One of the most famous scenes in Proust’s novel occurs near the end of The Guermantes Way, when the Duchesse de Guermantes, “lifting her skirt,” begins to step into their carriage. Catching sight of her foot, her husband exclaims: “Oriane, what are you thinking of! You are still wearing your black shoes! With a red dress! Go upstairs, quickly, and put on your red shoes!” It is a devastating moment, because their friend Swann has just been telling them that he is dying – something they prefer not to hear, since they are late for a party.
In real life, another friend of Proust’s, Madame Strauss, did once put on black shoes with a red dress, and her husband angrily ordered her to change, but it was not under such circumstances of cruelty and selfishness. Proust simply ran upstairs to fetch the other pair of shoes. Thus, a writer takes elements from life and transforms them into art.
Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe runs through January 7, 2016 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.
Pair of high-heeled shoes, circa 1905
Sheared velvet, leather
GAL1964.20.75, gift of the Gramont family to the Palais Galliera