Day Fifty-Two: In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, pp. 299-314

From "It was time to think of turning for home..." to "...take any interest in such things."
The ride draws to an end, and the narrator jumps ahead in time to note how these rides arose in future "Proustian moments":
How often the mere breath of trees in full leaf has made me see the act of sitting on a folding seat opposite Mme de Villeparisis, as she acknowledges the greeting of the Princess of Luxembourg passing by in her carriage, then driving home to dinner at the Grand-Hôtel, as among those inexpressible joys of life which neither the present nor the future can ever bring back, which can be tasted only once!
As the moon appears, he teases Mme. de Villeparisis by quoting lines about it by Chateaubriand, Vigny, and Hugo, and gets her usual scorn for these poets. His grandmother concurs when they discuss the marquise later, and he attributes her literary conservatism to her desire to turn him away from the "cultivation of the opposite tastes, which led the Baudelaires, the Edgar Allan Poes, the Verlaines, and the Rimbauds into sufferings and low esteem, the likes of which my grandmother wished to spare me." There follows an emotional moment in which he almost blurts out his fear of what his life would be like when she died. And the next day, he tries to cover up the embarrassing moment by observing that "the latest advances in science seemed to have made materialism untenable, and that the most likely outcome was still the eternal life of the soul and reunion beyond the grave."

The key moment in this section, however, is the arrival of Mme. de Villeparisis's grandnephew, Robert de Saint-Loup, who is introduced as "a tall, slim young man with piercing eyes, a proud head held high on a fine uncovered neck, and with hair so golden and skin so fair that they seemed to have soaked up the bright sunshine of the day.... His eyes, from which a monocle kept dropping, were the color of the sea." The narrator comments that "some thought there was something effeminate about him, though no one ever said such a thing against him, as his virility and passionate liking for women were well known." He was also "not much older than I was" -- a point underscoring the narrator's earlier comment that he was at "an age which for all its alleged awkwardness, is prodigiously rich.... One lives among monsters and gods, a stranger to peace of mind."

Robert certainly disturbs his peace of mind when, on their first meeting, he extends his arm stiffly for a cold and distant handshake. "When he sent up his card the following day, I thought it must be at least a challenge to a duel." But they have in common a "keen preference for intellectual things" and "I saw the man of disdain trun into the most likable and considerate fellow I had ever met."

Mme. de Villeparisis, however, is disturbed by her grandnephew, in part because "he was imbued with what she called the 'ravings of the socialists,' spoke of his own class with heartfelt contempt, and spent hours deep in Nietzsche and Proudhon." He is also at odds with his father, the Comte de Marsantes, in part because he "yawned through Wagner and delighted in Offenbach." His seriousness even puts a small impediment between him and the narrator:
Though I thought Saint-Loup was rather serious, he found it strange that I was not serious enough. Judging all things by their intellectual content, and being unaware of the delights that my imagination took in in what he dismissed as frivolous, he was amazed that I, whom he thought of as far superior to himself, could take any interest in such things.

No comments: