Ecstasy of the Tart

Proust is a master of characterizing people in conflict, trying to be both one thing and the other. The young Mme. Cambremer masks her social ignorance with her charm, as in this scene where she is introduced to a general at Mme de Saint-Euverte’s party.

When Swann did finally introduce M. de Froberville to the young Mme de Cambremer, since it was the first time she had heard the General’s name she offered him the smile of joy and surprise with which she would have greeted him if no one had ever uttered any other; for, not knowing any of the friends of her new family, whenever someone was presented to her she assumed that he must be one of them, and thinking that she was showing evidence of tact by appearing to have heard such a lot about him since her marriage, she would hold out her hand with a hesitant air that was meant as a proof at once of the inculcated reserve which she had to overcome and of the spontaneous friendliness which successfully overcame it. (I,489)

Another fine example is Marcel’s encounter with the aged courtesan, the Princesse de Nassau, a person he had not seen in some years.

As she passed near me, making her discreet exit, I bowed to her. She recognised me, took my hand and pressed it, and fixed upon me the round mauve pupils which seemed to say: “How long it is since we have seen each other! We must talk about all that another time.” Her pressure of my hand became a squeeze, for she had a vague idea that one evening in her carriage, when she had offered to drop me at my door after a party at the Duchesse de Guermantes’s, their might have been some dalliance between us. Just to be on the safe side, she seemed to allude to something that had in fact never happened, but this was hardly difficult for her since a strawberry tart could send her into an ecstasy… (VI,426)


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