Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Discreet Charm of Marcel Proust

À la recherche du la Bourgeoisie

I didn't expect to find a possible inspiration for Buñuel's Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie but Proust can be every bit as scathing as Buñuel in his descriptions of the foibles of the failing aristocracy.

Half-way through Within a Budding Grove we get a description of the bourgeoisie at play, in the "Grand Hotel" by the sea at Balbec. They could be anywhere, caught up as they are by social niceties and snobbery, their choice to stay within their little closed circle as inhibiting as a lack of choice. (I love the use of "protect" underlined below.)

"But by engulfing them thus in a system of habits which they knew by heart it sufficed to protect them from the mystery of life that was going on all around themAll the long afternoon, the sea was suspended there before their eyes only as a canvas of attractive colouring might hang on the wall of a wealthy bachelor's flat and it was only in the intervals between the 'hands" that one of the players, finding nothing better to do, raised his eyes to it to seek from it some indication of the weather at the time, and to remind the others that tea was ready. And at night they did not dine in the hotel, where, hidden springs of electricity flooding the great dining-room with light, it became as it were an immense and wonderful aquarium against whose walls of glass the working population of Balbec, the fishermen and also the tradesmen's families, clustering invisibly in the outer darkness, pressed their faces to watch, gently floating upon the golden eddies within, the luxurious life of its occupants, a thing as extraordinary to the poor as the life of strange fishes or molluscs: (an important social question, this; whether the obscure folk who watch them hungrily out of the night will not break in some day to gather them from their aquarium and devour them.) Meanwhile there may have been, perhaps, among the gazing crowd, a motionless, formless mass there in the dark, some writer, some student of human ichtyology who, as he watched the jaws of old feminine monstrosities close over a mouthful of food which they proceeded then to absorb, was amusing himself by classifying them, according to their race, by their innate characteristics as well as by those acquired characteristics which bring it about that an old Serbian lady whose buccal protuberance is that of a great sea-fish, because from her earliest years she has moved in the fresh waters of the Fauborg Saint-Germain, eats her salad for all the world like a La Rochefoucald."

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