Day One Hundred Fifty: The Prisoner, pp. 285-305

From "While we were talking, M. Verdurin, at a signal from his wife..." to "...still the best place to pursue the dream of life."
The Verdurins accomplish their coup: "drunk on melodrama, Mme Verdurin had impressed on her husband that he must take the violinist on one side and, at all costs, speak to him." Once he has done so, she continues to pour salt into Morel's wounds: "I believe that you should no longer accept this shameful familiarity with a disgraced creature who is not received anywhere, she added, quite unconcerned that this was a lie and forgetting that she herself received him in her house almost daily." More lies follow: She tells Morel that Charlus is "mixed up in all sorts of scandals" and that he's almost bankrupt, that "everything is mortgaged to the hilt, his town house his country estate, etc." And Morel believes them all. "'I don't know how to thank you,' said Charlie in the tone one uses to a dentist who has just been causing one excruciating pain to which one does not want to admit."

Mme. Verdurin, "not wishing to disrupt the inner circle," reassures Morel that he doesn't have to stop meeting the Baron, that he can continue to see him at her salon. But she sinks her hooks in: "But insist on your independence, and don't let him drag you to all those two-faced old trouts' houses; I wish you could have heard what they said behind your back." She assures him that the artists who come to her house "know they can trust me, she said in the sweet, simple tone she knew how to assume at a moment's notice." And she claims that Charlus's efforts to get Morel the cross of the Légion d'honneur -- which he has been pursuing this very evening -- was a joke: "his recommendation would be enough to make sure you didn't get it." And then the coup de grâce:
Like the way he laughed aloud when he sid that you really wanted the decoration to please your uncle, and your uncle was a flunkey. -- He said that!' cried Charlie, convinced by these carefully remembered last words that everything Mme Verdurin had said was true.
Charlus, Brichot and the narrator return to the drawing-room, where Charlus walks right into the trap by proclaiming to Morel that he will soon be Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur. "'Leave me alone, don't you dare come near me, cried Morel to the Baron. I bet this isn't your first time, you must have tried to corrupt other people before me.'"

The narrator expects to "see Morel and the Verdurins pulverized by M. de Charlus, I had had to face his insane rages for a thousand times less than this, no one was safe from them, a king would not have intimidated him." Instead, Charlus collapses before them.
And the gestures expressive of panic terror have changed so little, that the old gentleman to whom something unpleasant was happening in a Paris drawing-room struck again, without knowing it, the small number of stylized attitudes which in archaic Greek sculpture indicated the alarm of nymphs being pursued by the god Pan.
Charlus does receive one gesture of support, however, when the Queen of Naples, whom Morel has been wanting to meet, returns to pick up a fan she had left behind. Made aware of the situation, the queen snubs Morel and the Verdurins out of "an unshakeable attachment to people whom she loved, to her relations, to all the princes of her family, one of whom was M. de Charlus, then to all the middle-class or humbler people who showed respect to those she loved, who had the proper feelings towards them." And so Charlus leaves with the queen, "without having let Morel be presented to her."

A few days later, Charlus, the narrator tells us, "contracted one of those infectious pneumonias that were so common at the time, was judged by his doctors and judged himself to be at death's door, and then spent several months suspended between life and death.... It exhausted the Baron so completely that it left him little chance to think about the Verdurins. He was half-dead."

Then there's one of those "continuity errors," as Carol Clark calls them in her introduction, in which we are told that Cottard wasn't at the party (even though we have had both a reference to his death and several sightings of him there) because he was tending to Saniette (whom we have also seen there, being berated by Verdurin and suffering a stroke) because "Saniette had some kind of a stroke" resulting from his losses in the stock market. The purpose of the scene seems to be to soften our judgment of the Verdurins, because they decide to become anonymous benefactors of Saniette, setting up a fund for his support to be overseen by Cottard. The narrator says that Cottard told him "about the whole thing some years later, at Saniette's funeral in fact." (Earlier, when Saniette suffered his stroke outside the party, we were told that he "lived for some weeks more.") And he adds, "by changing my opinion of M. Verdurin, whom I was coming to think the very worst of men, Cottard's revelation, if he had made it earlier, would have dispelled the suspicions I had about the role the Verdurins might play in my relationship with Albertine." In short, it's all very much of a muddle.

Brichot and the narrator share a carriage on the ride home from the Verdurins, in which Brichot expresses his regret at what had happened to Charlus and his surprise at how violently Morel had reacted to the Verdurins' lies.

No comments: