À la Récherche du Temps Perdu
Remembrance of Things Past
In Search of Lost Time
April 18, 2004
To return to a quote from last time, having left this for a few months:
I don't know if Proust is referring to Wordsworth here, but it's the Wordsworth of Tintern Abbey that this passage brings up for me, and how he implies an almost inviolate integrity of the self and its memories, one which Proust has already systematically destroyed in Swann's Way and is now extending to social networks themselves. Very little happens in the entirety of The Guermantes Way; the main plot points are his grandmother's death and his eventual disenchantment with the Guermantes (on this point, Marcel is a lot more patient than I would have been), and the final revelation at the end of the volume, which I'll mention later. The main function of the book is to establish how tenuous Marcel's images of people are, and how the brightest things that he saw earlier have faded or have been completely replaced.
Saint-Loup was one of the most likable characters in Within a Budding Grove, and he's still likable here: his basic goodness, politeness, and generosity contrast favorably with the pettiness and amorality of most of the other high society characters. But he is a Guermantes, and to the extent that the book is an indictment of the Guermantes way (which, believe me, it is), Saint-Loup is included. He still comes off as the best of the lot, not least for his steadfast anti-Dreyfusism, which appears to come from a genuine moral stance rather than simple trendiness. Yet the conclusion on him is, I think, that his inability to be critical damns him to complicity.
His good side is on display at a party:
The story about Mme Blandais is never mentioned; it's not important. Marcel's affection for Saint-Loup here is nearly unmatched. So it comes as a disappointment shortly after Saint-Loup appropriates one of Marcel's trite conclusions about the world:
This gesture is as significant as the last. Saint-Loup is not a malicious person, but he possesses a certain thoughtlessness that, while generating moments of friendship, just as soon alienates Marcel when Saint-Loup treats those around him as sources from which to draw elaborations of his personality. Not that Saint-Loup himself doesn't suffer. When he gets involved with Rachel, the prostitute that Marcel and Bloch met in the previous volume, he is completely oblivious to her nature:
Proust generalizes Saint-Loup's behavior to the world at large, but Saint-Loup's is a particularly extreme case, somewhat like that of Swann but different in that Saint-Loup does not seem to go through the extreme mood swings that Swann did with Odette. He is merely happily oblivious, and pleased to defend that attitude. And for Proust at least, it blunts Saint-Loup's virtue.
Posted by at April 18, 2004 05:35 PM