Day One Hundred Fourteen: Sodom and Gomorrah, pp. 192-211

Poussin, "Landscape With Calm"

Part II, Chapter II, from "It was not even on that evening, however that my cruel mistrust..." to "...continuance. But that time had not yet come."
The narrator decides to pay a call on Mme. Verdurin, but the train breaks down in Incarville, where he meets Dr. Cottard in the station. While waiting for the repairs to take place, they enter a little casino to which Albertine, Andrée and several of their friends have gone. Because of the lack of male partners, several girls were dancing together. Cottard and the narrator watch Albertine and Andrée waltzing, and Cottard remarks that "the parents are very unwise who let their daughters pick up such habits.... I've forgotten my eyeglass and I can't see properly, but they're certainly at the height of arousal. It's not sufficiently well known that it's chiefly through the breasts that women experience it." And to the eyes of the susceptible narrator, Cottard's observation seems to be correct: "Albertine seemed to be demonstrating, to be making Andrée acknowledge, some secret and voluptuous tremor."

The narrator's suspicions and jealousy increase. They have an argument one day because she wants to leave him to "call on a lady who was 'at home,' it seemed, every day at five o'clock in Infreville." They argue back and forth until the narrator declares that he will go with her, whereupon "Albertine looked as if she had received a terrible blow" and resorts to "an abrupt change of tack," deciding that they should go to dinner on "the other side of Balbec." He turns the argument around, insisting that she should stick to her original plan. 
I sensed that Albertine was giving up on my account something she had arranged that she did not want to tell me about, and that there was someone who would be as unhappy as I had been. Finding that what she had wanted was not possible, since I wanted to go with her, she gave it up unhesitatingly.
A few days later, they see Bloch's sister and cousin in the casino at Balbec. The cousin is openly in a lesbian relationship with an actress. Andrée tells the narrator that she and Albertine disapprove: "there's nothing the two of us find more disgusting." But the narrator senses something different in Albertine's attitude toward Bloch's cousin and, "perhaps on the hypothesis, though I did not as yet consciously entertain it, that Albertine liked women," he tells her that Bloch's sister and cousin paid them no attention. Whereupon, "unthinkingly," Albertine contradicts him. And he realizes that, although she had her back to them, she had been watching them in a mirror.

His suspicions about Albertine cause him to grow angry. 
I thought then about all that I had learned of Swann's love for Odette, and of the way in which Swann had been made a fool of all his life. Fundamentally, if I try to think about it, the hypothesis that led me little by little to construct Albertine's whole character, and to interpret painfully each moment of a life I was unable to control in its entirety, was the memory, the idée fixe, of the character of Mme Swann, such as I had been told that it was like. These accounts helped me to ensure that in future my imagination played the game of supposing that, instead of being a good girl, Albertine might have the same immorality, the same capacity for deception, as a former whore, and I thought of all the suffering that would have awaited me in that event had I ever had to love her.
But before we enter into another extended passage of obsession, of the narrator's desire to possess and control, we take a break with the arrival of the dowager Marquise de Cambremer and her daughter-in-law, Mme. de Cambremer née Legrandin. (It gets a little hard to follow which of the Mmes. de Cambremer is talking or being talked about at any given moment.) They have come to call on the narrator at the hotel, having been urged to do so by Saint-Loup. "You know he's due shortly to come and spend a few days locally," the dowager tells the narrator. "His uncle Charlus is staying in the country at his sister-in-law's, the Duchesse de Luxembourg, and M. de Saint-Loup will take the opportunity to go and greet his aunt and to revisit his old regiment, where he is greatly loved, greatly esteemed." The narrator is accompanied by Albertine and her friends, and introduces them to the dowager Marquise, who then presents Mme. de Cambremer née Legrandin to them. 

The conversation that ensues is largely about art, with the younger Mme. de Cambremer determined to impress them with her enthusiasm for Monet and Debussy. "Mme de Cambremer liked to 'get the blood coursing' by 'squabblng' about art, as others about politics." When she dismisses Poussin as "an untalented old hack," the narrator takes delight in "rehabilitating Poussin" by telling her, 
"M. Degas assures us that he knows of nothing more beautiful than the Poussins at Chantilly." "Oh yes? I don't know the ones at Chantilly," said Mme de Cambremer, who did not want to be of a different opinion from Degas, "but I can talk about those in the Louvre, which are horrors." "Those, too, he admires enormously." "I shall have to look at them again. It's all a bit old in my head," she replied after a moment's silence, and as if the favorable judgment she would certainly soon be delivering on Poussin must depend, not on the news I had just conveyed to her, but on the supplementary and this time definitive examination to which she was relying on subjecting the Poussins in the Louvre so as to facilitate the reversing of her verdict.
The narrator reflects to himself on the vicissitudes of taste: "The day was coming ... when, for a time, Debussy would be declared to be as fragile as Massenet, and the joltings of Mélisande demoted to the rank of those of Manon. For theories and schools, like microbes and globules, devour one another and, by their struggles, ensure life's continuance."               

No comments: