Tuesday, May 15, 2007

From behind 2.27

On May 18, 1922, Sydney and Violet Schiff gave a dinner party at the Hotel Majestic in Paris. They and some forty guests were celebrating the first night of Igor Stravinsky's ballet Le Renard, performed by the Ballets Russes. Richard Davenport-Hines spends several entertaining pages trying to work out who else was there, pages which give us a compelling portrait of the peculiar Parisian demi-monde in which aristocrats and Modernists rubbed shoulders. Apart from Stravinsky and Serge Diaghilev, the main guests were Pablo Picasso, James Joyce and Marcel Proust. Indeed, a purpose of the dinner was to bring the two novelists together. [...]
Joyce arrived late, at about eleven, visibly drunk. Schiff placed him next to himself, but Joyce remained speechless, his head on his hands, for the next three or four hours. Embarassed by owning no evening dress, he had overfortified himself. Proust, immaculately turned out, appeared at two or three in the morning. Davenport-Hines writes tellingly about Proust's love of making an entrance. A woman who believed he had satirized her left in a huff, and he contrived to quarrel with Stravinsky, but he was set next to Joyce. According to [Clive] Bell, it was then that Joyce started snoring and Bell left. This, the only meeting between Joyce and Proust, has long been a celebrated fiasco. [...] Joyce was probably rude, both because of drink and because he felt that Proust was rising where he was fallin. [...] The Schiffs got into a taxi with Proust, and Joyce joined them. Joyce began smoking and opened a window. "As Proust feared fresh air, and his asthma could not stand smoke, Schiff shut the window immediately after the cigarette was jettisoned or extinguished." The journey was brief; Proust talked continuously while Joyce looked on.

L. Mackinnon, TLS, March 17 2006, p. 32



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