Madame Jacques de Réveillon

   It was already half past ten and people were starting to arrive when, the door being open, looking over the assembled crowd through a lorgnette with great pretension there advanced a woman whose strange face surmounted her bizarre garb, more suited to being seen on a canvas in a museum or behind the footlights in a fairy-land scene, which at first sight gave rise to the repulsive double impression that she was ridiculously ugly and that she thought herself to be exquisitely beautiful. One had the feeling that she was as deeply in disaccord with the public on the beauty of her outfit as on the beauty of her person, because it was clear to see that she kept under tight rein the style of walking cane that she was holding in her hand, her gigantic fan, the cascade of hair down her back, her excessively low-cut neckline and the huge bows on her shoes that she led in her wake like a general leading an army of which he is fiercely proud. Bent in passive obedience, these diverse accessories of her attire confined themselves to a silent pretension but the eyes of their general and her stiff bearing said it all for them. And she came forward letting her eyes shine, swelling out her bosom, displaying her teeth before leaving just a half smile. And to tell the truth it is clear that successive contemplation of her perfect bosom, her fiery eyes, her shining white teeth were enough to confirm in her the idea that she was exquisitely beautiful, just as in her outfit her cane was a delightful ornament that deserved to be displayed in a museum, her lace bodice a miracle of Alençon needlepoint, the cascade of her hair down her back a faithful copy of the taste of La Belle Ferronnière.1 But she was one of those persons where the disagreeable whole and the inflamed condition of her skin eternally hidden by powder promise a perpetual lack of success while her arrogance discovers incontestable reasons for infatuation in partial beauties and seeks to give them value. Hence her over-exposed breasts and her perpetually displayed teeth, the arrangement of her outfit, her poses, her smile seemed to be constantly saying: whatever you say, unspoken question, she reinforces in any case by saying from time to time: you do not need to talk to me about my outfit, it is one of life's consolations to have perfectly even teeth. As for her outfit she was one of those persons whose every effort to look beautiful results in making them look more ugly and more ridiculous. Not to mention that a certain artistic sense in these ladies fascinates them with certain nuances, certain arrangements that in the eyes of spectators produce the most disastrous effect and that are none the less renewed through such aberrations brought about through a kind of interior fatality. It is noticeable that nearly all young people drawn to sexual inversion seek out through a twin singularity with their taste in outfit certain fabrics, certain colours that the pleasure they find in them and the beauty that they think they bestow makes them keep repeating despite the lack of success they encounter and if we see them later adopt on the contrary a "serious" affectation of dress it is due to the numerous vexations that their previous effects have caused them, such effects being so inevitably bound in with sexual inversion, that in the eyes of the public they signify precisely that. Among these young people pretension, a sort of unhealthy expression, the affectation of dress nullify any physical merits and the women do not pay any more attention to their handsome eyes, to their fine bearing, to their nice teeth, than they do to the attractive eyes of cattle or the elegant stance of a stag. There was an equivalent nullity to Mme Jacques de Réveillon's beauty because Émilie Wirthaufer had been married to some young fool on account of his enormous fortune. She was hardly beautiful other than to herself and to the rare men who had been in love with her. But when she entered a room her outfit and her face that defied approval rather than captivating it excited stares of malevolent curiosity, whispers and giggles. Her bravado towards public approval in her refusal to wear a dress that was considered fashionable or at least plain was nothing more in the end but a sign of the absence of all social quality in Mme de Réveillon. The absence of tact, of goodwill, of simplicity was manifest in her every word. She made fun of people in their presence, jeered at their stupidity, made endless impertinent remarks, played the spoilt child, spoke endlessly about herself in a tone of admiration. But even though plenty of mediocre women had the gift of gaining advantages for themselves, of pleasing people, of showing decorum in any circumstances, of kindness, of taste, of replying with something pleasant to everybody, Mme Jacques de Réveillon who upon this point lacked all the qualities... [incomplete]

   But as it has been decreed by God that individuals, just like the world at large, be delivered up for discussion, it often happened that such a person lacking in tact, kindness, being provoking in their pretension and with poor taste in clothes and fashion, disagreeable, devoid of any social charm, proves on the other hand their absence of inclination for their fellow-creatures and willingness to have any sympathy with them, through a very ardent inclination, a clear understanding of questions that do not interest those people, that are much concerned with the philosophy of Schopenhauer, the poetry of Miss Browning, buying only beautiful paintings and truly demonstrating their wit when they are talking with intelligent people. So that in spite of practically everybody who saw Mme de Réveillon in society declaring their irremediable antipathy towards her, that all straightforward people suffer at her pretension, all honest people from her bad manners, all good people from her impertinence, all elegant people from her impossible airs, on the other hand certain men who had no doubt formed the same impression from the very first and had vowed never to set foot in her house and also certain women who knew how to ally with amiability and good manners, the love of playing a four handed rendition of Bach and travelling to Bayreuth, delighted very much in her intimacy. And as we cannot perceive everything there is to be found in such a person, and as the odd fault is the price we must pay for particular qualities, to the extent that from time to time we want to be able to point out, to those of our friends who let us, the kindness of others, but who on the other hand they do not value, Mme Jacques de Réveillon was, once she became friendly with a person, capable of understanding them, and, fond of defending them, was capable of a sort of affection that is more ardent than that of those people who behave kindly to one and all, always kind to us and kind to so many other people, an affection that quite bristled with disagreeable remarks, with irritation, with peevish sharpness towards our closest friends, and haughty words about herself, but if we could rise above the thorns and kept loyal, an affection that was in short much more dependable and much more restrained with you than the banal affection of some others. But such people, so boastful of their own superiority, so devoid of goodness and any willingness to compromise, are only nice to those they value intellectually. They are contemptuous and harsh with their father, with their husband if he is mediocre. So that those of us who they have some affection for cannot say that they are good and that they are intelligent without causing scandal, and as every being in its relations with another being however straightforward they may be provides a shortcut to what may exist in all imaginable relations in life, in the words we let pass by without appearing to have heard them when they are being outrageously boastful, in their grudges, in the spiteful gossip they repeat to us so as to put us on our guard against certain people, we find it all beyond our comprehension even if they are conducted in another direction the shortcomings that are the irritation of the world and the misfortune of the family. Goodwill out of pure kindness is not however something strange to them but it is disposed at such a time towards penniless beggars, to the unfortunate creatures that intellectually represent to them the poverty of the world, poverty before which can be placed the alms of their fortune, even a tear but by no means any perpetual concessions to an intelligence that is inferior to our own and which would have no admiration for us at all.

1. La Belle Ferronnière, portrait of an unknown lady, the wife of an iron merchant, usually attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.

Two separate manuscript fragments intended for Jean Santeuil, c. 1901-1902.


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