Social Jealousy


The novel might be considered a long treatise on the nature of jealousy. The form that afflicted Swann and now afflicts Marcel springs from the fear that the loved one may be enjoying herself with someone else and quite possibly in a way that he can never compete with. Marcel’s jealousy is especially strangling because it’s origin is Oedipal, his childish anguish over his mother enjoying herself with dinner guests rather than with him. Mme Verdurin introduces a non-erotic form of jealousy. She cannot bear the thought that one of her clan may be happy outside of her salon.

She has tolerated Charlus, who manifestly has another life, because he brings Morel and he confers some status. But at a musical soirée he crosses the line. He has invited various of his relatives and the elite to attend Morel’s playing of the Vinteuil septet. After the concert they take their leave from Charlus, ignoring their hostess.

The most noble ladies were those who showed most fervour in congratulating M. de Charlus upon the success of a party of the secret motive for which some of them were not unaware, without however being embarrassed by the knowledge, this class of society–remembering perhaps certain epochs in history when their own families had already arrived in full consciousness at a similar effrontery–carrying their contempt for scruples almost as far as their respect for etiquette. Several  of them engaged Charlie on the spot for different evenings on which he was to come and play them Vinteuil’s septet, but it never occurred to any of them to invite Mme Verdurin….The latter was already blind with fury. (V, 363-364)

The Baron is oblivious to her fury at being marginalized in her own house, in front of her clan.

Intoxicated by the sound of his own voice, M. de Charlus failed to realise that by acknowledging Mme Verdurin’s role and confining it within narrow limits, he was unleashing that feeling of hatred which was in her only a special, social form of jealousy. Mme Verdurin was genuinely fond of her regular visitors, the faithful of the little clan, but wished them to be entirely devoted to their Mistress. Cutting her losses, like those jealous lovers who will tolerate unfaithfulness, but only under their own roof and even in front of their eyes, that is to say when it scarcely counts as unfaithfulness, she would allow the men to have mistresses or male lovers, on condition that the affair had no social consequence outside her own house, that the tie was formed and perpetuated in the shelter of her Wednesdays.In the old days, every furtive giggle that came from Odette when she was with Swann had gnawed at Mme Verdurin, and so of late had every aside exchanged by Morel and the Baron; she found one consolation alone for vexations, which was to destroy the happiness of others. (V,370)

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