Moncrieff: 493-504; Patterson: 333-340
by Dennis Abrams
The Duchess resumes “the normal point of view of a society woman, the point of view, that is to say, of a woman who effects to despise society.” Touring the house. A room with Empire furniture, “where a few men in black evening clothes were sitting about on sofas, listening, while beside a tall mirror supported by a figure of Minerva a chaise longue, set at right angles to the wall but with a curved and cradle-like interior which contrasted with the straight lines all round it, disclosed the figure of a young woman lying at full length…the marvellous brilliance of her Empire dress, of a flame-red silk before which even the reddest of fuchsias would have paled…” The young Mme de Saint-Euverte. The Duchess denies that she has ever “known” any Saint-Euvertes, “The Duchess had never been very truthful and now told lies more readily than ever. For her Mme de Saint-Euverte was a hostess — and one whose reputation, with the passage of time, had sunk very low indeed — whom she chose to disown.” Why was the great-niece of Mme de Saint-Euverte laying flat on her back? “I did not know whether it was owing to some malady of the stomach or the nerves r the veins, or because she was about to hve or had just had a child or perhaps a miscarriage, that she lay flat on her back to listen to the music and did not budge for anyone. Very probably she was simply proud of her magnificent red silks and hoped on her chaise longue to look like Mme Recamier. She could not know that for me she was giving birth to a new efflorescence of the name of Saint-Euverte, which recurring thus after so long an interval marked both the distance travelled by Time and its continuity Time was the infant that she cradled in her cockle-shell, where the red fuchsias of her silk dress gave an autumnal flowering to the name of Saint-Euverte and to the Empire style.” Mme de Guermantes and her constant detestation of the Empire style, “The latter Mme de Guermantes declared that she had always detested, a remark which meant merely that she detested it now, which was true, for she followed the fashion, even if she did not succeed in keeping up with it.” Mme de Guermantes questions Marcel on how the gathering can possibly interest him, and presses him to attend her own afternoons, dangling a performance by Rachel as bait. “Then you will see what an extraordinary creature she is. She is worth a hundred times more than all this riff-raff. And after luncheon she will recite Verlaine for you.” Mme de Guermantes’s views of her salon are now like those of all the other women with salons. Marcel asks the Duchess if it must have been painful for Gilberte to witness Rachel, her husband’s one-time mistress, recite, causing Oriane to go off on Gilberte: It didn’t matter to Gilberte since she never loved Saint-Loup — she only married him for the name, the social position, the privilege of being related to Oriane, “and getting away from the slime where she belonged”; Robert knew the truth about Gilberte; Gilberte had relationships outside of her marriage; Robert joined the army to escape the misery of his family life, “he wasn’t killed, he got himself killed….No, in my opinion, the Duchess concluded,she is a bitch.” “Such an expression on the lips of the Duchesse de Guermantes was rendered possible by the downward path which she was following, from the polished society of the Guermantes to her new actress friends, and came to her all the more easily because she grafted it on to an eighteenth-century mode of speech which she thought of as broad and racy…” Marcel thinks Mme de Guermantes’s attack on Gilberte might be unwarranted, but rethinks it when Gilberte offers to introduce her daughter to him. Years later, the daughter of Gilberte and Robert Saint-Loup, instead of marrying royalty, married “an obscure man of letter. Thus it came about that the family sank once more, below even the level from which it had started its ascent.” Mlle de Saint-Loup: “Was she not — are not, indeed, the majority of human beings? — like one of those star-shaped crossroads in a forest where roads converge that have come, in the forest as in our lives, from the most diverse quarters? Numerous for me were the roads which led to Mlle de Saint-Loup and which radiated around her.” The two great ways. The Guermantes Way leading to Robert Saint-Loup, the Meseglise (or Swann’s) Way to Gilberte and Odette. Odette and the Champs-Elysses, to Swann, to evenings at Combray, to Meseglise itself. Another from Robert Saint-Loup to afternoons at Balbec, the Balbec Marcel wanted to see because of what Swann had told him about the churches, the Persian church in particular, Saint-Loup to Mme de Guermantes to Combray again, but this time via the Guermantes Way. Odette and Marcel’s great-uncle, the lady in pink, the photograph, leading to Morel, who was the lover of both M. de Charlus and Robert Saint-Loup, which made Gilberte unhappy. Swann and the music of Vinteuil, Gilberte and Albertine, Vinteuil to Albertine, Saint-Loup’s search for Albertine. “Are there not in fact among all our acquaintances any who,if we are to tell the story of our friendship with them, do not constrain us to place them unconsciously in all the most different settings of our own lives? A life of Saint-Loup painted by me would have as its background the various scenes of my own life, would be related to every part of that life, even those to which it was apparently most foreign, such as my grandmother and Albertine.” The Verdurins. Mysterious threads broken by life: “But the truth, even more, is that life is perpetually weaving fresh threads which link one individual and one event to another, and that these threads are crossed and recrossed, doubled and redoubled to thicken the web, so that between any slightest point of our past and all the others a rich network of memories gives us an almost infinite variety of communicating paths to choose from.”
