Posts Tagged ‘Saint-Loup’

Face Names

February 25, 2010

Pity the poor immigrant. However long he has lived in his adopted home, whatever his good qualities, he will never be French.

They repelled–the Jews among them principally, the unassimilated Jews, that is to say, for with the other kind we are not concerned–those who could not endure any oddity or eccentricity of appearance (as Bloch repelled Albertine). Generally speaking, one realised afterwards that , if it could be held against them that their hair was too long, their noses and eyes were too big, their gestures abrupt and theatrical, it was puerile to judge them by this, that they had plenty of wit and good-heartedness, and were men to whom, in the long run, one could become closely attached. (III,559)

But in Saint-Loup, when all was said, however the faults of his parents had combined to create a new blend of qualities, there reigned the most charming openness of mind and heart. And whenever (it must be allowed to the undying glory of France) these qualities are found in a man who is purely French, whether he belongs to the aristocracy or the people, they flower–flourish would be too strong a word, for moderation persists in this field, as well as restriction–with a grace which the foreigner, however estimable he may be,does not present to us. Of these intellectual and moral qualities others undoubtedly have their share, and, if we have first to overcome what repels us and what makes us smile, they remain no less precious. But it is all the same a pleasant thing, and one which is perhaps exclusively French, that what is fine in all equity of judgment, what is admirable to the mind and the heart, should be first of all attractive to the eyes, pleasingly coloured, consummately chiselled, should express as well in substance as in form an inner perfection. I looked at Saint-Loup….the curves of the nostrils are as delicate and as perfectly designed as the wings of the little butterflies that hover over the field-flowers round Combray….(III,560) 

Yet we have learned that certain personal traits can mar even this near-perfect visage. Saint-Loup tells Marcel that he informed Bloch that Marcel “didn’t like him all that much.”

Whatever it was, his face was seared, while he uttered these vulgar words, by a frightful sinuosity which I saw on it once or twice only in all the time I knew him, and which, beginning by runing more or less down the middle of his face, when it came to his lips twisted them, gave them a hideous expression of baseness, almost of bestiality, quite transitory and no doubt inherited. (III,547)

Is there something we don’t know about Robert?

But the Prince de Foix, who was himself rich, belonged not only to this fashionable set of fifteen or so young men, but to a more exclusive and inseparable group of four, which included Saint-Loup. These were never asked anywhere separately, they were known as the four gigolos, they were always to be seen riding together, and in country houses their hostesses gave them communicating bedrooms, with the result that, especially as they were all four extremely good-looking, rumours were current as to the extent of their intimacy. (III,55)

Little wonder that Gide complained that Proust, for all his giving prominence to homosexuals in his novel, never portrayed their experience in a positive light. (Give me a moment and I will find examples of heterosexuals portrayed positively.)



Swann-Odette Redux

February 16, 2010

Proust retells the the story of the man who is willing to sacrifice all for a woman who is in every respect unworthy. Where Swann’s imagination was seduced by Odette’s resemblance to a Botticelli figure, Saint-Loup’s is seduced by a theatrical creation.

She had one of those faces to which distance–and not necessarily that between stalls and stage, the world being merely a larger theatre–gives form and outline and which, seen from close to, crumble to dust. Standing beside her one saw only a nebula, a milky way of freckles, of tiny spots nothing more. At a respectable distance, all this ceased to be visible and from cheeks that withdrew, were reabsorbed into her face, there rose like a crescent moon a nose so fine and so pure that one would have liked to be the object of Rachel’s attention, to see her again and again, to keep her near one, provided that one had never seen her differently and at close range. (III,231)

But Marcel had seen her at close range, as a twenty franc prostitute, and so was accordingly resistant to her charms.

I realised then how much a human imagination can put behind a little scrap of a face, such as this woman’s was, if it is the imagination that has come to know it first; and conversely into what wretched elements, crudely material and utterly valueless, something that had been the inspiration of countless dreams might be decomposed if, on the contrary, it had been perceived in the opposite manner, by the most casual and trivial acquaintance. (III,209)

It was not “Rachel when from the Lord,” who seemed to me of little significance, it was the power of the human imagination, the illusion on which were based the pains of love, that I found so striking. (III,211)

Saint-Loup would later see a photo of Albertine, who he knew caused Marcel such distress, and would be amazed that Marcel would trouble himself with such a plain looking girl.

The Remorse of Friendship

January 25, 2010

Marcel is hardly ever so miserable as when he experiences friendship. It is at once the promise of the end of his loneliness and the betrayal of his self.

