Marcel Proust 5: Conflicted by Nature and Conflicted by Society, – but on the way to resolving what can be resolved!

An analysis of Marcel Proust’s “La Prisonnière” through the lens of a fellow descendant of the Celtic-Germanic Middle Kingdom of Lotharingia


Et pourtant, mes soupçons n’étaient-ils pas des antennes dirigées vers la vérité….
M. Proust: La Prisonnière, page 298

In our interpretation of Marcel Proust’s 4th volume of his 7-part series “In Search of Lost Time”, Noah denkt™ had proffered the theory that some family related trauma may well be at the heart of the serious “étouffements and “chagrins” which the narrator so intensely suffers from throughout his 7-volume existence.

Obviously, we recognize that it is a pretty daring undertaking in this conflicted Trump Presidency era to go public with an hypothesis that still lacks the smoking gun evidence which an emotionally seized and sequestered jury would probably need to open up to a prosecutorial Impeachment argument. The fact, however, that we are dealing here with an admittedly evolving take on a classical literature (as opposed to a back room quid-pro-quo bribery or misdemeanor allegation) gives us some confidence that the jury’s reaction in our case will be less adversarial than it would have been otherwise.

Having said this then, it seems to us as if Volume 5 (M. Proust: La Prisonnière, Gallimard, folio classique, 1988) does provide additional support for the earlier mentioned trauma hypothesis. In fact, we would argue that the specific nature of that trauma which haunts the narrator is sketchily communicating itself to him in the course of the 2nd Chapter of “La Prisonnière”.  After all,  it is here that an explicit reference to some sort of “cochonnerie” is being made which went on in the life of Mme de Villeparisis and her sisters and which likely, by way of parental relationships, also impacted the narrator’s psyche itself. We’ll get to the details of how that Villeparisis-abuse translated itself to the narrator’s soul later. At this point, Noah denkt™ would like to share with you the exact wording in which the startling Villeparisis revelation makes its way into the narrator’s account and understanding. (You will find the Gutenberg Project translation of this original French text into English in Footnote (1)).  On page 261/262 of our admittedly weird copy of La Prisonnière (printed with bar code and ISBN in 2016 in Laverne, TN, but without the name of the publishing house) Mr. Proust’s narrator sets the scene as follows
(Some words were put into bold by us for comprehension purposes):

Embarrassé, je fis dériver la conversation en m’emparant du nom de Mme de Villeparisis, et je cherchai à savoir de lui [M. de Charlus], si qualifié à tous égards, pour quelles raisons Mme de Villeparisis semblait tenue à l’écart par le monde aristocratique. Non seulement il ne me donna pas la solution de ce petit problème mondain, mais il ne me parut même pas le connaître. Je compris alors que la situation de Mme de Villeparisis, si elle devait plus tard paraître grande à la postérité, et même, du vivant de la marquise, à l’ignorance roture, n’avait pas paru moins grande tout à fait à l’autre extrémité du monde, à celle qui touchait Mme de Villeparisis, aux Guermantes. C’était leur tante, ils voyaient surtout la naissance, les alliances, l’importance gardée dans la famille par l’ascendant sur telle ou telle belle-sœur. Ils voyaient cela moins côté monde que côté famille. Or celui-ci était plus brillant pour Mme de Villeparisis que je n’avais cru. J’avais été frappé en apprenant que le nom de Villeparisis était faux.  Mais il est d’autres exemples de grandes dames ayant fait un mariage inégal et ayant gardé une situation prépondérante. M. de Charlus commença par m’apprendre que Mme de Villeparisis était la nièce de la fameuse duchesse de ***, la personne la plus célèbre de la grande aristocratie pendant la monarchie de Juillet, mais qui n’avait pas voulu fréquenter le Roi Citoyen et sa famille. J’avais tant désiré avoir des récits sur cette Duchesse ! Et Mme de Villeparisis, la bonne Mme de Villeparisis, aux joues qui me représentaient des joues de bourgeoise, Mme de Villeparisis qui m’envoyait tant de cadeaux et que j’aurais si facilement pu voir tous les jours, Mme de Villeparisis était sa nièce, élevée par elle, chez elle, à l’hôtel de ***. « Elle demandait au duc de Doudeauville, me dit M. de Charlus, en parlant des trois sœurs : «  Laquelle des trois sœurs préférez-vous ? » Et Doudeauville ayant dit : « Mme de Villeparisis », la duchesse de *** lui répondit :« Cochon ! »  
Marcel Proust : La Prisonnière, p. 261, 262

Obviously, the novel itself does not elaborate this little episode pertaining to Mme de Villeparisis further at this point. So, questions like the following loom large over this particular revelation:

Who is that Duchess de ***? Is she really “the most celebrated member” of high aristocracy as the English Gutenberg translation of “La Prisonnière” puts it (see footnote (1))? Or is she much rather the most famous, i.e. the most notorious person of/or to that July Monarchy nobility? And since the July Monarchy had its Citizen King no longer be the “Holy King of France” but rather the bourgeois “King of the French”, Noah denktcannot help but wonder whether that duchess who “did not want to frequent Louis-Philippe and his family” is in fact a real duchess? Or could it be that she is more the bourgeois, Odette de Crécy-sort of duchess, i.e. an “entremetteuse” (pimp) who fancifully calls herself a Duchess to give “éclat” to her prostitution business and service? After all, we know from Balzac’s “La Peau de Chagrin” (1831) what the laissez-faire-corruption of the July Monarchy was like: how it encouraged excess and moral debauchery and how it led beautiful women “sans cœur” like Fœdora to become ruthlessly materialistic creatures which tfake being a “Comtesse” in order to sell their body (but not their heart) to the most solvent society bidder of the day (for details see Footnote (2)). It is hence not entirely far-fetched to presume that subject Duchess in the aforementioned account is a shady character.

The most important “known unknown”, however, in the Villeparisis episode is: Who are the two sisters of Mme de Villeparisis, who apparently also grew up in the hôtel, or better the brothel of said duchess and who were probably just as much offered to the Dukes of Doudeauville for their “cochonneries” as Mme de Villeparisis was?

So, Who Is It?

Clearly all bets are open as to who these two sisters are. Could it be that they are Mme de Guermantes and Mme
de Cambremer
?  Or could it even be that the narrator’s grandmother is one of them? Bathilde’s at the time hard to
comprehend uneasiness and unwillingness to meet with Mme de Villeparisis in the Balbec Grand Hotel (see Vol. 2, À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleur, Ed. Gallimard, folio classique, 1987, page 254ff) while secretly being very much impacted by her unexpected presence there, could easily suggest that one of these other two sisters will eventually turn out to be the narrator’s much beloved grandmother.

At this point, however, Noah denkt™ is very much still in its maiden voyage through Volume 5.  Volume 6 and 7 of “In Search of Lost Time” have not even been touched by us. In other words, we really do not have the patience at this Impeachment time of ours to go back to previous volumes (in particular the François Le Champi (!) / chagrin -episode in Vol. 1)  in order to find additional clues to support our Bathilde-Villeparisis-Duchess-Cochonnerie-theory that we did not recognize as such in our first reading.  So, we must yet again ask our readers, to bear with us if we have, – for the umpteen’s time in this Proustian journey -,  been unable to hold our horses in the face of our scary penchant for the premature.

A Personal Message

We wouldn’t want to end this 5th Proust comment though without a very personal message from the Mastermind of this Noah denkt™-Project. Our Chief Brain would like you to know that Mr. Proust’s recount of his narrator’s  attempts to come to terms with his awful “étouffements” has impressed on our Noah denkt™ creator the urgent need to revisit his own Celtic-Germanic, post-Lotharingian roots and ancestry. After all, there is in all likelihood more history-induced turmoil in his personal post-Middle-Kingdom/Bowling-Alley-biography than he has realized so far.