First off, if I could simply type out the last three pages of today’s reading I would — it is so beautifully written and seems to be so much a summing up of what Marcel has learned, and so serenely accepting…I’ll just say read it again. And again. And maybe a third time.
Secondly, I’d like to respond to the discussion on the thread today about the comedy in Proust, and whether the book is, in fact comic. As I’ve argued throughout, I think it is, darkly ironically funny. In addition, there are these examples alone that made me laugh out loud:
Discussing Saint-Euverte and the Empire style: “The latter Mme de Guermantes declared that she had always detested, a remark which meant merely that she detested it now, which was true, for she followed the fashion, even if she did not succeed in keeping up with it.”
This discussion between Marcel and Gilberte: “I asked whether Robert had been pleased to have a daughter. ‘Oh! yes,’ she replied, ‘he was very proud of her. But naturally,’ she went on, with a certain naivety, ‘I think that nevertheless, his tastes being what they were, he would have preferred a son.'”
And then, of course, there is the comic irony of future generations, “it was generally supposed that Mme de Saint-Loup had really made as good a match for her daughter as could be expected and that the marriage of this daughter’s grandfather to Mme de Crecy had been no more than an unsuccessful attempt to rise to a higher sphere — a view of Swann’s marriage which would have astonished his fashionable friends, in whose eyes it had been rather the product of an idealistic theory like those which in the eighteenth century drove aristocratic disciples of Rousseau and other precursors of the Revolution to abandon their privileges and live according to nature.”
And, on what I hope is an exciting note — I’m pleased to announce that we now have available t-shirts and coffee mugs and tote bags commemorating our journey through Proust in search of lost time. Perfect for you, perfect for holidays presents:
Men’s tshirt: http://www.cafepress.com/pubperspectives.492089385
Women’s tshirt: http://www.cafepress.com/pubperspectives.492089384
Tote bag: http://www.cafepress.com/pubperspectives.492089383
And finally, the concluding paragraphs of the conclusion of Malcolm Bowie’s Proust Among the Stars:
“My second quality is reduced to the first, but is by no means always to be found among experimentalists upon human desire. It is the quality that the young narrator finds in Bergotte’s prose, and that the dying Bergotte finds in Vermeer’s The View of Delft. The novel is built from a multitude of different layers or levels, and the ready communication between layers that is encouraged by Proust’s writing creates an astonishing sensation of semantic depth and resonance. Desire, given voice in prose of this kind, far from running a merely unilinear forward course, begins to develop echoes and harmonics. Desire is greedy, but at the same time full of shades and gradations, it flings itself forward in time yet constantly remembers its own past. It is the elaborate polyphonic texture of Proust’s prose, and its power of self-remembrance, that allows his reader to achieve a special ecstasy by way of the printed page. the cruel extremities of desire, together with the torments of the jealous imagination and the ill-adaption of lover to lover, begin to dance with a new sense of openness and possibility.
And this quality is, of course, what makes Balbec beach for ever dissimilar to the beach at Cabourg, however prodigal that resort may become with its salt, its sand and its breezes. Balbec is not to be found on any map, for it migrates and mutates. The narrator may glimpse it for a moment in the Bois de Boulogne, as in this moment from Le Cote de Guermantes:
‘We went a little way on foot into the greenish, almost submarine grotto of a dense grove on the dome of which we heard the wind howl and the rain splash. I trod underfoot dead leaves which sank into the soil like sea-shells, and poked with my stick at fallen chestnuts prickly as sea-urchins.’
Suddenly, while strolling in their urban pleasure-ground, Albertine and the narrator are back upon a Northern shore, treading on ghostly shells and sea-urchins; from a single point in the history of their lve, a long vista opens up in geological time. Or again, the narrator may catch sight of the Balbec shore in the indoor domain of Albertine’s captivity:
‘I could, if I chose, take Albertine on my knee, hold her head in my hands, I could caress her, run my hands slowly over her, but, just as if I had been handling a stone which encloses the salt of immemorial oceans or the light of a star, I felt that I was teaching no more than the sealed envelope of a person, who inwardly reached to infinity.’
Beyond geological time and astronomical distance lies the inscrutable inwardness of human desire, which Proust maps endlessly. Balbec beach is a portion of that desire-map, and sustained in being by sexual artifice and rhetorical cunning. But if Balbec beach in the end is a text and nothing more, it has the peculiarity of straining always to rejoin the real world. Writing as find as this can be expected only from an author who has held stones in his hand, tastes salt on his tongue, and, even as his mental constellations dance within him, opened his eyes to the light of real stars.”
The Weekend’s Reading:
All translations, all editions: Finish It.
Enjoy. And enjoy your weekend. I’ll post the last synopsis etc., on Sunday night, then, through the rest of next week, I’ll post final thoughts, final parts of critical essays, etc. I hope that all of you who have been here through the end will join in the conversation, share your thoughts, ask any questions…