Day One Hundred Seventy: Finding Time Again, pp. 63-85

From "And now, returning to Paris for the second time ..." through "... a murder occurring in Russia should have anything Russian about them."
Now in 1916, the narrator receives a letter from Gilberte, still at Tansonville, in which she reports that "all the other chateaux in the neigbourhood, abandoned by their panic-stricken owners, have almost all been destroyed from top to bottom." She has stayed there "not only to save the house but to save those precious collections my dear father set so much store by." Combray itself is held half by the French and half by the Germans after the battle of Méséglise, which lasted eight months.

And he is visited by Saint-Loup, inspiring in him "that feeling of shyness, that sense of eeriness which in fact all soldiers on leave made me feel, and which one experiences when one comes into the presence of someone suffering from a fatal illness, who none the less still gets up, gets dressed, and goes for walks." They talk about a recent Zeppelin raid and "the beauty of the aeroplanes as they climbed into the night," a scene that Saint-Loup calls "Wagnerian" and "seemed rather pleased with this comparison between airmen and Valkyries."

On the street, the narrator encounters Charlus. The narrator has just contrasted him with Saint-Loup, who had "aligned himself with that section of the aristocracy which put France above everything else, while M. de Charlus was a defeatist at heart." Charlus is no longer the figure in society that he once was, partly by choice, partly by virtue of having quarreled with Mme. Verdurin, who "had now summed up her condemnation, and alienated everybody from him, by pronouncing him 'pre-war.'" Furthermore, she is trying to persuade them that Charlus, who has always boasted of his German kin, is a spy: "I used to have a house that was situated high above a bay. I'm convinced the Germans told him to set up a base there for their submarines."

Mme. Verdurin's campaign against Charlus "had found a tireless and particularly cruel spokesman in Morel, who writes cruel satires on him for the gossip columns, attacking not only his patriotism but his homosexuality. The narrator observes that the style of the pieces is "derived from Bergotte," but not from Bergotte's prose; rather, Morel writes in the tone of voice that he used to use when he imitated Bergotte's manner of speech. But Morel has finally enlisted, going against Mme. Verdurin's wishes: She is reluctant to let any of her inner circle go, "regarding the war as a great 'bore' which made them abandon her."

Cottard receives another brief resurrection, just long enough to prescribe croissants to be dipped in Mme. Verdurin's breakfast coffee as a preventative to her migraines: Though the wartime shortages have made croissants unavailable, Cottard obtains an order for them to be custom-made for her.
This had been almost as hard to obtain from the authorities as the appointment of a general. She received the first of these croissants on the morning when the newspapers reported the wreck of the Lusitania. As she dipped it in her coffee, and flicked her newspaper with one hand so that it would stay open without her having to remove her other hand from the croissant she was soaking, she said: "How awful! It's worse than the most horrific tragedy." But ... the look which lingered on her face, probably induced by the taste of the croissant, so valuable in preventing migraine, was more like one of quiet satisfaction.
As for Cottard, he dies again, "followed soon afterwards by M. Verdurin, whose death upset only one person, that, oddly enough, being Elstir." M. Verdurin had been one of the painter's earliest patrons, before he split with the little set. 

The shortage of grown men has caused Charles to do "the same as some Frenchmen, who in France had loved women, but who now lived in the colonies: he had, out of necessity, developed first the habit of, and then a taste for, little boys," though by "keeping up a plentiful correspondence with men at the front, he was not short of sufficiently mature soldiers when they came on leave." Charlus "was mad about Moroccans, but most of all, about Anglo-Saxons, whom he viewed as living statues by Phidias."

Charlus does indeed have pro-German sentiments, partly because of his tendency to take the side of the underdog, though the "Germans, in his eyes, were very ugly, perhaps because they were too close to his own blood." 
He may have believed that taking sides against the Germans would be acting as he acted only during his periods of sexual pleasure, that is, in opposition to his compassionate nature, burning with desire for seductive evil, and crushing virtuous ugliness.

No comments: