Saturday, May 27, 2017

My Years With Proust - Day 457

The five minutes stretched to an hour, after which Noemie came and escorted an enraged Charlus and a disconsolate Jupien on tiptoe to a door which stood ajar, telling them: "You'll see splendidly from here.  However, it's not very interesting just as present.  He's with three ladies, and he's telling them about his army life." At length the Baron was able to see through the cleft of the door and also the reflexion in the mirrors beyond.  But a mortal terror forced him to lean back against the wall.  It was indeed Morel that he saw before him, but, as though the pagan mysteries and magic spells still existed, it was rather the shade of Morel, Morel embalmed, not even Morel restored to like like Lazarus, an apparition of Morel, a phantom of Morel, Morel "walking" or "called up" in this room (in which the walls and couches everywhere repeated the emblems of sorcery), that was visible a few feet away from him, in profile.  Morel had, as happens to the dead, lost all his colour; among these women, with whom one might have expected him to be making merry, he remained livid, fixed in an artificial immobility; to drink the glass of champagne that stood before him, his listless arm tried in vain to reach out, and dropped back again.  One had the impression of that ambiguous state implied by a religion which speaks of immortality but means thereby something that does not exclude extinction.  The women were plying him with questions: "You see," Mlle Noemie whispered to the Baron, "they're talking to him about his army life.  It's amusing, isn't it?" - here she laughed - "You're glad you came?  He's calm, isn't he," she added, as though she were speaking of a dying man.  The women's questions came thick and fast, but Morel, inanimate, had not the strength to answer them.  Even the miracle of a whispered word did not occur.  M. de Charlus hesitated for barely a moment before he grasped what had really happened,namely that - whether from clumsiness on Jupien's part when he had called to make the arrangements, or from the expansive power of secrets once confided which ensures that they are never kept, or from the natural indiscretion of these women, or from their fear of the police - Morel had been told that two gentlemen had paid a large sum to be allowed to spy on him, unseen hands had spirited the Prince de Guermantes, metamorphosed into three women, and the unhappy Morel had been placed, trembling, paralysed with fear, in such a position that if M. de Charlus could scarcely see him, he, terrified, speechless, not daring to lift his glass for fear of letting it fall, had a perfect view of the Baron.
Marcel Proust, Cities of the Plain, pp. 1116-1117

The plot of M. de Charlus and Jupien comes to nothing because all they discover in the room is Morel and three women, in a very staged performance with the women asking him questions about his army life.  The mistress of the brothel asks the Baron, "You're glad you came?"  M. de Charlus quickly figures out that somehow their secret plan was discovered, and "unseen hands had spirited the Prince de Guermantes, metamorphosed into three women. . ."  Proust's description of the Morel that the Baron saw through the cleft of the door is brilliantly otherworldly: "But a mortal terror forced him to lean back against the wall.  It was indeed Morel that he saw before him, but, as though the pagan mysteries and magic spells still existed, it was rather the shade of Morel, Morel embalmed, not even Morel restored to like like Lazarus, an apparition of Morel, a phantom of Morel, Morel "walking" or "called up" in this room (in which the walls and couches everywhere repeated the emblems of sorcery), that was visible a few feet away from him, in profile.  Morel had, as happens to the dead, lost all his colour. . ."  I think the description is both metaphoric and realistic.  It is a fitting metaphor for a Morel who was now all but dead to the Baron, but it was also an accurate description of a terrified Morel who was almost caught. I can't help but wonder if the Baron's "mortal terror" had less to do with Morel's infidelity or his time spent with women or the fact that M. de Charlus realized how terribly old and foolish he was. As a man who is increasingly old and foolish I'm leaning to that possibility.


Friday, May 26, 2017

My Years With Proust - Day 456

   The incident that concerns Morel was of a more highly specialised order.  There were others, but I confine myself at present, as the little train halts and the porter calls out "Doncieres," "Grattevast," "Maineville" etc., to noting down the particular memory that the water-place of garrison town recalls to me.  I have already mentioned Maineville (media villa) and the importance that it had acquired from that luxurious house of prostitution which had recently been built there, not without arousing futile protests from the local mothers. . .
   In any case Morel, whatever objection might be made, reserved certain evening hours, whether for algebra or for the violin.  On one occasion it was for neither, but for the Prince de Guermantes who, having come down for a few days to that part of the coast to pay the Princesse de Luxembourg a visit, met the musician without knowing who he was or being known to him either, and offered him fifty francs to spend the night with him in the brothel at Maineville; a twofold pleasure for Morel, in the remuneration received from M. de Guermantes and in the delight of being surrounded by women who would flaunt their tawny breasts uncovered.  In some way or other M. de Charlus got wind of what had occurred and of the place appointed, but did not discover the name of the seducer.  Mad with jealousy, and in the hope of identifying the latter, he telegraphed to Jupien, who arrived two days later, and when, early the following week, Morel announced that he would again be absent, he Baron asked Jupien if he would undertake to bribe the woman who the establishment to hide them in some place where they could witness what occurred. "That's all right, I'll see to it, dearer," Jupien assured the Baron.  It is hard to imagine the extent to which this anxiety agitated the Baron's mind, and by the very fact of doing so had momentarily enriched it.  Love can thus be responsible for veritable geological upheavals of the mind.  In that of M. de Charlus, which a few days earlier had resembled a plain so uniform that as far as the eye could reach it would have been impossible to make out an idea rising above the level surface, there had suddenly sprung into being, hard as stone, a range of mountains, but mountains as elaborately carved as if some sculptor, instead of quarrying and carting away the marble, had chiselled it on the spot, in which there writhed in vast titanic groups Fury, Jealousy, Curiosity, Envy, Hatred, Suffering, Pride, Terror and Love.
Marcel Proust, Cities of the Plain, pp. 1112-1114

I'm beginning to think that Proust should have entitled this work Remembrance of Jealousy Past, as we have another example of one of the characters being driven to mad distraction by jealousy.  In this case it is once again M. de Charlus.  Proust makes uses of an extended geological metaphor to explain the calamity.  We are told, In that of M. de Charlus, which a few days earlier had resembled a plain so uniform that as far as the eye could reach it would have been impossible to make out an idea rising above the level surface . . ." But then we are told that he hears a rumor and "there had suddenly sprung into being, hard as stone, a range of mountains, but mountains as elaborately carved as if some sculptor, instead of quarrying and carting away the marble, had chiselled it on the spot, in which there writhed in vast titanic groups Fury, Jealousy, Curiosity, Envy, Hatred, Suffering, Pride, Terror and Love."  Now, to be fair, is is a pretty spectacular rumor.  The Baron hears that Morel is planning to meet an unnamed lover at the brothel at Maineville.  In this case the rumor had substance because Morel had run into the Prince de Guermantes who had offered him fifty francs to spend the night with him.  Not surprisingly, M. de Charlus flies into a rage.  What I find surprising is that the Baron wires his older lover Jupien and asks for help, and not only does Jupien reply in the affirmative but volunteers to bribe the mistress of the brothel to allow them to spy.  Knowing how self-centered the Baron is I guess I'm not that shocked that he had the temerity to contact Jupien.  Rather, I'm somewhat surprised that Jupien didn't tell him to get stuffed, unless, of course, he thinks that this discovery will drive the Baron back into his arms.

As Proust reminds us, "Love can thus be responsible for veritable geological upheavals of the mind."

Thursday, May 25, 2017

My Years With Proust - Day 455

"You would do wrong to apply in this case the proverbial 'spare the rod and spoil the child,' for you were the child in question, and I do not intend to spare the rod, even after our quarrel, for those who have base sought to do you injury. Until now, in response to their inquisitive insinuation s, when they dared to ask me how a man like myself could associate with a gigolo of your sort, sprung form the gutter, I have answered only in the words of the motto of my La Rochefourcauld cousins: 'It is my pleasure.' I have indeed pointed out to you more than once that this pleasure was capable of becoming my chieftest pleasure, without there resulting from your arbitrary elevation any debasement of myself." And in an impulse of almost insane pride he exclaimed, raising his arms in the air: "Tantus ab uno splendor! To condescend is not to descend," he added in a calmer tone, after this delirious outburst of pride and joy. "I hope at least that my two adversaries, notwithstanding their inferior rank, are of a blood that I can shed without reproach.  I have made certain discreet inquiries in that direction which have reassured me.  If you retained a shred of gratitude towards me, you ought on the contrary to be proud to see me that for your sake I am reviving the bellicose humour of my ancestors, saying like them, in the event of a fatal outcome, now that I have learned what a little rascal you are: 'Death to me is life.'"
Marcel Proust, Cities of the Plain, pp. 1104-1105

Somewhere along the way M. de Charlus has become one of those Dickensian characters designed to express pomposity and class arrogance, which was maybe always Proust's intention.  He's won this round with Morel, and the victory only makes him more arrogant.  He even goes so far to proclaim, quite loudly, "Tantus ab uno splendor!" which I think translates out as "So much brilliance coming from one person."

The Baron throws in one last pompostic exclamation: "If you retained a shred of gratitude towards me, you ought on the contrary to be proud to see me that for your sake I am reviving the bellicose humour of my ancestors, saying like them, in the event of a fatal outcome, now that I have learned what a little rascal you are: 'Death to me is life." Now, is this just the Baron showing off, again, or is there a darker meaning in that statement that "Death to me is life."


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

My Years With Proust - Day 454

   "What are you doing here?" he said to him.  "And you?" he added, looking at me, "I told you, whatever you did, not to bring him back with you."
   "He didn't want to bring me," said Morel, turning upon M. de Charlus, in the artlessness of his coquetry, a conventionally mournful and languorously old-fashioned gaze which he doubtless thought irresistible, and looking as though he wanted to kiss the Baron and to burst into tears.  "It was I who insisted on coming in spite of him.  I come, in the name of our friendship, to implore you on my bended knees not to commit this rash act."
   M. de Charlus was wild with joy.  The reaction was almost too much for his nerves; he managed, however, to control them.
   "The friendship which you somewhat inopportunely invoke," he replied curtly, "ought, on the contrary, to make you give me your approval when I decide that I cannot allow the impertinences of a fool to pass unheeded. Besides, even if I chose to yield to the entreaties of an affection which I have known better inspired, I should no longer be in a position to do so, since my letters to my seconds have been dispatched and I have no doubt of their acceptance.  You have always behaved towards me like a young idiot and, instead of priding yourself, as you had every right to do, upon the predilection which I had known for you, instead of making known to the rabble of sergeants or servants among whom the law of military service compels you to live, what a source of incomparable pride friendship such as mine was to you, you have sought to apologise for it, almost to make an idiotic merit of not being grateful enough.  I know that in so doing," he went on, in order not to let it appear how deeply certain scenes had humiliated him, "you are guilty of having let yourself be carried away by the jealousy of others.  But how is it that at your age you are childish enough (and ill-bred enough) not to have seen at once that your election by myself and all the advantages that must accrue from it were bound to excited jealousies, that all your comrades, while inciting you to quarrel with me, plotting to take your place? I did not thin it advisable to warn you of the letters I have received in that connexion from all those in whom you place most trust.  I scorn the overtures of those flunkeys as I scorn their ineffectual mockery.  The only person for whom I care is yourself, since I am fond of you, but affection has its limits and you ought to have guessed as much."
Marcel Proust, Cities of the Plain, pp. 1103-1104

Morel has shown up and is trying to beg M. de Charlus to call off the duel.  It's a pretty amazing performance, made all the more farcical by the Baron critiquing someone else for being jealous and childish. To make this work the Baron also has to criticize Marcel ("I told you, whatever you did, not to bring him back with you.") for doing exactly what he begged him to do.

However, M. de Charlus also pretty dramatically overplays his hand, as his desire to get Morel to come to him also provides him an opportunity to lecture his young lover on his ingratitude.  In the end his own vanity is never far away. Proust reports, "The friendship which you somewhat inopportunely invoke," he replied curtly, "ought, on the contrary, to make you give me your approval when I decide that I cannot allow the impertinences of a fool to pass unheeded." He even goes so far as to point out that there were other soldiers in Morel's own regiment who wrote to the Baron begging to take the young man's place, even though, the older man affirms, "I scorn the overtures of those flunkeys as I scorn their ineffectual mockery."  Still, one can't help wondering if this clumsily staged performance, due to its public nature, will not have disastrous consequences down the road.

If nothing else, I hope the Baron and Morel had great make-up sex.



   

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

My Years With Proust - Day 453

Being in a mood not to be deprived of Morel's company that evening, he had pretended to have been informed that two officers of the regiment had spoken ill of him on connexion with the violinist and that he was going to send his seconds to call upon them.  Morel had foreseen the scandal - his life in the regiment made impossible - and had come at once.  In doing which he had not been altogether wrong.  For to make this lie more plausible, M. de Charlus had already written to two friends (one was Cottard) asking them to be his seconds.  And if the violinist had not appeared, we may be certain that, mad as he was (and in order to change his sorrow into rage), M. de Charlus would have sent them with a challenge to some officer or some other with whom it would have been relief to him to fight.  In the meantime M. de Charlus, remembering that he came of a race that was of purer blood than the House of France, told himself that it was really very good of him to make such a fuss about the son of a butler whose employer he would not have condescend to know.
Marcel Proust, Cities of the Plain, p. 1102

The Baron's charade grows both more absurd but also more serious.  Not to drag Presidential politics into this, but, as always, it's the mad cover-up for an earlier indiscretion, which might have been serious, but might also have just been spontaneously foolish (and thus utterly human).  In this case the need of M. de Charlus to control Morel is making this silly incident spin out of control and he's now dragging other into the vortex. And, if Proust is to believed, it is possible that the Baron have actually undertaken this mock duel, both to win back his beloved but also because of his own honor: "And if the violinist had not appeared, we may be certain that, mad as he was (and in order to change his sorrow into rage), M. de Charlus would have sent them with a challenge to some officer or some other with whom it would have been relief to him to fight." I'm thinking about Sei Shonagon's The Pillow Book and her section on "Things That Have Lost Their Power" (which I think we've discussed before).  In addition to items like a boat that has been beached by the receding tide she also includes lovers who have stormed off, but then forced to come home with their tails between their legs because their lovers has called their bluff.  Both M. de Charlus and Morel are in the danger of being that disgraced lover in this farce.



