Bakst, Léon (1866-1924)

Russian painter who was the set designer for Diaghilev's Ballets russes from 1909-1921. He brought about a revolution in scenery and costumes and his creations for Rimbsky-Korsakoff's Shéhérazade, given during the 1910 season in Paris, are a model of the style "Ballets russes." (A Proust Dictionary by Maxine Arnold Vogely). In early June 1910, Proust attended a performance of Shéhérazade. Other works on the program included Prince Igor by Alexander Borodin. At another performance, Proust met Bakst. In the Search, the Princess Yourbeletieff, mentioned only once, is said to be the sponsor of the Ballets russes. She is apparently based on Misia Godebska, an acquaintance of Proust's. In 1910, Misia married Catalan painter José-Maria Sert, another designer for the Ballet russes.

. . . when with the prodigious flowering of the Russian Ballet, revealing one after another Bakst, Nijinsky, Benois and the genius of Stravinsky, Princess Yourbeletieff, the youthful sponsor of all these great men, appeared wearing on her head an immense, quivering aigrette that was new to the women of Paris and that they all sought to copy, it was widely supposed that this marvelous creature had been imported in their copious luggage, and as their most priceless treasure, by the Russian dancers. . . .
Sodom and Gomorrah 4: 193
. . . quand avec l'efflorescence prodigieuse des Ballets russes, révélatrice coup sur coup de Bakst, de Nijinski, de Benois, du génie de Stravinski, la princesse Yourbeletieff, jeune marraine de tous ces grands hommes nouveaux, apparut portant sur la tête une immense aigrette tremblante inconnue des Parisiennes et qu'elles cherchèrent toutes à imiter, on put croire que cette merveilleuse créature avait été apportée dans leurs innombrables bagages, et comme leur plus précieux trésor, par les danseurs russes. . . .
Sodome et Gomorrhe 3: 140

In The Captive, as in the passage quoted above, Proust mentions the influence of the decors and costumes from these ballets on women's fashion. The context is Albertine's love of Fortuny gowns, which also evoked "the most cherished periods of art."

Like the theatrical designs of Sert, Bakst and Benois, who at that moment were re-creating in the Russian ballet the most cherished periods of art with the aid of works of art impregnated with their spirit and yet original, these Fortuny gowns, faithfully antique but markedly original, brought before the eye like a stage decor . . . that Venice saturated with oriental splendor. . . .
The Captive 5: 497-98
[Ces robes] étaient plutôt à la façon des décors de Sert, de Bakst et de Benois, qui en ce moment évoquaient dans les Ballets russes les époques d'art les plus aimées, à l'aide d'œuvres d'art imprégnées de leur esprit et pourtant originales; ainsi les robes de Fortuny, fidèlement antiques mais puissamment originales, faisaient apparaître comme un décor . . . la Venise tout encombrée d'Orient. . . .
La Prisonnière 3: 871

In Within a Budding Grove, Proust compares the Narrator's shifting impressions of the young girls' faces to the effects of stage lighting:

So that faces which were perhaps constructed on not dissimilar lines, according as they were lit, by the flames of a shock of red hair, with a pinkish hue, or, by white light, with a matt pallor, grew sharper or broader, became something else, like those properties used in the Russian ballet, consisting sometimes, when they are seen in the light of day, of a mere paper disc, out of which the genius of a Bakst, according to the blood-red or moonlit lighting in which he plunges his stages, makes a hard incrustation, like a turquoise on a palace wall, or something softly blooming, like a Bengal rose in an eastern garden. And so when studying faces, we do indeed measure them, but as painters, not as surveyors.
Within a Budding Grove 2: 718
De sorte que des visages peut-être construits de façon peu dissemblable, selon qu'ils étaient éclairés par les feux d'une rousse chevelure d'un teint rose, par la lumière blanche d'une mate pâleur, s'étiraient ou s'élargissaient, devenaient une autre chose comme ces accessoires des ballets russes, consistant parfois, s'ils sont vus en plein jour, en une simple rondelle de papier et que le génie d'un Bakst, selon l'éclairage incarnadin ou lunaire où il plonge le décor, fait s'y incruster durement comme une turquoise à la façade d'un palais ou s'y épanouir avec mollesse, rose de bengale au milieu d'un jardin. Ainsi en prenant connaissance des visages, nous les mesurons bien, mais en peintres, non en arpenteurs.
À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs 2: 297-98

Balthy, Louise (1869-1925)

She was a French singer who appeared frequently in operettas.

The Duchess still hesitated, for fear of a scene with M. de Guermantes, to make overtures to Balthy and Mistinguett, whom she found adorable, but with Rachel she was definitely on terms of friendship.
Time Regained 6: 447
La duchesse hésitait encore, par peur d'une scène de M. de Guermantes, devant Balthy et Mistinguett, qu'elle trouvait adorables, mais avait décidément Rachel pour amie.
Le Temps retrouvé 4: 571

Belloir

This was a Paris business that rented chairs for great receptions. Usually gilded, the chairs were used for less important guests who sat behind the more distinguished persons seated in salon chairs on the front rows. —A Proust Dictionary by Maxine Arnold Vogely

In Swann's Way, the princesse de Laumes (future duchesse de Guermantes) suggests that Mme de Saint-Euverte, a rival society hostess must have rented her guests along with the other supplies for the party. The princesse is replying to Général de Froberville, who has asked her to identify a young woman at the party; he thinks that she might a performer:

—No, she's just some young Mme de Cambremer, answered the Princesse without thinking and then added hurriedly: I'm only repeating what I heard, I haven't the slightest idea who she is; someone behind me was saying they were country neighbors of Mme de Saint-Euverte, but I don't think anyone knows them really. They must be 'country folk!' Anyway, I don't know if you're intimate with the brilliant society here but I can't put a name to any of these astonishing people. What do you think they spend their time doing when they're not at Mme de Saint-Euverte's evenings? She must have ordered them along with the musicians, the chairs and the refreshments. You must admit that these 'guests from Belloir's' are magnificent. Does she really have the heart to rent the same 'extras' every week? It isn't possible!
The Way by Swann's, translated by Lydia Davis, Penguin, 339. [I prefer Davis's translation of this passage because the Modern Library version omits Belloir. See Swann's Way 1: 479.]
—Non, c'est une petite Mme de Cambremer», répondit étourdiment la princesse et elle ajouta vivement: «Je vous répète ce que j'ai entendu dire, je n'ai aucune espèce de notion de qui c'est, on a dit derrière moi que c'étaient des voisins de campagne de Mme de Saint-Euverte, mais je ne crois pas que personne les connaisse. Ça doit être des «gens de la campagne»! Du reste, je ne sais pas si vous êtes très répandu dans la brillante société qui se trouve ici, mais je n'ai pas idée du nom de toutes ces étonnantes personnes. À quoi pensez-vous qu'ils passent leur vie en dehors des soirées de Mme de Saint-Euverte? Elle a dû les faire venir avec les musiciens, les chaises et les rafraîchissements. Avouez que ces "invités de chez Belloir" sont magnifiques. Est-ce que vraiment elle a le courage de louer ces figurants toutes les semaines. Ce n'est pas possible!
Du côté de chez Swann 1: 331

Blanche, Jacques-Émile (1861-1942)

The famous oil painting that Blanche did of Proust in 1893, when the writer was twenty-two years old, was shown that year at the Salon du Champ-de-Mars. After the Salon, Blanche cut the full-length portrait down to its present proportions. Why he did so remains unknown.

See Insomnia


Bleu, un or petit-bleu

A small blue postal card that could be sent throughout Paris by pneumatic mail. Proust used these frequently for his most urgent notes to friends and acquaintances. In the novel, when the young Narrator meets "the lady in pink," who, he later learns, is Odette de Crécy, she is captivated by his gallantry and suggests that he send her a "bleu" in order to make a date to come for tea:

