Saturday, September 05, 2015

Proust posting 3: On human nature

Contemplation of human nature calls to mind the relationship between what we think and what we do. Proust found human nature endlessly (yes) interesting. Here, among his observations, are my favourites:

A. Our place in society
Everyone has their place:
“ “Oriane,” (at once Mme. des Laumes looked with amused astonishment towards an invisible third, whom she seemed to call to witness that she had never authorised Mme. de Gallardon to use her Christian name).”

And we want to be superior:
“she never gets a chance of being a snob; she doesn’t know anyone.”

We mark our superiority politely:
“She treated each of them with that charming courtesy with which well-bred people treat their inferiors ...”

“... “But you are our equal, if not our superior,” the Guermantes seemed, in all their actions, to be saying; and they said it in the most courteous fashion imaginable, to be loved, admired, but not to be believed; that one should discern the fictitious character of this affability was what they called being well-bred; to suppose it to be genuine, a sign of ill-breeding. ...”

“... they are naturally polite to anybody, as beautiful women are glad to bestow a smile which they know to be so joyfully received. ...”

“... he was sufficiently persuaded of his own importance to be able to mix with the very humblest people.”

B. Our relationships
We get over people:
“Nothing can be more affectionate than this sort of correspondence between friends who do not wish to see one another any more.”

We disconnect mutually:
“... the fiction of a mutual incognito, on hearing her friend’s name from the manager she merely looked the other way, and pretended not to see Mme. de Villeparisis, who, realising that my grandmother did not want to be recognised, looked also into the void.”

We try to impress:
“ “In fact, it was drolatic,” put in M. de Guermantes, whose odd vocabulary enabled people in society to declare that he was no fool and literary people, at the same time, to regard him as a complete imbecile.”

Aggressively we try to deflect criticism:
“... people against whom certain things may be hinted like to shew that they are not afraid to mention them.”

Gaydar alert!
“There is a special kind of glance, apparently of recognition, which a young man never receives from certain women — nor from certain men — after the day on which they have made his acquaintance and have learned that he is the friend of people with whom they too are intimate.”

C. Our own natures
I’m nasty, but funny with it:
“... it’s often difficult not to be a little spiteful when one is so full of wit ...”

“... “Mme. Verdurin, why, I used to know her terribly well!” with an affectation of humility, like a great lady who tells you that she has taken the tram.”

Stress can reveal us as essentially silly:
“... an exclamation the silliness of which kept him from sleeping for at least a week afterwards. His remark was of no great interest, but I remembered it as a proof that sometimes in this life, under the stress of an exceptional emotion, people do say what is in their minds.”

Meaning can get lost when one has to be polite:
“... she answered as she did, in order not to seem to be unaware of what I meant, as in a conversation one assumes an understanding air when somebody talks of Fourrier or of Tobolsk without even knowing what these names mean. ...”

“... the sterile pleasure of a social contact which excludes all penetrating thought”

Our errors compound:
“... the ill-balanced mentality of early manhood (a period in which, even in the middle class, one appears ungrateful and behaves like a cad because, having forgotten for months to write to a benefactor after he has lost his wife, one then ceases to nod to him in the street so as to simplify matters),...”

We can have a self-perpetuating insecurity:
“But he was so anxious not to let it be seen that he was not sought after, that he dared not offer himself. ...”

“... “You don’t happen to know what you will be doing in the next few days, because I shall probably be somewhere in the neighbourhood of Balbec? Not that it makes the slightest difference, I just thought I would ask you.” This air deceived nobody, and the inverse signs whereby we express our sentiments by their opposites are so clearly legible that we ask ourselves how there can still be people who say, for instance: “I have so many invitations that I don’t know where to lay my head” to conceal the fact that they have been invited nowhere.”

We can try to wound with silence:
“M. de Charlus made no reply and looked as if he had not heard, which was one of his favourite forms of insolence.”

We like to be noticed:
“ “You are the talk of the Conservatoire,” she added, feeling that this was the argument that carried most weight; ...”

Our attacks are justified:
“People are not always very tolerant of the tears which they themselves have provoked.”

We must make an effort to be social:
“... said the Duchess, making an effort in order to speak of a matter which did not interest her.”

The children must get established:
“... the great receptions given by Mme. de Marsantes and Mme. de Forcheville, given year after year with an eye chiefly to the establishment, upon a brilliant footing, of their children, ...”

There are times when we must appear decent:
“... he assumed the modest air of one who is not asking for payment.”