A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Proust Project, Day 58

Where this began
Day 57


In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (translated by James Grieve), pp. 380-391.


Preparing to go out to dinner at Rivebelle with Saint-Loup, the narrator summons the "lift," who makes small talk as they ascend, giving the narrator some insights into "the working classes of modern times," such as their efforts "to remove from their speech all reminder of the system of domestic service to which they belong." The "lift" (Proust always puts the word in quotation marks) says "tunic" for "uniform" and "remuneration" for "wages," and puzzles the narrator by referring to "the lady that's an employee of yours." The narrator thinks, "'we're not factory-owners -- we don't have employees," before he realizes that the "lady" is Françoise and that "the word 'employee' is as essential to the self-esteem of servants as wearing a mustache is to waters in cafés." 

But mostly his mind is on the group of girls he has seen on the esplanade. He had overheard a woman comment, "she's one of the friends of the Simonet girl."
Why I decided, there and then, that the name 'Simonet' must belong to one of the gang of girls, I have no idea: how to get to know the Simonet family became my constant preoccupation. ... The Simonet girl must be the prettiest of them, and also, it seemed to me, the one who might become my mistress, since she was the only one who, by turning slightly away two or three times, had appeared aware of my staring eyes.
When asked if he knows anyone named Simonet, the "lift" says vaguely that "he thought he had 'heard tell of some such a name,'" so the narrator asks him to have a list of the latest arrivals to the hotel sent up to him. He also lets the reader know that "the name of 'the Simonet girl'" was to become important to him "several years later."

In his room, the narrator reflects -- in one of those extended, minutely observed, but seemingly skimmable Proustian passages -- on the view from the window, until it's time to dress for dinner, full of anticipation of seeing again "a particular woman whom I had noticed the last time we had gone to Rivebelle, who had appeared to look at me, who had even left the room for a moment, conceivably for the sole purplose of giving me the chance to follow her out."  Then Aimé arrives with the list of new arrivals and the comment that "there could be no doubt that Dreyfus was guilty, totally and utterly." This dates the stay at Balbec to 1897 or 1898, which means that if the narrator is Proust himself, he is at least 26 -- a more advanced age than the reader might expect from his frequent childishness. 

More important for the story, however, is that "not without a little palpitation ... I read, on the first page of the list of newcomers: The Simonet family.... I had no idea which of these girls -- or, indeed, whether any of them -- might be Mlle Simonet; but I knew that Mlle Simonet loved me and that, because of Saint-Loup's presence, I was going to try to make her acquantance." This fantasy so delights him that he surprises Saint-Loup when they arrive at Rivebelle by letting the servant take his overcoat despite Saint-Loup's warning that "it's not very warm here." "I had lost all fear of being ill; and the need to protect myself against the possibility of dying ... had likewise vanished from my mind."
From that moment on, I was a different person, no longer the grandson of my grandmother, to whom I would not give another thought until after having left the restaurant, but briefly the brother of the waiters who were about to serve us.

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