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NA311612 - PROUST, M.: Remembrance of Things Past, Vol. 3: Guermantes Way (The): Part I (Abridged)
The Guermantes Way Part I
In The Guermantes Way, Marcel penetrates the inner sanctum of Paris high
society, the circle of the Faubourg Saint Germain, which he has hitherto viewed as both unattainable and quasi-magical; a place inhabited by beings who lead lives completely unlike his own and those of other ordinary mortals.
Marcel’s unexpected social advancement is brought about by a combination of circumstances. His family has moved to an apartment, which forms part of the Hôtel de Guermantes, the Paris residence of the Duc and Duchesse de Guermantes, whose country estates are at Combray, where Marcel’s family used to spend their summers when he was a child.
More recently, while Marcel was on holiday at the seaside resort of Balbec with his grandmother, the old lady renewed the acquaintance of a friend of her youth, the Marquise de Villeparisis, aunt of the Duchesse de Guermantes. The Marquise has introduced Marcel to her nephew Robert de Saint Loup, a stylish young officer cadet who delights in the intellectual and artistic stimulation he finds in Marcel’s conversation.
Marcel’s new neighbor, the Duchesse de Guermantes, is sufficiently young, attractive, and unobtainable to become the safe object of his youthful
adoration, and although he is unable to avoid noticing that she is a real woman with a disagreeable expression and a faulty complexion, the reality is outweighed by his fantasy, which incorporates the glory of her title and her ancient name. Marcel’s obsession drives him to take his morning walk at the same time as the Duchess takes hers, in order to meet her as though by accident, although the Duchess appears, if anything, rather annoyed than pleased by his attentions.
Having been invited by Robert de Saint-Loup to visit him in the garrison town where he is stationed, Marcel finds fascination in army life, with its physical rigor and rough camaraderie. He is reminded that Oriane, Duchesse de Guermantes is Robert’s cousin, and although reluctant to admit to Robert the extent of his love for her, he obtains from him the promise of an introduction on their return to Paris.
Robert’s mistress is an aspiring young actress, and he is impatient for Marcel to meet her. When they are introduced Marcel realizes with a shock that he has seen her before. This woman so adored and admired by Robert, on whom he lavishes priceless jewels and for whom he defies his family’s displeasure, turns out to be ‘Rachel when from the Lord’, a former prostitute in a brothel frequented at one time by Marcel. Despite his view of Rachel as unworthy of Robert’s love, Marcel can see that the emotions she engenders in him are both genuine and devastating.
When they pay a visit to the theater to see Rachel perform, Marcel observes with fascination the magical transformation made by distance and art, and begins to understand Robert’s passion for her. Robert’s relationship with Rachel is a stormy one, due to his jealous nature and her seeming need to provoke it, and Marcel is made an unwilling witness of their complicated emotional life.
The scene of Marcel’s introduction to high society is the salon of the Marquise de Villeparisis. Not only is the Marquise Robert’s aunt and his grandmother’s old friend, but Marcel discovers another link between them in that the Marquise’s lover of many years standing is the Baron de Norpois, his father’ s old friend and colleague.
The Marquise’s salon represents the Guermantes Way of the title – the way of the aristocracy. At Combray, Marcel and his parents were in the habit of taking two country walks, one, Swann’s Way, which led past the property of Swann, his wife Odette and their daughter Gilberte, and the other the Meseglise Way that skirted the Guermantes family’s extensive estates. These two different routes came to symbolize for Marcel two ways of life – the bourgeois life of love and family, and the life of power and influence which comes with noble birth.
The progression of the Remembrance of Things Past cycle begins in the first book, Swann’s Way, as the reader is introduced to Marcel’s family at Combray and their neighbor Charles Swann, the scholarly man of fashion. Swann in Love tells the story of Swann’s passion for the courtesan Odette de Crecy, and Marcel’s childish love for their daughter Gilberte. The following part, Within a Budding Grove sees the end of Marcel’s affair with Gilberte, and the beginning of his love for Albertine, one of a band of charming young girls he meets at the seaside resort of Balbec. It is there that Marcel becomes acquainted with those members of the aristocracy who are to introduce him into the circle of the Faubourg Saint-Germain.
In The Guermantes Way, Proust shows us the struggles for political and social supremacy, the ebb and flow of power and influence, being played out in the Marquise’s drawing room beneath a veneer of elegant manners almost Oriental in their subtlety.
