Day Thirty-Six: In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, pp. 82-93

From "Though I had begun..." to "...a département, 'From the Aisne.'" 
Proust's detailed account of the way late 19th-century French society functioned is probably one of the reasons contemporary readers give up on him, and today's section is particularly slow-going. 

We switch from the young narrator to the mature one in mid-stream here, as the former admits that his "state of emotional turmoil" at being in the presence of the Swanns prevented him from understanding much that Swann said to him. So it must be the mature narrator who outlines for us the social nuances that inform their behavior, particularly Mme. Swann's. But Swann himself remains quite taken with people with whom he would not have associated before his marriage to Odette. For example, there are the Bontemps. Swann regards M. Bontemps as "a really distinguished person," although the narrator describes him as having "a silky fair beard, a pretty face, an adenoidal pronunciation, bad breath, and a glass eye."

But what should draw our attention to Bontemps is that Gilberte tells us,
"He's the uncle of a girl that used to go to my school. She was in one of the classes well below mine -- 'that Albertine,' everybody used to call her. I'm sure she'll be very 'fast' one of these days, but at the moment she's the funniest-looking thing."
Proust regards society as kaleidoscopic, constantly changing its standards of who's acceptable. The narrator tells us, "By the time I had taken my first communion, prim and proper ladies were being confronted, to their astonishment, with elegant Jewesses in some of the houses they frequented." But with the Dreyfus Affair ("slightly later than my first entry into the world of Mme Swann," the narrator tells us, suggesting that his "entry" took place before 1894), "All things Jewish were displaced, even the elegant lady, and hitherto nondescript nationalists came to the fore. ... If instead of the Dreyfus Affair there had been a war with Germany, the kaleidoscope would have turned in a different direction." But at this time, the influential Jews in French society included Sir Rufus Israels, whose wife was Swann's aunt. And "Lady Israels, who was hugely wealthy and very influential, had contrived to make sure that no one of her acquaintance would ever be at home to Odette."

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