Marcel and family are once again snubbed by Legrandin on the street. This second snubbing and the character of the snubber are prepared in an earlier scene at Sunday mass – with the sentences beginning with “On one of the Sundays following our meeting ….” [Vol I, 135] and ending with “… possibility of a Legrandin altogether different from the one we knew.” These two sentences gave rise to wildly differing interpretations in a recent discussion.
A. How did M get to his seat?
A1. The ladies tried to trip him.
A2. No. They didn’t try to trip him; they tried to help him.
A3. No. He just stumbled a little as he tried to get to his seat.
B. On the church porch, who is the lady that Legrandin is introduced to?
B1. She is the Duchesse Guermantes.
B2. No, she’s the Dowager Cambremer (Mme Cambremer’s mother-in-law.)
B3. We just don’t know who she is.
C. What “Something” invades the sacred atmosphere of the church?
C1. The invading Something was simple chatter and gossip of “mundane” matters.
C2. The invading Something was the interruption of the mass by the scene on the porch.
C3. The invading Something was the spirit of Snobbery.
C4. The invading Something was the spirit of Inversion.
D. Who is the “Legrandin altogether different from the one we knew.”?
D1. The different Legrandin is rude.
D2. The different Legrandin is the snob
D3. The different Legrandin is the invert.
Here is my understanding of the sequence of events. M arrives at church a little late. The ladies are properly engrossed in their sacral duties such that M would not have been surprised if they had been unaware that he was trying to get to his seat. However, they were not so deeply engrossed in prayer and rite that they could not help him by moving the little kneeling bench a bit out of his way – which they helpfully did. After a little while, the mass ends. Normally, there is a reverential interval from the time that the people exit the sanctuary to the Porch to the outside. They may linger a few minutes on the Porch for hand-shaking, quiet salutations or condolences. Then they disperse, perhaps to reassemble with family and friends out on the village Square. The interval is conventionally an integral part of the entire sacred atmosphere; yet here, that interval is truncated, invaded, ruptured, and destroyed by what is going on on the porch; that is, the flamboyant Legrandin scene. Some are still inside (including the Mmes Goupil and Percepied). Yet, because the sacred atmosphere has been ruptured, they, quite, naturally begin to speak of mundane, temporal, non-sacred matters as if they were already out there in the Square.
The side-splitting scene on the porch is this. Legrandin is introduced to an unidentified lady, the wife of a large-landowner. This introduction is conducted by another large-landowner – the husband of the lady with Legrandin at the first snubbing of M’s father (pg 129). Legrandin’s obsequious tribute to the lady on the porch includes a bow which is less a bow and more an undulation of his fleshy rump (just like the over-affectionate dog in Francoise’s smelly verse on the prior page [pg 134] “Qui du cul d’un chien s’amottrose Il lui paraît une rose ” ). Witnessing this performance gives Marcel the idea that there might exist another Legrandin “altogether different from the one we knew” lurking underneath the visible exterior.
The ladies did not trip M. They cleared the way for him to get to his seat.
The mystery lady cannot be Mme Guermantes. At the church, M already knew what the Duchesse looked like and explicitly recognizes that the lady on the porch is NOT she. Shortly after the porch scene, M is dining with Legrandin and already begins to ponder class (and love.)
pg 138 “but I was preoccupied by the memory of a lady whom I had seen recently for the first time, and thinking, now that I knew that Legrandin was on friendly terms with several of the local aristocracy, that perhaps she also was among his acquaintance, I summoned up my courage …”
(If the lady of the porch were La Duchesse, M would not go on to ask Legrandin the “do you know her” question – since he had himself observed the scene on the church porch at the end of the mass. Pg 138). There are other arguments to support the “no, not la Duchesse” view.)
What other Legrandin is now revealed?
An other Legrandin is the unreconstructed snob personna. He is haughty to his inferiors and obsequious to his superiors. This is an unexpected aspect of Legrandin that “wakes” the young M. Here, Legrandin had always claimed to be such a staunch republican, the reverse of a snob, to the extent of “going so far as to blame the Revolution for not having guillotined them [the aristocracy] all”( pg 73, Swann’s Way). Now, the young M begins to realize that there’s more about Legrandin than meets eye and ear- what you see and hear is not all that there is. Appearance is not reality.
But there is yet another, more shadowy personna that is hidden to M’s sight, in addition to the snob. Perhaps young M gets some preternatural, inchoate sense of another other. Well no, probably not yet. But we, the readers certainly get something, when we read that Legrandin has a “carnal fluency.” When we read that his undulating, fleshy rump is being lashed into a tempest we are reading a sign of inversion. Further, there seems to be a connection of inversion (the rump in a tempest) to sadism (the lashing of it.) The inversion and the sadism is probably not a reading that can be made the first time around at this most early, tentative part of the Search. but, we vaguely sense something. However, reading The Search for the second time, one can “feel” on the porch, subcutaneously, the quickening of both of Legrandin’s other two personae. Read in this light, the entity that invaded the sacred atmosphere of the church becomes even more temporal and acute than just unacceptable but simple chatter of mundane matters by Mmes Goupil and Percepied.
Note that Françoise’s innocent verse occurring just one page before the church porch scene, is not so innocent. The dog’s body part is not his “tail” but his ass. Moncrief’s prudish translation has “puppy dog’s tail”. Pg 134 The verse is a subtle preparation for Legrandin’s performance in church that I have just described.
The two “vices” of Legrandin – snobbishness and inversion (cf The Fugitive, pp.683-684, M/K, Random House, volume III) are intertwined with a hint of sadism in his revolting (and side-splitting) dionysian and canine performance on the porch.
Pg 135 Alas! we had definitely to alter our opinion of M. Legrandin. On one of the Sundays following our meeting with him on the Pont-Vieux, after which my father had been forced to confess himself mistaken, as mass drew to an end and, with the sun- shine and the noise of the outer world, something else invaded the church, an atmosphere so far from sacred that Mme Goupil, Mme Percepied (everyone, in fact, who not so long before, when I arrived a little late, had been sitting motionless, engrossed in their prayers, and who I might even have thought oblivious of my entry had not their feet moved slightly to push away the little kneeling-bench which was preventing me from getting to my chair) had begun to discuss with us out loud all manner of utterly mundane topics as though we were already outside in the Square, we saw Legrandin on the sun- baked threshold of the porch dominating the many-coloured tumult of the market, being introduced by the husband of the lady we had seen him with on the previous occasion to the wife of another large landed proprietor of the district. Legrandin’s face wore an expression of extraordinary zeal and animation; he made a deep bow, with a subsidiary backward movement which brought his shoulders sharply up into a position behind their starting-point, a gesture in which he must have been trained by the husband of his sister, Mme de Cambremer. This rapid straightening-up caused a sort of tense muscular wave to ripple over Legrandin’s rump, which I had not supposed to be so fleshy; I cannot say why, but this undulation of pure matter, this wholly carnal fluency devoid of spiritual significance, this wave lashed into a tempest by an obsequious alacrity of the basest sort, awoke my mind suddenly to the possibility of a Legrandin altogether different from the one we knew.