Auerbach, in his Mimesis (1946), that great critical overview of the ‘Representation of Reality in Western Literature’, writes of Quixote in terms that seem already to announce the Proustian comedy: ‘As God lets the sunshine and the rain fall on the just and unjust alike, so Don Quijote’s madness, in its bright equanimity, illumines everything that crosses his path and leaves it in a state of gay confusion.’ In Sodome et Gomorrhe the narrator describes the social antics of Charlus as those of a modern-day Quixote tilting at windmills, but the narrator himself is a still more perfect embodiment of the quixotic temperament: his bright equanimity is brought to bear not only upon the changing procession of personalities and sexualities which pass across the social stage but upon the polymorphous variety of his own ‘self’. Proust’s protagonist is a man with too many qualities.
This plurality of the Proustian narrator will raise a problem for many readers. He catalogues his own follies and misperceptions with lucid discriminating intelligence, but he is also a social, political, and moral chameleon whose many colourings will at times make his intelligence seem simply promiscuous. Equanimity is all very well, Proust’s reader may find himself or herself protesting, but certain kinds of company should not be kept, and certain forms of conduct should not, even in a spirit of disinterested intellectual experimentation, be tolerated. Homophobia, antisemitism and paedophilia are handled, many will feel, with an excess of empathising generosity, and with a fixated imaginative engagement that is alien to the broader comic vision of the book.
There is a real cause for anxiety here, and all new readers of Proust should expect to be embarrassed or offended at times as their journey through the book proceeds. But two of the book’s other qualities could be remembered at this point, and may go a long way towards restoring if not peace of mind then something approaching the calm vertigo of which the narrator speaks. The first quality I have in mind is the overt and relentless desire-driveness of the novel. It iw a bacchanal that summons up, and recruits to its own purposes, an astonishing range of desiring styles and gambits. And Proust’s writing has a headlong, flyaway pace to it, and one which blends and fuses into a single animated process obsessions, ‘sexual orientations’, appetites and phobias that could easily, in other hands, have been allowed to accumulate as so much inert case-material. Proust’s book is a tribute to the waywardness and improbability of desire, and places upon itself, as a matter of principle, the requirement that it shock and provoke. Even Le Temps retrouve, which spends so much time reviewing and reweaving materials from earlier in the novel has, in the field of sexual desire, its major surprise: it eroticises the spectacle of impending death. Proust is to sexuality what Talleyrand is to diplomacy and statesmanship. He is a dexterous negotiator, makes pliability and plasticity into art forms, and relishes the passage from one tight corner to the next.”
Moncrieff: Pages 493-504 “Perhaps the Duchess had been pleased for a moment to feel that her past…” through “an almost infinite variety of communicating paths to choose from.” Kindle locations: 6274-81/6416-23
Patterson: Pages 333-340 “The Duchesse may have felt glad for a moment…” through “a choice about which connection to make.” Kindle locations: 5951-58/6081-88