Day Eighty: The Guermantes Way, pp. 148-160

From "After we left Paris..." to "...'one of the world's biggest scoundrels.'" 
The narrator joins Saint-Loup on the trip to see his mistress in the suburbs, where spring is further advanced than in the city. The cherry and pear trees in full bloom dazzle the narrator, whom Saint-Loup leaves to admire them -- "I can see you want to look at all this and play the poet," he says -- while he goes to fetch his mistress, of whom he has been talking endlessly on their journey. 

When Saint-Loup arrives with her, the narrator recognizes her immediately as "Rachel, when of the Lord," a prostitute who had been shown to him by a madam when he first started visiting brothels. (We see why Proust had not given Saint-Loup's mistress a name until now.)
I saw that what had seemed to me to be not worth twenty francs when it had been offered to me for twenty francs in a brothel, where I had simply seen it as a woman wanting to earn twenty francs, might be worth more than a million, more than family, more than the most coveted position, if I had started to imagine her as an intriguing being, interesting to know, difficult to seize and to hold.
The repetitions of "twenty francs" and the reference to Rachel as "it" are telling. The narrator's reaction to the revelation that his friend is so deeply involved with a prostitute (he later refers to Rachel as a "tart" and a "whore") seems excessive from a man who has lately been infatuated with Odette Swann, whose background is not so very different. His disgust with Saint-Loup's mistress suggests more than concern for his friend; it suggests jealousy -- that narrator is himself in love with Saint-Loup. And his mood changes accordingly:
We cut across the village. The houses were sordid. But beside the most dilapidated of them, the ones that looked as if they had been scorched by a shower of brimstone, a mysterious traveler, making a day's stay in the cursed city, a resplendent angel, stood over it, stretching the dazzling protection of his widespread wings of innocence in blossom: a pear tree. 
The village has turned into one of the cursed cities of the plain, Sodom and Gomorrah. 

The narrator remembers -- or perhaps imagines -- "that Robert was able to stand aside for a second from the woman he had gradually created out of layer upon layer of affection, and suddenly distance himself enough to glimpse another Rachel, identical yet entirely different, whose behavior was clearly that of a little tart." At the station where they take the train back to Paris, Rachel meets "a pair of common little tarts like herself," Lucienne and Germaine. He sneers at their "imitation otter-skin collars," and once again reminds himself that such "women were available for a louis, whereas Rachel cost [Saint-Loup] more than a hundred thousand francs a year." He fancies that Saint-Loup's eyes have been opened by the encounters, but when they're on the train, "Rachel's magnificent pearls reminded Robert that she was a woman of great price." 

In the restaurant, Rachel (whom Saint-Loup calls "Zézette") does win over the narrator a little by criticizing Saint-Loup's family, by warning him that he's drinking too much wine, and by revealing herself as a passionate Dreyfusard. But Saint-Loup begins showing signs of jealousy, particularly toward their waiter, who is Aimé, the headwaiter from the hotel in Balbec: "Aimé had a certain distinction and exuded, quite unconsciously, the romantic appeal that stems, for a few years at least, from a head of fine hair and a Grecian nose, which is what made him stand out among the crowd of other waiters." He recognizes them and chats with the narrator about his grandmother. But Saint-Loup notices that Rachel seems to be paying "special attention" to Aimé, and his jealousy flares up: "'Is there anything particularly interesting about the waiter, Zézette?' he asked his mistress when he had dismissed Aimé somewhat abruptly. 'You seem to be making quite a study of him.'" 

1 comment:

rwconner said...

I think the key to The incident with Rachel is the implied comparison of her with Mary Magdalene (herself probably a redeemed prostitute). The over arching para blossoms of this garden seem to indicate redemption or at least forgiveness for both her and for those scorched houses of the village each of which has one of these poetic trees arching above it symbolic of the secrets of poetry which may be a window to a happier unseen world.