Monday, May 22, 2017

My Years With Proust - Day 452

   "Wouldn't it be better to open it? I suspect it's something serious."
   "Not on your life.  You've no idea what lies, what internal tricks that old scoundrel gets up to.  It's a dodge to make me go and see him.  Well, I'm not going.  I want to spend the evening in peace."
   "But isn't there going to be a duel to-morrow?" I asked him, having assumed that he was in the know.
   "A duel?" he repeated with an air of stupefaction, "I never heard a word about it.  Anyhow, I don't give a damn - the dirty old beast can go and get plugged in the guts if he likes.  But wait a minute, this is interesting.  I'd better look at his letter after all.  You can tell him you left it here for me, in case I should come in."
   While Morel was speaking, I looked with amazement at the beautiful books which M. de Charlus had given him and which littered his room.  The violinist having refused to accept those labelled: "I belong to the Baron" etc., a device which he felt to be insulting to himself, as a mark of vassalage, the Baron, with the sentimental ingenuity in which his ill-starred love abounded, had substituted others, borrowed from his ancestors, but ordered from the binder according to the circumstances of a melancholy friendship. . . .
   . . . If M. de Charlus, in dashing this letter down upon paper, had seemed to be carried away by the daemon that was inspiring his flying pen, as soon as Morel had broken the seal (a leopard between two roses gules, with the motto: Atavis et armis) he began to read the letter as feverishly as M. de Charlus had written it, and over those pages covered at breakneck speed his eye ran no less swiftly than the Baron's pen.  "Good God!" he exclaimed, "this is the last straw!  But where am I to find him? Heaven only knows where he is now."
Marcel Proust, Cities of the Plain, pp. 1100-1101

Marcel delivers the hastily - well, it was eight pages, so I guess not that hastily - written note from M. de Charlus to Morel.  While the plot - that is, the Baron being involved in a duel - seems painfully foolish and patently unbelievable, it appears to have achieved its purpose as Morel, after initially feigning indifference, is immediately drawn into the adventure. Morel, in the face of the absurd news of the Baron's impending duel, nevertheless exclaims, "Good God!" he exclaimed, "this is the last straw!  But where am I to find him? Heaven only knows where he is now."  Keep in mind that this is about two minutes after he informed Marcel, "You've no idea what lies, what internal tricks that old scoundrel gets up to.  It's a dodge to make me go and see him." Every relationship has its own internal logic, and sometimes that internal logic is decidedly illogical.  One would suppose that the partnership of M. de Charlus and Morel was defined by and fueled by high drama.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

My Years With Proust - Day 451

   When he had written eight pages: "May I ask you to do me a great service?" he said to me. "You will excuse my sailing this note.  But I must.  You will take a carriage, a motor-car if you can find one, to get there as quickly as possible.  You are certain to find Morel in his quarters, where he has gone to change.  Poor boy, he tried to bluster a little when we parted, but you may be sure that his heart is heavier than mine.  You will give him this note, and, if he asks you where you saw me, you will tell him that you stopped at Doncieres (which, for that matter, is the truth) to see Robert, which is not quite the truth perhaps, but that you met me with a person whom you did not know, that I seemed to be extremely angry, that you thought you heard something about sending seconds (I am in fact fighting a duel tom-morrow).  Whatever you do, don't say that I'm asking for him, don't make any effort to bring him here, but if he wishes to come with you, don't prevent him from doing so.  Go, my boy, it is for his own good, you may the means of averting a great tragedy.  While you are away, I shall write to my seconds."
Marcel Proust, Cities of the Plain, p. 1099

Here we have one of the most absurd, and amusing, passages in Remembrance of Things Past, and one that proves, if, indeed, we needed more proof (to quote the excellent Sanford Zale), that when we are in love we are little more than idiots.  M. de Charlus and Morel have a lover's spat and the younger man leaves in a huff.  The Baron then, in a scheme worthy of an old I Love Lucy episode, pretends to be involved in an upcoming duel to get him back. I now have a plan in place for my next fight with my girlfriend.

Now, on the one hand it is pretty funny, and we'll spend the next few days revealing the almost slapstick nature of the plan, but on the other hand I have a feeling that it is going to play a role a much darker role in the Baron's future because it is bringing him more and more into the limelight (now, truthfully, I haven't read that far ahead in my note-taking reading, but I just have a feeling that this will have great ramifications).