Chapter III: Staying in Venice, concluded, from "After lunch, whenever I did not set out to wander around Venice...."
Chapter IV: A New Side to Robert de Saint-Loup
_____Okay, first off: I think the telegram announcing Albertine's resurrection is a mistake that Proust would have corrected in revising The Fugitive. The reaction to the telegram is not at all what we expect from the intensely obsessive narrator, who more characteristically would have endlessly pondered Albertine's motives in both faking her death and then announcing that she had done so. And he is also paranoid enough to wonder if the telegram is a hoax, and if so, who is playing the trick on him and to what end. But instead he stuffs it in his pocket and goes off to prowl the back alleys of Venice. It can be argued that it has thematic significance, in fusing Albertine with Gilberte, but that has already occurred in his imaginings. And the explanation that the errors in the telegram are the result of Gilberte's faulty penmanship is awkward at best. The telegram is a melodramatic gimmick that the novel would have been better off without.
But accepting what the novel gives us, we set out on a bit of a travelogue, ostensibly so the narrator can take notes for a "study of Ruskin." (Proust, of course, translated Ruskin, as the note reminds us.) It's striking in this chapter how often Venice is likened to, or contrasted with, Combray, and not, as one might expect, Paris. The reason, I think, is that Proust wants to bring us back to the beginning of the novel as he nears its conclusion -- and at this point, the end of The Fugitive looks like a conclusion, with its assemblage of revelations about many of the principal characters.
Albertine still hovers in his mind, of course, despite his assertions that he has forgotten her. A painting by Carpaccio "almost revived my love for" her because one of the costumes worn by a figure in it resembles the Fortuny coat she wore on their trip to Versailles on the eve of her departure. And he even wonders if a young Austrian woman he meets also "loved women" the way Albertine did.
A figure from the past -- the Baroness Putbus -- almost makes him stay in Venice after his mother leaves because of the promiscuous lady's maid that Saint-Loup once told him about. But he makes a mad dash for the train and joins her, carrying three letters -- two for her, one for him -- that had been handed him at the last moment. The letters announce two marriages: Gilberte's to Saint-Loup and Mme. de Cambremer's son to Jupien's niece. Of the latter marriage, the narrator reflects:
It allows the Cambremers to drop anchor at the Guermantes', where they never dared hope pitch their tent; what is more, the child, since she was adopted by M. de Charlus, will have plenty of money, which was indispensable for the Cambremers since they had lost their own; and finally she is the adopted and, according to the Cambremers, probably the real -- that is, the natural -- daughter of someone whom they consider to be a prince of the blood.The narrator of course knows the truth of the relationship between Charlus and Jupien, and between Charlus and Morel, who once was going to marry Jupien's niece. Moreover, he recognizes that both marriages signal the end of the Faubourg Saint-Germain's definition of society, with Saint-Loup, a Guermantes, marrying "the daughter of Odette and a Jew." Money, which Jupien's daughter will inherit from Charlus and which Gilberte already possesses, is the key, and it has been, as the narrator tells us, the cause of much behind-the-scenes intrigue among the various families involved. The narrator's mother has heard "that it was the Princess of Parma who arranged the marriage of the young Cambremer." Meanwhile, the rumors have started that both grooms are gay. Charlus, on learning from the Princess that Cambremer is the nephew of Legrandin, is pleased: "If he took after his uncle, after all, that shouldn't put me off, I have always said that they make the best husbands."
The effect on society of the marriages is colossal: "the magical charm that Mme de Cambremer had imagined the Duchesse de Guermantes to possess evaporated as soon as she found herself solicited by the latter." And "Gilberte started to show her contempt for what she had so desired, to declare that the inhabitants of the Faubourg Saint-Germain were fools unfit for company, and, matching words with deeds, did indeed cease to seek their company." And when Jupien's niece dies of typhoid soon after the wedding, because she is thought to be related to Charlus the effect is extraordinary: "the death of a petty commoner throws all of the princely families into mourning." Meanwhile, Legrandin has begun styling himself Comte de Méséglise. And Charlus discovers that his widowed son-in-law shares his sexual orientation.
