November 26, 2003
Close reading sometimes discloses more puzzles than light. Here I am reading closely in The Fugitive and encounter the sentence “ …. from that Saint-André-des-Champs side of her “[Andree’s] nature which Albertine too had shown me at the start.” Now what in the world is THAT nature? I obviously missed something in the previous 2000 pages. I think I can now depuzzle it . (If others demystify, I don’t see why I can’t depuzzle.) And, it turns out to be not that much of a puzzle, after all – I just didn’t get it until now.
The church Saint-André-des-Champs is located by the Méséglise Way in Combray. It is not THE church – the one that clutches at the heart. That one is Saint Hilaire next to Tante Leonie’s house right in the town. Saint-André-des-Champs is located by the Méséglise Way – sort of out in the fields. For M, it is that which is quintessentially French – but medieval and feudal French. It is more representative of the serf and peasant sensibility – but not exclusively. The sculpted stone saints and angels on its porch were modeled by medieval peasants. Their faces and worldview repeat down through history and M sees them in the cooks and coachmen around him. Thus, when we read of “the laws laid down at Saint-André-des-Champs” we understand these to be the manners, limitations, aspirations and proprieties set down by the French feudal code. Françoise and Théodore seem to be the most representative of these “laws”(although both Albertine, Andree and Saint Loup have that “side” in their natures too.)
To say that Saint-André-des-Champs stands in for French feudal manners and mentality is not to demean or to belittle. Just the opposite is made clear in Time Regained against the background of the war (WWI). There, people of different classes, noble and ignoble attest to the greatness of France, her greatness of soul, through their conformity with the medieval rules of Saint-André-des-Champs.
What are the medieval rules? – Loyalty and Keeping One’s Place are some. More?
It is interesting that Charlus does not seem to be associated with that church and its rules even though he is often associated, like Françoise, with medieval and feudal. Perhaps it’s because he carries a whiff of the German whereas Saint-André-des-Champs is pure French. ??
Here are a few quotes from which I sketched (above) the meaning of Saint-André-des-Champs.
Pg 164-165, Vol 1 SW…How French that church was! Over its door the saints, the chevalier knights with lilies in their hands …the medieval artist and the medieval peasant (who had survived to cook for us in the nineteenth century) …
pg 149, Vol 2, GW…for I foresaw that she [Françoise] would speak of them as being among those duties which could not be avoided, according to the laws laid down at Saint-André-des-Champs…
pg 381, Vol 2, GW…of the little French peasant whose type may be seen in stone at Saint-André-des-Champs
Pg 616, Vol 3, FUGITIVE…from that Saint-André-des-Champs side of her “[Andree’s] nature which Albertine too had shown me at the start.
Pg 760, Vol 3, TR … the best in the Frenchmen of Saint-André-des-Champs, lords, citizens and serfs …
Pg 872 TR …a good Frenchman according to the rule of Saint-André-des-Champs
876 TR …. the greatness of France, her greatness of soul, her greatness after the fashion of Saint-André-des-Champs.
(pg numbers refer to Random House silver, 3 volumes, Moncrieff/Kilmartin)
I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving – even in these troubled times.