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ClassicsOnline Home » PROUST, M.: Remembrance of Things Past, Vol. 3: Guermantes Way (The): Part I (Abridged)
In The Guermantes Way, Part I, Marcel penetrates the inner sanctum of Paris high society and falls in love with the fascinating Duchesse de Guermantes. With his unmatched powers of observation Proust vividly describes the struggles for political, social and sexual supremacy played out beneath a veneer of elegant manners. This is the fifth part of Naxos AudioBooks’ recording of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past.
The Good Book Guide
The Guermantes Way Part I
In The Guermantes Way, Marcel penetrates the inner sanctum
of Paris high
society, the circle of the Faubourg Saint Germain, which he
has hitherto viewed as both unattainable and quasi-magical; a place inhabited
by beings who lead lives completely unlike his own and those of other ordinary
Marcel’s unexpected social advancement is brought about by a
combination of circumstances. His family has moved to an apartment, which forms
part of the Hôtel de Guermantes, the Paris residence of the Duc and Duchesse de
Guermantes, whose country estates are at Combray, where Marcel’s family used to
spend their summers when he was a child.
More recently, while Marcel was on holiday at the seaside
resort of Balbec with his grandmother, the old lady renewed the acquaintance of
a friend of her youth, the Marquise de Villeparisis, aunt of the Duchesse de
Guermantes. The Marquise has introduced Marcel to her nephew Robert de Saint
Loup, a stylish young officer cadet who delights in the intellectual and
artistic stimulation he finds in Marcel’s conversation.
Marcel’s new neighbor, the Duchesse de Guermantes, is
sufficiently young, attractive, and unobtainable to become the safe object of
adoration, and although he is unable to avoid noticing that
she is a real woman with a disagreeable expression and a faulty complexion, the
reality is outweighed by his fantasy, which incorporates the glory of her title
and her ancient name. Marcel’s obsession drives him to take his morning walk at
the same time as the Duchess takes hers, in order to meet her as though by
accident, although the Duchess appears, if anything, rather annoyed than
pleased by his attentions.
Having been invited by Robert de Saint-Loup to visit him in
the garrison town where he is stationed, Marcel finds fascination in army life,
with its physical rigor and rough camaraderie. He is reminded that Oriane,
Duchesse de Guermantes is Robert’s cousin, and although reluctant to admit to
Robert the extent of his love for her, he obtains from him the promise of an
introduction on their return to Paris.
Robert’s mistress is an aspiring young actress, and he is
impatient for Marcel to meet her. When they are introduced Marcel realizes with
a shock that he has seen her before. This woman so adored and admired by
Robert, on whom he lavishes priceless jewels and for whom he defies his
family’s displeasure, turns out to be ‘Rachel when from the Lord’, a former
prostitute in a brothel frequented at one time by Marcel. Despite his view of
Rachel as unworthy of Robert’s love, Marcel can see that the emotions she
engenders in him are both genuine and devastating.
When they pay a visit to the theater to see Rachel perform,
Marcel observes with fascination the magical transformation made by distance
and art, and begins to understand Robert’s passion for her. Robert’s
relationship with Rachel is a stormy one, due to his jealous nature and her
seeming need to provoke it, and Marcel is made an unwilling witness of their
complicated emotional life.
The scene of Marcel’s introduction to high society is the
salon of the Marquise de Villeparisis. Not only is the Marquise Robert’s aunt
and his grandmother’s old friend, but Marcel discovers another link between
them in that the Marquise’s lover of many years standing is the Baron de
Norpois, his father’ s old friend and colleague.
The Marquise’s salon represents the Guermantes Way of the
title – the way of the aristocracy. At Combray, Marcel and his parents were in
the habit of taking two country walks, one, Swann’s Way, which led past the
property of Swann, his wife Odette and their daughter Gilberte, and the other
the Meseglise Way that skirted the Guermantes family’s extensive estates. These
two different routes came to symbolize for Marcel two ways of life – the
bourgeois life of love and family, and the life of power and influence which
comes with noble birth.
The progression of the Remembrance of Things Past cycle
begins in the first book, Swann’s Way, as the reader is introduced to Marcel’s
family at Combray and their neighbor Charles Swann, the scholarly man of
fashion. Swann in Love tells the story of Swann’s passion for the courtesan
Odette de Crecy, and Marcel’s childish love for their daughter Gilberte. The
following part, Within a Budding Grove sees the end of Marcel’s affair with
Gilberte, and the beginning of his love for Albertine, one of a band of charming
young girls he meets at the seaside resort of Balbec. It is there that Marcel
becomes acquainted with those members of the aristocracy who are to introduce
him into the circle of the Faubourg Saint-Germain.
