|About this Recording
NA314112 - PROUST, M.: Remembrance of Things Past, Vol. 3: Guermantes Way (The): Part II (Abridged)
The Guermantes Way Part II
Part II of The Guermantes Way continues the story of Marcel’s entry into
Parisian aristocratic society…
Marcel’s family is now living in an apartment which forms part of the Hotel de Guermantes, Paris residence of the Duke and Duchess de Guermantes. Marcel, without having been introduced to the Duchess, has fallen in love with her, and endeavors to encounter her, as if by accident, on his morning walks. However it is evident that the Duchess is irritated rather than pleased by his attentions.
Marcel’s grandmother, who represents the most important influence in his life next to that of his mother, is in failing health. Having been advised by an important consultant that, despite her inclinations to the contrary, she is well enough to take some fresh air, she sets out for a walk in the Champs Elysées with Marcel, during the course of which she is taken ill.
The Guermantes Way, Part II takes up the story as Marcel, who has guessed that his grandmother has suffered a stroke, seeks assistance from an eminent doctor, an acquaintance of his parents, whom he meets by chance in the street.
Proust’s somewhat cynical attitude to doctors is exemplified by his description of the character of Professor E., as it is in his treatment of other members of the medical profession elsewhere in the novel. Vain, fussy and opinionated, the Professor may be professionally competent but lacks real human sympathy and understanding. His power to cure, too, is extremely limited but, as Proust remarks of our eternal optimism, “we continue to light candles and to consult doctors.”
Proust’s father was an eminent public health official, and the members of his father’s circle, together with the numerous doctors Proust himself was obliged to consult as a result of his poor health, will have provided the author with ample opportunity to study the profession at first hand. His detailed account of sickroom procedure and of the physical decline of Marcel ’s grandmother indicates the familiarity with medical matters of the chronic invalid.
After the death of his beloved grandmother, youth and nature combine to assist Marcel in his recovery, and a change of season brings a change of mood. Physical desire prompts thoughts of encounters with the female sex, and he plans a romantic dinner with Mme. de Stermaria, an attractive young divorcee whose acquaintance he made at Balbec, and whose sexual availability has been hinted at by Robert de Saint-Loup. But, surprisingly, it is with Albertine that the sexual encounter takes place. Although Marcel is no longer in love with her, as he was at Balbec, Albertine appears to have matured physically and in other ways, which leads Marcel to believe, as it turns out correctly, that she would not, as before, repel his advances.
Disappointed by Mme. de Stermaria’s refusal of his invitation, Marcel is rescued from despair by the appearance of Robert de Saint-Loup, just returned from Morocco on leave, who takes him off to dine. The café to which they go numbers among its clients a group of Jewish intellectuals, of whom Marcel’s old friend Bloch is a member, and a sprinkling of young aristocrats, of whose arrogance and anti-Semitism Marcel is made aware but against which his friendship with Saint-Loup provides protection.
During his grandmother’s illness, Marcel’s mother has taken him to task for making a fool of himself chasing after the Duchesse de Guermantes, and Marcel’s infatuation with the unattainable older woman fades. But once the spell is broken and Marcel’s assumed indifference becomes genuine, the Duchess begins to take an interest in him and invites him to dine with her and her husband.
This gives Marcel the opportunity of which he has always dreamed, of witnessing the charmed life of the members of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, that almost hermetically sealed circle of France’s noblest aristocracy. But this experience proves very different from what he had anticipated, and Marcel is forced to observe the chasm between the resounding titles, which symbolize France’s historic greatness, and the fallible personalities who inhabit them.
Meanwhile, Marcel has received an invitation to call upon the Baron de Charlus, the Duc de Guermantes’ brother, to whom he was introduced at Balbec by his grandmother’s friend the Marquise de Villeparisis. The Baron’s attitude, as he veers from the warmest amiability to the most vicious scorn, puzzles Marcel. The innocent young man is unaware of the Baron’s homosexuality, and is unable to account for his hysterical behavior towards him.
De Charlus was based by Proust on two real-life models, but nonetheless remains a wonderfully imaginative creation. Proust’s description of the tension caused in the personality of Charlus by the repression of his publicly unacknowledged homosexuality, his need to emphasize his masculinity by acts of physical virility, his attempt to counter-act feelings of shame by asserting his social and intellectual superiority over others, his vicious attacks on the weakness he observes in others but so strenuously denies in himself, shows the author to be not only a great writer, but a remarkable psychologist.
The final section of The Guermantes Way, Part II re-introduces the figure of Swann, now much altered by a life-threatening disease. Swann pays a visit to the Duchess de Guermantes, with whom he shares a wit and intelligence that has made them allies in the past. In the face of Swann’s revelation regarding the state of his health, the Duchess is torn between her social obligation to be on time for a dinner party and the necessity of considering Swann’s news with appropriate seriousness. She opts for the former, despite eventually being obliged to delay her exit for a much more mundane reason.
In making her decision, she is following not only her husband’s wishes, but also the dictates of a social order, which override her personal inclination, a fact recognized by Swann, who has led his life according to the same rules. The Duke and Duchess’s outer forms of courtesy and consideration hide a deep selfishness, the result of their self-indulgent manner of living and an ingrained conviction that they are different from, and superior to, other people – especially those who do not inhabit their world.
We are left with the feeling that Proust may not approve of the people who inhabit the upper reaches of society, but that, like Swann, he understands them. Marcel may have discovered that they are not the magic figures he imagined them to be, but he sees them nonetheless as part of an historical continuum, and finds the same fascination in their world as in “a herbarium, filled with plants of another day”.
The author is well aware that snobbery, arrogance, pride, selfishness and cruelty are not unique to the aristocracy. We may not share the wealth and privilege of the gently born, but as human beings we share their failings, and Proust appears to invite those among us without sin to cast the first stone.
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.
Close the window