His life too has been deeply impacted by the past Franco-German hostilities. So he too finds himself in a post-Gallo-Belgica-, post-Germania-Inferior-, post-Combray-like reality where his identity/mentality is neither 100% outre-rhin” (i.e.having a right-bank Rhine-River view of himself), nor is it entirely at ease with his left-bank Rhine river valley existence.  What concerns him most though, at this time, is that a new Salian Franks- /Thuringian- /AfD- /Front National-led incursion could be upon us, both on the right
and on the left bank of Europe which would not only cut short on the values of freedom, reason and human dignity but most likely also trample again over our common Franco-Belgian-Brabantian-Flandrian-Dutch-GermanCeltic-Germanic heritage, soul and identity. This is why the leadership of the US in matters of reason, honesty, democracy and international human rights is so extremely important to him even if that leadership originates outside our European shores.

So, with that in mind, our Brain-in-Chief would like to send a warm and wholehearted greeting to his Bové cousins in L’Aisne, his Bowe cousins in Wisconsin (Chippewa Falls) and his Léonard/Leonards/Tupinier/Ticani-cousins in Algeria (Oran, St. Denis du Sig, Tlemcen) and in France (Marie Josée Tupinier above all). May be, we haven’t been reaching out to each other enough. And this Mastermind, certainly assumes his part of the responsibility for this. But, as they say in Jazz, it ain’t over until it’s over. So let’s keep our spirits up!


Yours Truly, WL

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Footnote (1): Translation into English of the French text above

In some embarrassment, I turned the conversation, seizing hold of the name of Mme. de Villeparisis, and sought to find out from him, so admirably qualified in every respect, for what reasons Mme. de Villeparisis seemed to be held aloof by the
aristocratic world. Not only did he not give me the solution of this little social problem, he did not even appear to me to be aware of its existence. I then realised that the position of Mme. de Villeparisis, if it was in later years to appear great to posterity, and even in the Marquise’s lifetime to the ignorant rich, had appeared no less great at the opposite extremity of society, that which touched Mme. de Villeparisis, that of the Guermantes. She was their aunt; they saw first and foremost birth, connexions by marriage, the opportunity of impressing some sister-in-law with the importance of their own family. They regarded this less from the social than from the family point of view. Now this was more brilliant in the case of Mme. de Villeparisis than I had supposed. I had been impressed when I heard that the title Villeparisis was falsely assumed. But there are other examples of great ladies who have made degrading marriages and preserved a predominant position. M. de Charlus began by informing me that Mme. de Villeparisis was a niece of the famous Duchesse de ——, the most celebrated member of the great aristocracy during the July Monarchy, albeit she had refused to associate with the Citizen King and his family. I had so longed to hear stories about this Duchess! And Mme. de Villeparisis, the kind Mme. de Villeparisis, with those cheeks that to me had been the cheeks of an ordinary woman, Mme. de Villeparisis who sent me so many presents and whom I could so easily have seen every day, Mme. de Villeparisis was her niece brought up by her, in her home, at the Hôtel de ——. “She asked the Duc de Doudeauville,” M. de Charlus told me, “speaking of the three sisters, ‘Which of the sisters do you prefer?’ And when Doudeauville said: ‘Madame de Villeparisis,’ the Duchesse de —— replied ‘Pig!’

Marcel Proust : The Captive (La Prisonnière) ;Translated from the French by C. K. Scott Moncrieff * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Footnote (2) :
Rastignac introduces the concept of the « Countess »  Fœdora to Raphael de Valentin in Balzac’s “Peau de Chagrin”:
« Si tu as de l’esprit, mon cher enfant, tu feras toi-même la fortune de ta théorie en comprenant mieux la théorie de la fortune. Demain soir tu verras la belle comtesse Fœdora, la femme à la mode. (…) Un femme à marier qui possède près de quatre-vingt mille livres de rentes, qui ne veut de personne ou de qui personne ne veut !. (…) une Parisienne à moitié Russe, une Russe à moitié Parisienne !….  (…)  …. entre nous, je crois que son mariage n’est pas reconnu par l’empereur, car l’ambassadeur de Russie s’est mis à rire quand je lui ai parlé d’elle. Il ne la reçoit pas, et la salue fort légèrement quand il la rencontre au bois. » Honoré de Balzac : La Peau de Chagrin, folio classique, Ed. Gallimard, 1974, p. 153-155)

 

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