In The Guermantes Way, Proust shows us the struggles for
political and social supremacy, the ebb and flow of power and influence, being
played out in the Marquise’s drawing room beneath a veneer of elegant manners
almost Oriental in their subtlety.
Characters from former books are re-introduced, and among
them we meet once again the arch snob and flatterer Legrandin, who having
warned Marcel about the dangers of going into society, is found to have been
tirelessly attempting to obtain entry himself; Marcel's old friend the
scholarly and brilliant but socially inept Bloch; and the predatory Baron de
Charlus, whose keen interest in the innocent Marcel excites his hostess’s
Amongst the subjects currently under discussion in the
Marquise’s salon is the Dreyfus case. Bloch, who is attending the trial of
Emile Zola, eminent champion of Dreyfus, is anxious to sound out the company’s
opinions. The case has divided France into two opposing camps with the
aristocrats of the Faubourg Saint-Germain solidly arrayed on the anti-Dreyfus
side. The opinion expressed by one nobleman present is that Dreyfus can be
neither patriot nor traitor, because as a Jew he is not a Frenchman. This
argument must have been particularly offensive to the half-Jewish Proust.
Part I of The Guermantes Way ends with the illness of
Marcel’s grandmother whose selfless love has been as important to him as that
of his mother, and his dawning realization that the time is approaching when he
must lose her.
Marcel Proust was born on July 10, 1871. His father, a
distinguished professor of medicine, was from a Catholic family, while his
mother was Jewish.
Although intent on becoming a writer from an early age,
Proust was riddled with self-doubt. During his twenties he co-founded a
short-lived review, Le Banquet, contributed to La Revue Blanche and had his
first book published, a collection of articles and essays entitled Les Plaisirs
et les Jours.
He became an enthusiastic admirer of the work of Ruskin and
translated his Bible of Amiens and Sesame and Lilies into French. A novel, Jean
Santeuil, which was the precursor of Remembrance of Things Past, was eventually
abandoned and only published long after his death, in 1954.
For much of his youth he led the life of a man of fashion,
frequenting fashionable Paris drawing rooms and literary salons, and these
formed the background for a number of his stories and sketches, and
subsequently of Remembrance of Things Past.
The death of his adored mother in 1905 resulted in a nervous
collapse and aggravated his chronic asthma and insomnia. But despite his grief
and the sense of loss from which he never recovered, his mother’s death freed
him with regard to his homosexual emotional life and allowed him to address
homosexuality in his writing, albeit in a manner which treated such experiences
as happenings to others rather than to himself.
In 1907 he moved into an apartment in the Boulevard
Haussmann where, in the bedroom which he had lined with cork to keep out noise,
he embarked upon his great work A la Recherche du Temps Perdu (Remembrance of
This long cycle of autobiographical novels was published in
eight sections: Du Côté de Chez Swann
(Swann’s Way) in 1913; A L’Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleur (Within A
Budding Grove) in 1918; Le Côté de Guermantes I (The Guermantes Way I) in 1920;
Le Côté de Guermantes II and Sodome et Gomorrhe (Cities of the Plain I) in
1921; Sodome et Gomorrhe II in 1922; La Prisonnière (The Captive) in 1923;
Albertine Disparue (The Sweet Cheat Gone) in 1925; Le Temps Retrouvé (Time
Regained) in 1927.
Proust was obliged to publish Swann’s Way at his own
expense, and even after it had appeared, he had trouble finding a publisher for
the next volume, A L’ Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleur. However, when it
appeared in 1918 it received considerable acclaim, and was awarded the Prix
Goncourt the following year.
By the time Proust died on November 18, 1922, the first four
parts of the cycle had been published, leaving the others to appear
posthumously. The English translations by C.K. Scott Moncrieff, from which this
abridged audiobook version has been prepared, were published between 1922 and
In Remembrance of Things Past, the minuteness of Proust’s
observation, the depth of his psychological understanding and the vividness of
his descriptive powers have combined to create one of the most poetic and
magical works in all literature.
Notes by Neville Jason
Neville Jason trained at RADA where he was awarded the
Prize by Sir John Gielgud. He has worked with the English
Stage Co., the Old Vic Company and the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as in
films and musicals. Jason has appeared in popular television serials such as
Maigret, Emergency Ward 10 and Dr. Who, as well as playing classical roles such
as Orestes and Horatio. Formally a member of the BBC Radio Drama Co.,
he can be frequently heard on radio. Jason’s passion for
Remembrance of Things Past comes alive in his adaptation and reading of the
series, for which he has received worldwide praise.
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