Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Mlle De Stermaria and the Fin De Siecle

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Mlle De Stermaria and the Fin De Siecle

Article excerpt

Mlle de Stermaria is mentioned in a major way twice in A la recherche: the first time, the hero muses about her when he sees her in the dining room of the hotel he is staying at in Balbec (II, 48-50),(1) and the second time he is expecting to take her out for a meal in the Bois de Boulogne, but she cancels the engagement (II, 676-88). And to all intents and purposes that is all. However, early draft material for A la recherche suggests Mlle de Stermaria was destined to have a greater role in the finished novel. This is evident from two sources, Carnet 1 and Cahier 36.

In Carnet 1, we read

Dans la [2.sup.e] partie du roman la jeune fille sera ruinee, je l'entretien-

drai sans chercher a la posseder par impuissance du bonheur.(2) Rey suggests that this "jeune fille" may be a precursor of Mlle de Stermaria because they have poverty in common.(3) It is apparent that at this early stage the poverty is not closely linked to someone belonging to the nobility, since 3v[degrees] of Carnet 1 says

Dans la Seconde partie jeune fille ruinee, entretenue sans jouir d'elle

(comme Mlle Georges par Americain, Luigia par Sallenauve)(4) and neither "Mlle Georges"(5) nor "Luigia" belongs to the nobility. However, it is possible that this idea did quickly attach itself to Mlle de Stermaria (and should have helped to carry her further) since as early as Cahier 36 the poverty of Mlle de Stermaria is seen as an encouraging sign by the hero, who hopes his wealth will be able to help him break down the barriers between himself and Mlle de Stermaria: he will be able to dazzle her by proposing excursions in a car.(6)

The other allusions in Carnet 1 which seem close to Mlle de Stermaria are those which speak of "hortensias" and "nobles normands":

-Les Castellane, les hortensias normands, les chatelains anglais,


-J'ai la quatre visages de jeunes filles, deux clochers, une filiere

noble, en l'hortensia normand un "allons plus loin", dont je ne

sais ce que je ferai;(8)

-Allons plus loin que Gerard pourquoi se borner a tel reve, tel

moment cristalliser dans une seule chose y sacrifier tout, rester a

Paris pour Me J. de Castellane une annee, pour la Ste Eugenie une

autre annee. Impuissance qui fait ne pas vouloir se montrer dans

l'intervalle etc. Revenons a Gerard. Fete a Chalis = hortensia de

mes nobles normands. Ce n'etait pas Adrienne. C'etait la voya-

geuse de la diligence de Bretagne. Ce n'etait pas la petite Boucher

qui allait se prostituer etc.(9) These allusions to "hortensias normands" become clearer when one reads Fallois' Contre Sainte-Beuve which in all likelihood reproduces some of the "pages ecrites" mentioned by Proust in Carnet 1 at 7v[degrees] (among which one finds the "hortensias normands" quoted above):

Vous me direz que cette famille qui reside depuis deux siecles dans

son chateau pres de Bayeux, qui donne l'impression d'etre battu

pendant les apres-midi d'hiver par les derniers flocons d'ecume,

prisonnier dans le brouillard [...], son nom est en realite provencal.

Cela ne l'empeche pas de m'evoquer la Normandie [...] Il est

devenu Normand comme ces beaux hortensias normands qu'on

apercoit d'Honfleur a Valognes.(10) When we turn to examine the early passages concerning Mlle de Stermaria in Cahier 36, it will be apparent that she too, initially, belonged to a family from the Midi which had become established in the north-west (Brittany in her case).

This Cahier itself shows the important place Mlle de Stermaria occupied in the earliest drafts. Written in late 1909,(11) it contains two lengthy passages about Mlle de Stermaria(12) which I will examine soon.

Stermaria then was prominent early, but is not prominent in the finished novel. There are doubtless many hypotheses one could advance to explain this. …

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