Gilberte and Saint-Loup decide to live at Tansonville, but the neighbors at Combray are not impressed with the fact that Odette's daughter lives there now. The narrator goes to visit them, leaving his current girlfriend in the apartment he now rents and under the supervision of a friend "who was not attracted to women." His visit is particularly to try to cheer up Gilberte, "since Robert was deceiving her, but not in the manner which everyone believed and which perhaps even she still believed, or at any rate declared. For "Robert, a true nephew of M. de Charlus, showed himself off in public with women whom he compromised and whom everyone, no doubt even Gilberte, believed to be his mistresses." In fact Saint-Loup is having an affair with Charles Morel.
Reviewing the past, the narrator comes to realize that Saint-Loup had been giving signals of his homosexuality for a long time. He had once told the narrator:
"It's a shame that your girlfriend from Balbec does not have the fortune required by my mother, I think that the two of us would have got on well together." He had meant to imply that she was from Gomorrah as he was from Sodom.... In the end it was the same factor that had inspired both in Robert and in me the desire to marry Albertine (that is, her love for women). But the causes of our desire, like its ends, were opposite. I had been driven to it by the despair I had felt at the discovery, Robert by his satisfaction; I in order to prevent her through constant surveillance from yielding to her inclination; Robert in order to cultivate it and to enjoy the freedom that he would allow her to offer him her girl-friends.Saint-Loup "ceaselessly" impregnates Gilberte, but he flirts with waiters in restaurants. And the narrator learns from Aimé that Saint-Loup had put the moves on "the lift" during the narrator's first visit to Balbec, causing a scene that had to be hushed up. The narrator thinks Aimé may be lying, but he can't be sure. He also remembers that Saint-Loup had looked "rather lingeringly" at Morel one time at the Verdurins, and remarked "It's strange how this lad remind me of Rachel." But Saint-Loup's acceptance of his homosexuality also affects his friendship with the narrator: "It was only as long as he still loved women that he was really capable of friendship. Afterwards, at least for a period of time, the men who did not interest him directly were subject to a display of indifference."
Odette now finds herself in the role of being protected by Saint-Loup: "The fact that she was no longer in her prime was of little importance in the eyes of a son-in-law who did not love women."
Thus, thanks to Robert, she was able, on the threshold of her fiftieth (some said her sixtieth) year to dazzle with extraordinary luxury at any dinner-table and very soirée to which she was invited. Without needing as she had done before to have a "friend," who now would no longer have forked out, or even acted his part. Thus she embarked on a final period of chastity, which seemed definitive, and she had never been more elegant.The narrator's views on homosexuality also seem to have mellowed: "I found that it made no difference from a moral point of view whether one took one's pleasure with a man or a woman, and only too natural and human to take it wherever one could find it." But Saint-Loup's "liaison" with Morel offends him because Saint-Loup is married, and to Gilberte, and he feels the pain of losing his friendship.
He feels another pain when he visits Combray and no longer experiences the love he had once felt for the place. "I felt sad to think that my faculties of feeling and imagining must have diminished if I was experiencing no pleasure on these walks with Gilberte." Moreover, Gilberte reveals that she had fallen in love with him the first time they saw each other, and she explains the "indecent gesture" she made at the time: "I remember only too well, since I had only a moment to tell you, given the danger of being seen by your parents and mine, how I showed you so crudely what I wanted that I'm ashamed of it now." For his part, he now realizes that his life might have been different "if I had not met two shadowy figures coming towards me side by side in the twilight" and decided to break with Gilberte. But he also observes that the torment of that love and separation has vanished:
For in this world where everything wears out, where everything perishes, there is one thing that collapses and is more completely destroyed than anything else, and leaves fewer traces than beauty itself: and that is grief.In Search of Lost Time might well have ended right there.