That’s Why the Lady is a Tramp


Marcel is puzzled at the social standing of Mme de Villeparisis. She is close kin to the Guermantes family but is not considered quite proper by fashionable society. True, she has a continuing relationship with Ambassador de Norpois, which was once passionate, but so what? Having lovers has never been a disqualification for acceptance in society. Considering and rejecting various possible reasons for her social outcast status, Marcel settles on this as the most likely cause:

I had remarked at Balbec that the genius of certain great artists was completely unintelligible to Mme de Villeparisis, and that all she could do was to make delicate fun of them and to express her incomprehension in a graceful and witty form. But this wit and grace, in the degree to which they were developed in her, became themselves–on another plane, and even though they were employed to belittle the noblest masterpieces–true artistic qualities. Now the effect of such qualities on any social position is a morbid activity of the kind which doctors call elective, and so disintegrating  that the most firmly established can hardly resist it for any length of time. What artists call intelligence seems pure presumption to the fashionable world…(which)  feel in their company an exhaustion, an irritation, from which antipathy rapidly springs. (III,246)

[Talent] is the living product of a certain moral conformation from which as rule, many qualities are lacking and in which there predominates a sensibility of which other manifestations not discernible in a book may make themselves fairly acutely felt in the course of a life: certain curiosities for instance, certain whims, the desire to go to this place or that for one’s own amusement and not with a view to the extension, the maintenance or even the mere exercise of one’s social relations. (III,248)

To this bohemian or bourgeois intellectual whom she had marked out with her favour she was obliged to address her invitations, the value of which he was unable to appreciate, with an insistence that gradually depreciated her in the eyes of the snobs who were in the habit of judging a salon by the people whom its mistress excluded rather than by those whom she entertained. (III,249) 

 

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