Tuesday, August 14, 2012

In case you were interested in why people read Proust

From the ending (pg.582-594) of Guermantes Way, vol.3 of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time) by Marcel Proust translated by Mark Treharne

Background: As they are leaving a dinner party hosted at her house (for another dinner party) the Duchess Oriane Guermantes offers to take Monseiur Swann on a trip to Italy but he repeatedly rejects her offer...

         "Very well. Will you tell me in one word why you can't come to Italy?" the Duchesse challenged Swann as she rose to take leave of us.
        "But, my dear friend, it's because I shall have been dead for several months by then. According to the doctors I've consulted, by the end of the year my present illness-and as far as that goes it could carry me off at any time- will leave me three or four months to live at the most, and even that is an optimistic estimate," replied Swann with a smile, as the footman opened the glass door of the hall for the Duchesse to leave.
        "What on earth are you telling me?" the Duchesse burst out, stopping short for a second[...] Poised for the first time in her life between two duties as far removed from each other as getting into her carriage to go to a dinner party and showing compassion for a man who was about to die, she could find no appropriate precedent to follow in the code of conventions, and, not knowing which duty to honor, she felt she had no choice but to pretend to believe that the second alternative needed to be raised, thus enabling her to comply with the first, which at the moment required less effort, and thought that the best way of settling the conflict would by to deny that there was one. "You must be joking," she said to Swann[...]
      "I've never mentioned my illness to you before. But since you asked me, and since now I may die at any moment...But, please, the last thing I want to do is to hold you up, you've got a dinner party to go to," he added, because he knew that for other people their own social obligations mattered more that the death of a friend, as a man of considerate politeness he put himself in their place[...] And so, while still moving toward her carriage, she said with a droop of her shoulders, "Don't worry about the dinner party it's of no importance!" But her words put the Duc [her husband] in a bad mood "Come along, Oriane, don't just stand their with your chatter, whining away to Swann, when you know very well that Mme de Saint-Euverte [the hostess of the dinner party they are going to] makes a point of having her guests sit down at the table at eight o'clock sharp. We need you to make up your mind. The horses have been waiting for a good five minutes now. Forgive me, Charles," he said, turning to Swann, "but it's ten minutes to eight. Oriane is always late, and it will take up more than five minutes to get to old Mother Saint-Euverte."
       Mme de Guermantes made a decisive move toward the carriage and said a last farewell to Swann[...]And, lifting her skirt, she set her foot on the carriage step. She was about to get into in when the Duc caught sight of her foot and thundered out: "Oriane, you wretched woman, what are you thinking of? You're still wearing your black shoes! With a red dress! Go up quickly and change into your red ones. No, wait," he said, turning to the footman, "go and tell Madame's maid to bring down a pair of red shoes at once."
     "But my dear" said the Duchesse softly, embarrassed to see that Swann, who was leaving the house with me but had stepped back to let the carriage pass out in front of us, had heard this, "given that we're late..."
   "No, no, we have plenty of time. It's only ten too. It won't take us ten minutes to get to Parc Monceau. And anyway what does it matter? Even if we arrive at half past eight, they'll still wait for us, but you simply can't go there in a red dress and black shoes. Besides, we won't be the last to arrive, believe me. The Sassensages are coming. You know that they never turn up before twenty to nine."
   The Duchesse went up to her room.
   "Huh!" said M. de Guermantes to Swann and me. People laugh at us poor husbands, but we're not completely useless. If it weren't for me, Oriane would have gone out to dinner in black shoes."

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