Just as…


Proust at every occasion will expand on a simple observation by comparing it to another he believes we must know. These examples come from the former prostitute Rachel’s poetry recital at the Princesse ‘s matinee.

But for the first few moments, just as when, in a trivial case in a low-court, we see a barrister advance, raise a toga’d arm in the air and start to speak in a threatening tone, we hardly dare look at our neighbours. For our immediate reaction is that this is a grotesque–but we cannot be sure that it is not in fact magnificent, so for the present we suspend judgement. (VI,457)

People looked at one another, not knowing what expression to put on their faces: a few badly mannered young things giggled audibly; everyone glanced at his neighbor with that stealthy glance which at a smart dinner-party, when you find beside your plate an unfamiliar implement, a lobster-fork or sugar-grinder perhaps, of which you know neither what it is for nor how to use it, you cast at some more authoritative guest in the hope that he will pick it up before you…(VI,457)

When the moment came to make a joke, she [Mme de Guermantes] would check herself for the same number of seconds as in the past, she would appear to hesitate, to have something within her that was struggling to emerge, but the joke, when at last it arrived, was pitifully feeble. But how few of her listeners noticed this! Because the procedure was the same they believed that the wit too had survived intact, like those people who, superstitiously attached to some particular make of confectionery, continue to order  their petits four from a certain shop without noticing that they have become almost uneatable. (VI,464)

 

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