Characters from former books are re-introduced, and among them we meet once again the arch snob and flatterer Legrandin, who having warned Marcel about the dangers of going into society, is found to have been tirelessly attempting to obtain entry himself; Marcel's old friend the scholarly and brilliant but socially inept Bloch; and the predatory Baron de Charlus, whose keen interest in the innocent Marcel excites his hostess’s concern.
Amongst the subjects currently under discussion in the Marquise’s salon is the Dreyfus case. Bloch, who is attending the trial of Emile Zola, eminent champion of Dreyfus, is anxious to sound out the company’s opinions. The case has divided France into two opposing camps with the aristocrats of the Faubourg Saint-Germain solidly arrayed on the anti-Dreyfus side. The opinion expressed by one nobleman present is that Dreyfus can be neither patriot nor traitor, because as a Jew he is not a Frenchman. This argument must have been particularly offensive to the half-Jewish Proust.
Part I of The Guermantes Way ends with the illness of Marcel’s grandmother whose selfless love has been as important to him as that of his mother, and his dawning realization that the time is approaching when he must lose her.
Marcel Proust was born on July 10, 1871. His father, a distinguished professor of medicine, was from a Catholic family, while his mother was Jewish.
Although intent on becoming a writer from an early age, Proust was riddled with self-doubt. During his twenties he co-founded a short-lived review, Le Banquet, contributed to La Revue Blanche and had his first book published, a collection of articles and essays entitled Les Plaisirs et les Jours.
He became an enthusiastic admirer of the work of Ruskin and translated his Bible of Amiens and Sesame and Lilies into French. A novel, Jean Santeuil, which was the precursor of Remembrance of Things Past, was eventually abandoned and only published long after his death, in 1954.
For much of his youth he led the life of a man of fashion, frequenting fashionable Paris drawing rooms and literary salons, and these formed the background for a number of his stories and sketches, and subsequently of Remembrance of Things Past.
The death of his adored mother in 1905 resulted in a nervous collapse and aggravated his chronic asthma and insomnia. But despite his grief and the sense of loss from which he never recovered, his mother’s death freed him with regard to his homosexual emotional life and allowed him to address homosexuality in his writing, albeit in a manner which treated such experiences as happenings to others rather than to himself.
In 1907 he moved into an apartment in the Boulevard Haussmann where, in the bedroom which he had lined with cork to keep out noise, he embarked upon his great work A la Recherche du Temps Perdu (Remembrance of Things Past).
This long cycle of autobiographical novels was published in eight sections: Du Côté de Chez Swann (Swann’s Way) in 1913; A L’Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleur (Within A Budding Grove) in 1918; Le Côté de Guermantes I (The Guermantes Way I) in 1920; Le Côté de Guermantes II and Sodome et Gomorrhe (Cities of the Plain I) in 1921; Sodome et Gomorrhe II in 1922; La Prisonnière (The Captive) in 1923; Albertine Disparue (The Sweet Cheat Gone) in 1925; Le Temps Retrouvé (Time Regained) in 1927.
Proust was obliged to publish Swann’s Way at his own expense, and even after it had appeared, he had trouble finding a publisher for the next volume, A L’ Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleur. However, when it appeared in 1918 it received considerable acclaim, and was awarded the Prix Goncourt the following year.
By the time Proust died on November 18, 1922, the first four parts of the cycle had been published, leaving the others to appear posthumously. The English translations by C.K. Scott Moncrieff, from which this abridged audiobook version has been prepared, were published between 1922 and 1930.
In Remembrance of Things Past, the minuteness of Proust’s observation, the depth of his psychological understanding and the vividness of his descriptive powers have combined to create one of the most poetic and magical works in all literature.
Notes by Neville Jason
Neville Jason trained at RADA where he was awarded the Diction
Prize by Sir John Gielgud. He has worked with the English Stage Co., the Old Vic Company and the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as in films and musicals. Jason has appeared in popular television serials such as Maigret, Emergency Ward 10 and Dr. Who, as well as playing classical roles such as Orestes and Horatio. Formally a member of the BBC Radio Drama Co.,
he can be frequently heard on radio. Jason’s passion for Remembrance of Things Past comes alive in his adaptation and reading of the series, for which he has received worldwide praise.
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