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ClassicsOnline Home » PROUST, M.: Remembrance of Things Past, Vol. 3: Guermantes Way (The): Part II (Abridged)
The Guermantes Way, Part II continues the story of Marcel’s entry into the highest circles of French aristocracy. Having renewed his acquaintance with the enchanting Albertine who now submits to his amorous advances, Marcel finds himself pursued by the predatory Baron de Charlus.
The Good Book Guide
The Guermantes Way Part II
Part II of The Guermantes Way continues the story of
Marcel’s entry into
Parisian aristocratic society…
Marcel’s family is now living in an apartment which forms
part of the Hotel de Guermantes, Paris residence of the Duke and Duchess de
Guermantes. Marcel, without having been introduced to the Duchess, has fallen
in love with her, and endeavors to encounter her, as if by accident, on his
morning walks. However it is evident that the Duchess is irritated rather than
pleased by his attentions.
Marcel’s grandmother, who represents the most important
influence in his life next to that of his mother, is in failing health. Having
been advised by an important consultant that, despite her inclinations to the
contrary, she is well enough to take some fresh air, she sets out for a walk in
the Champs Elysées with Marcel, during the course of which she is taken ill.
The Guermantes Way, Part II takes up the story as Marcel,
who has guessed that his grandmother has suffered a stroke, seeks assistance
from an eminent doctor, an acquaintance of his parents, whom he meets by chance
in the street.
Proust’s somewhat cynical attitude to doctors is exemplified
by his description of the character of Professor E., as it is in his treatment
of other members of the medical profession elsewhere in the novel. Vain, fussy
and opinionated, the Professor may be professionally competent but lacks real
human sympathy and understanding. His power to cure, too, is extremely limited
but, as Proust remarks of our eternal optimism, “we continue to light candles
and to consult doctors.”
Proust’s father was an eminent public health official, and the
members of his father’s circle, together with the numerous doctors Proust
himself was obliged to consult as a result of his poor health, will have
provided the author with ample opportunity to study the profession at first
hand. His detailed account of sickroom procedure and of the physical decline of
Marcel ’s grandmother indicates the familiarity with medical matters of the
After the death of his beloved grandmother, youth and nature
combine to assist Marcel in his recovery, and a change of season brings a
change of mood. Physical desire prompts thoughts of encounters with the female
sex, and he plans a romantic dinner with Mme. de Stermaria, an attractive young
divorcee whose acquaintance he made at Balbec, and whose sexual availability
has been hinted at by Robert de Saint-Loup. But, surprisingly, it is with
Albertine that the sexual encounter takes place. Although Marcel is no longer
in love with her, as he was at Balbec, Albertine appears to have matured
physically and in other ways, which leads Marcel to believe, as it turns out
correctly, that she would not, as before, repel his advances.
Disappointed by Mme. de Stermaria’s refusal of his
invitation, Marcel is rescued from despair by the appearance of Robert de
Saint-Loup, just returned from Morocco on leave, who takes him off to dine. The
café to which they go numbers among its clients a group of Jewish
intellectuals, of whom Marcel’s old friend Bloch is a member, and a sprinkling
of young aristocrats, of whose arrogance and anti-Semitism Marcel is made aware
but against which his friendship with Saint-Loup provides protection.
During his grandmother’s illness, Marcel’s mother has taken
him to task for making a fool of himself chasing after the Duchesse de
Guermantes, and Marcel’s infatuation with the unattainable older woman fades.
But once the spell is broken and Marcel’s assumed indifference becomes genuine,
the Duchess begins to take an interest in him and invites him to dine with her
and her husband.
This gives Marcel the opportunity of which he has always
dreamed, of witnessing the charmed life of the members of the Faubourg
Saint-Germain, that almost hermetically sealed circle of France’s noblest
aristocracy. But this experience proves very different from what he had anticipated,
and Marcel is forced to observe the chasm between the resounding titles, which
symbolize France’s historic greatness, and the fallible personalities who
Meanwhile, Marcel has received an invitation to call upon
the Baron de Charlus, the Duc de Guermantes’ brother, to whom he was introduced
at Balbec by his grandmother’s friend the Marquise de Villeparisis. The Baron’s
attitude, as he veers from the warmest amiability to the most vicious scorn,
puzzles Marcel. The innocent young man is unaware of the Baron’s homosexuality,
and is unable to account for his hysterical behavior towards him.
De Charlus was based by Proust on two real-life models, but
nonetheless remains a wonderfully imaginative creation. Proust’s description of
the tension caused in the personality of Charlus by the repression of his
publicly unacknowledged homosexuality, his need to emphasize his masculinity by
acts of physical virility, his attempt to counter-act feelings of shame by
asserting his social and intellectual superiority over others, his vicious
attacks on the weakness he observes in others but so strenuously denies in
himself, shows the author to be not only a great writer, but a remarkable
The final section of The Guermantes Way, Part II
re-introduces the figure of Swann, now much altered by a life-threatening
disease. Swann pays a visit to the Duchess de Guermantes, with whom he shares a
wit and intelligence that has made them allies in the past. In the face of
Swann’s revelation regarding the state of his health, the Duchess is torn
between her social obligation to be on time for a dinner party and the
necessity of considering Swann’s news with appropriate seriousness. She opts
for the former, despite eventually being obliged to delay her exit for a much
more mundane reason.
In making her decision, she is following not only her
husband’s wishes, but also the dictates of a social order, which override her
personal inclination, a fact recognized by Swann, who has led his life
according to the same rules. The Duke and Duchess’s outer forms of courtesy and
consideration hide a deep selfishness, the result of their self-indulgent
manner of living and an ingrained conviction that they are different from, and
superior to, other people – especially those who do not inhabit their world.
We are left with the feeling that Proust may not approve of
the people who inhabit the upper reaches of society, but that, like Swann, he
understands them. Marcel may have discovered that they are not the magic
figures he imagined them to be, but he sees them nonetheless as part of an
historical continuum, and finds the same fascination in their world as in “a
herbarium, filled with plants of another day”.
The author is well aware that snobbery, arrogance, pride,
selfishness and cruelty are not unique to the aristocracy. We may not share the
wealth and privilege of the gently born, but as human beings we share their
failings, and Proust appears to invite those among us without sin to cast the
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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