Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Proust: the Duchesse of Guermantes speaks

Proust, like Jane Austen, often lets characters reveal themselves in dialogue, no narratorial comment needed. Here is the Duchesse de Guermantes, explaining why she doesn't want to see Charles Swann, who is now dying:

"I am not myself excessively anxious to see him, because it seems, judging by what I was told a short while ago at Mme de Saint-Euverte's, that he would like, before he dies, for me to make the acquaintance of his wife and daughter. Heavens, it grieves me infinitely that he should be ill, but I hope, first of all, that it's not as serious as all that. And, then, that's not after all a reason, because it would really be too simple. A writer devoid of talent would only have to say, 'Vote for me at the Academy because my wife is about to die and I want to give her this last pleasure.' There wouldn't be salons any more if one was obliged to make the acquaintance of all the dying. My coachman could use it on me: 'My daughter's very ill, get me an invitation to the Princesse de Parme's.' I adore Charles, and it would upset me greatly to refuse him, which is why I prefer to avoid his asking me. I hope with all my heart that he's not dying, as he says he is, but, truly, were that to happen, it would not be the moment for me to make the acquaintance of those two creatures who've deprived me of the most agreeable of my friends these past fifteen years, and whom he would leave on my hands at at time when I wouldn't even be able to take advantage of it to see him, since he'd be dead!"

Marcel Proust, Sodom and Gomorrah, translated by John Sturrock (New York: Penguin, 2002), 82-83

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comments: 2

Margaret Benbow said...

Yes; this perfectly reveals her coldness of heart--the heart of the matter!--more than anything that has gone before.

Michael Leddy said...

She’s quite a piece of work. Thanks for reading and commenting.