by Dennis Abrams
Davis: 102-112; Moncrieff: 139-152
“What! Still amusing yourself with a book? This isn’t Sunday, you know!” Eulalie visits. The Cure’s visit ruins Eulalie’s visit. Saint-Hillaire, Gilbert the Bad and the Guermantes. Francoise’s distrust of Eulalie. Leonie’s routine disrupted by the kitchen maid’s labor pains. Marcel witnesses Leonie having a bad dream, and then slowly returning to reality. “God be praised! Our only worry is the kitchen maid, who is having a baby. And here I’ve gone and dreamed that my poor Octave had come back to life and was trying to make me go for a walk very day!
I’ve been reading Lectures on Literature by Vladimir Nabokov, a collection of the lectures he gave while teaching at Cornell University in the 1950s. His class, Literature 3110312, was described in the catalog (most probably by Nabokov himself) thusly: “Selected English, Russian, French, and German novels and short stories of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries will be read. Special attention will be paid to individual genius and questions of structure. All foreign works will be read in English translation.”
Among the works being taught were Anna Karenin, Mansfield Park, Bleak House, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” and Swann’s Way.
In today and tomorrow’s posts, I’d like to share with you some of Nabokov’s thoughts on Swann’s Way. Not surprisingly, perhaps, to anyone familiar with Nabokov’s own works, he was particularly insistent on the importance of style.
“Style, I remind you, is the manner of an author, the particular manner that sets him apart from any other author. If I select for you three passages from three different authors whose work you know — if I select them in such a way that nothing in their subject matter affords any clue, and if then you cry out with delightful assurance: ‘That’s Gogol, that’s Stevenson, and by golly that’s Proust’ — you are basing your choice on striking differences in style. The style of Proust contains three especially distinctive elements:
1. A wealth of metaphorical imagery, layer upon layer of comparisons. It is through this prism that we view the beauty of Proust’s work. For Proust the term metaphor is often used in a loose sense, as a synonym for the hybrid form or for comparison in general, because for him the simile constantly grades into the metaphor, and vice versa, with the metaphorical moment predominating. (VN illustrates a simple simile as ‘the mist was like a veil’; a simple metaphor as ‘there was a veil of mist’; and a hybrid simile as ‘the veil of the mist was like the sleep of silence,’ combining both simile and metaphor.)
2. A tendency to fill in and stretch a sentence to its utmost breadth and length, to cram into the stocking of the sentence a miraculous number of clauses, parenthetic phrases, subordinate clauses, sub-subordinate clauses. Indeed in verbal generosity he is a veritable Santa.
3. With older novelists there use to be a very definite distinction between the descriptive passage and the dialogue part: a passage of descriptive matter and then the conversation taking over; and so on. This of course is a method still used today in conventional literature, B-grade and C-grade literature that comes in bottles, and an ungraded literature that comes in pails. But Proust’s conversations and his descriptions merge into one another, creating a new unity where flower and leaf and insect belong to one and the same blossoming tree.”
The Weekend’s Reading: Davis, page 112, “When I say that for very rare events…” through page 135, “…that we would not have taken advantage of it.” Moncrieff, pages 151-186