"Isn't he delicious! Quite a ladies' man already; he takes after his uncle. He'll be a perfect 'gentleman,'" she added, clenching her teeth so as to give the word a kind of English accentuation. "Couldn't he come to me some day for 'a cup of tea,' as our friends across the Channel say? He need only send me a 'blue' in the morning?"
I had not the least idea what a "blue" might be. I did not understand half the words which the lady used, but my fear lest there should be concealed in them some question which it would be impolite of me not to answer made me keep on listening to them with close attention, and I was beginning to feel extremely tired.
Swann's Way 1: 107-08
«Comme il est gentil! il est déjà galant, il a un petit œil pour les femmes: il tient de son oncle. Ce sera un parfait gentleman» ajouta-t-elle en serrant les dents pour donner à la phrase un accent légèrement britannique. «Est-ce qu'il ne pourrait pas venir une fois prendre a cup of tea, comme disent nos voisins les Anglais; il n'aurait qu'à m'envoyer un "bleu" le matin.»
Je ne savais pas ce que c'était qu'un «bleu». Je ne comprenais pas la moitié des mots que disait la dame, mais la crainte que n'y fût cachée quelque question à laquelle il eût été impoli de ne pas répondre, m'empêchait de cesser de les écouter avec attention, et j'en éprouvais une grande fatigue.
Du côté de chez Swann 1: 77-78

During the time when the adolescent Narrator has a crush on Swann's daughter Gilberte, he sends her a petit bleu, which once it has been received and touched by her becomes a precious object. This passage provides a description of the postal item, which, lacking an exact English equivalent, is at first designated by the translator as an "express letter" and then "pneumatic message," until he calls it by its French name:

Another time, being still obsessed by the desire to hear Berma in classic drama, I had asked Gilberte whether she had a copy of a booklet in which Bergotte spoke of Racine, and which was not out of print. She had asked me to let her know the exact title of it, and that evening I had sent her an express letter, writing on its envelope the name, Gilberte Swann, which I had so often traced in my exercise-book. The next day she brought me the booklet, for which she had instituted a search, in a parcel tied with mauve ribbon and sealed with white wax. "You see, it's what you asked me for," she said, taking from her muff the express letter that I had sent her. But in the address on the pneumatic message—which, only yesterday, was nothing, was merely a petit bleu that I had written, and which, after a messenger had delivered it to Gilberte's porter and a servant had taken it up to her room, had become that priceless thing, one of the petits bleus that she had received in the course of the day—I had difficulty in recognizing the futile, straggling lines of my own handwriting beneath the circles stamped on it at the post-office, the inscriptions added in pencil by a postman, signs of effectual realization, seals of the external world, violet bands symbolical of life itself, which for the first time came to espouse, to maintain, to lift, to gladden my dream.
Swann's Way 1: 572-73
Une autre fois, toujours préoccupé du désir d'entendre la Berma dans une pièce classique, je lui avais demandé si elle ne possédait pas une brochure où Bergotte parlait de Racine, et qui ne se trouvait plus dans le commerce. Elle m'avait prié de lui en rappeler le titre exact, et le soir je lui avais adressé un petit télégramme en écrivant sur l'enveloppe ce nom de Gilberte Swann que j'avais tant de fois tracé sur mes cahiers. Le lendemain elle m'apporta dans un paquet noué de faveurs mauves et scellé de cire blanche, la brochure qu'elle avait fait chercher. «Vous voyez que c'est bien ce que vous m'avez demandé», me dit-elle, tirant de son manchon le télégramme que je lui avais envoyé.» Mais dans l'adresse de ce pneumatique,—qui, hier encore n'était rien, n'était qu'un petit bleu que j'avais écrit, et qui depuis qu'un télégraphiste l'avait remis au concierge de Gilberte et qu'un domestique l'avait porté jusqu'à sa chambre, était devenu cette chose sans prix, un des petits bleus qu'elle avait reçus ce jour-là,—j'eus peine à reconnaître les lignes vaines et solitaires de mon écriture sous les cercles imprimés qu'y avait apposés la poste, sous les inscriptions qu'y avait ajoutées au crayon un des facteurs, signes de réalisation effective, cachets du monde extérieur, violettes ceintures symboliques de la vie, qui pour la première fois venaient épouser, maintenir, relever, réjouir mon rêve.
Du côté de chez Swann 1: 395-96


Book Burning

In Berlin, on May 10, 1933, university students burned more than 25,000 volumes of books they considered unworthy of the "new Germany." Joseph Goebbels and other Nazi organizers addressed the thousands gathered to witness the spectacle. Marcel Proust and André Gide were among the "degenerate" authors whose books were thrown into the flames.


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