…I told myself that I had a good friend, that a good friend was a rare thing, and I savoured, when I felt myself surrounded by assets that were difficult to acquire, what was precisely the opposite of the pleasure that was natural to me, the opposite of the leisure of having extracted from myself and brought to light something that was hidden in my inner darkness. If I had spent two or three hours in conversation with Saint-Loup and he had expressed his admiration of what I had said to him, I felt a sort of remorse, or regret, or weariness at not having remained alone and settled down to work at last. (II,431)

Leaving aside the feeling of wasting his time instead of being a creative writer, which was an empty concern, he felt guilt because he was in a sense using Saint-Loup, using him as creative fuel.

He was no more than an object the properties of which, in my musings, I sought to explore. The discovery in him of the pre-existent, this immemorial being, this aristocrat who was precisely what Robert aspired not to be, gave me intense joy, but a joy of the mind rather than the feelings. (II,432)

And Saint-Loup explains why Marcel is so attracted to the aristocracy. At their best, they simple are, without aspiration, noble.

…I sense in it above all the certainty or the illusion in the minds of those great lords of being “better than other people,” thanks to which they had not been able to hand down to Saint-Loup that  anxiety to show that one is “just as good as the next man,” that dread of seeming too assiduous of which he was indeed wholly innocent and which mars with so much stiffness and awkwardness the most sincere plebeian civility. Sometimes I reproached myself for thus taking pleasure in considering my friend as a work of art, that is to say in regarding the play of all the parts of his being as harmoniously ordered by a general idea from which they depended but of which he was unaware and which consequently added nothing to his own qualities, to that personal value, intellectual and moral, which he prized so highly. (II,431)


Robert Saint-Loup RIP

December 17, 2009

When Schiller translated Macbeth into German, he dropped all the comic scenes, deeming them unworthy of a high tragedy. Had Schiller had the opportunity to translate Proust’s account of the death of Saint-Loup, I’m sure he would have cut about half, for it is truly Shakespearean in its mix of the high and low, tragedy and comedy.

The scene may actually be said to begin back at the brothel, where Marcel glimpses a figure he suspects is Saint-Loup rushing out the door, so rushed that he drops his prized croix de guerre. When Marcel finally arrives home after his adventures with Charlus, Francoise reports that Saint-Loup had stopped in, looking for his missing medal. What follows is a long comic passage featuring Francoise and the butler and their reflections on the war and assaults on the French language.

“Heavens above, Mother of God,” cried Francoise, “aren’t they satisfied to have conquered poor Belgium? She suffered enough, that one, at the time of her innovation.”

“I cannot understand how everybody can be so stupid. You will see, Francoise, they are preparing a new attack with wider scoop than all the others.”

…though he had once been a gardener at Combray and was a mere butler, he was nevertheless a good Frenchman according to the rule of Saint-Andre-des-Champs and possessed, by virtue of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, the right to use the pronunciation “scoop” in full independence and not to let himself be dictated to on a point which formed no part of his service and upon which in consequence, since the Revolution had made us all equals, he need listen to nobody. (VI,219-220)

A curious interlude follows, where the third “I” of the novel, the author (after the narrator and Marcel) speaks. He delivers a speech on true patriotism, illustrated by an account of a fictional family.

In this book in which there is not a single incident which is not fictitious, not a single character who is a real person in disguise, in which everything has been invented by me in accordance with the requirements of my theme, I owe it to the credit of my country to say that only the millionaire cousins of Francoise…are real people who exist. (VI,225)

This is Proust’s transition from the preceding comic pages to the announcement of the death of Saint-Loup, the most patriotic, brave character in the novel. Marcel is flooded with memories of his friend.

For several days I remained shut up in my room, thinking of him. I recalled his arrival the first time at Balbec, when, in an almost white suit, with his eyes greenish and mobile like the waves, he had crossed the hall adjoining the great dining-room whose windows gave on the to the sea. (VI,227)

The narrative focus continues this roving path. Next we return to Francoise and her elaborate performance of grief. Then Marcel reflects again on Robert, this time remarking on his character, flawed though it might be. The Duchessse de Guermantes’s genuine grief is acknowledged, though not without placing it in context.

But then when I recall all the little malicious utterances, all the ill-natured refusals to help each other which this friendship had not excluded, I cannot help reflecting that in society a great friendship does not amount to much. (VI,234)

In the final passage of this scene, we read a little story featuring Morel and a fresh example of his vile behavior, yet who seems to be indirectly redeemed by Saint-Loup when he is sent to the front lines and fights bravely.

This passage on the death of Saint-Loup cannot easily be defined as tragic or comic. It is quintessential Proust, a composition that circles a central theme, developing it through many sets of eyes and multiple emotional and psychological levels.