Davis: 195-204 Moncrieff: 265-277
by Dennis Abrams
The “little circle” of the Verdurins. Mme. de Crecy (Odette), a demimondaine and member of the “little circle”, meets Swann. Swann’s interest in women outside his class. His first impression of Odette: “…she had seemed to Swann not without beauty, certainly, but of a type of beauty that left him indifferent, that aroused no desire in him, even caused him a sort of physical repulsion, one of those women such as everyone has his own, different for each, who are the opposite of the kind our senses crave.” Odette visits Swann. “At an earlier time one dreamed of possessing the heart of the woman with whom was in love; later, to feel that one posseses a woman’s heart may be enough to make one fall in love with her.”
Congratulations all. We’ve made it through the Combray section, and are now entering Swann in Love, Proust’s first in-depth exploration of love, sex, and the comedy of jealousy. Plus, we met one of Proust’s most memorable characters, the ever so formidable Mme. de Verdurin. All in all, perfect holiday reading.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’d like to add the thoughts of a few noted writers on the subject of the scene we read over the weekend of the three steeples.
In his book The Magic Lantern of Marcel Proust, Howard Moss devotes an entire chapter to the theme of steeples. After discussing the scene we just read, as well as a later scene when, driving in a carriage with his grandmother near the town of Hudimesnil, Marcel spys three trees and is overwhelmed by a sense of happiness that he relates to the steeples of Martinville, Moss writes:
“The three steeples and the three trees carry a double-weighted meaning. They each produce a happiness like those Marcel experiences when he has an involuntary memory. Yet, in the first case, he takes pleasure in the moving objects themselves and in the mystery they conceal; the steeples tell him that time and space may be different from his consciousness of them. They do not lead him back to any past experience. In the second case, though the trees remind him of something, he is unable to dredge up any specific memory. Both the steeples and the trees are tantalizing suggestions of essences sealed up in matter, essences whose meaning Marcel cannot quite discover. Moreover, the steeples and the trees are directly linked to Marcel’s evolution as a writer. His great relief, after he sees the steeples, comes from writing a short descriptive essay. In describing the incident at Hudimesnil, he makes a revealing statement: ‘that pleasure, the object of which I could but dimly feel, that pleasure which I must create myself…’
The surfaces of reality hold imprisoned something more real than themselves. The name, the word, the thing — none is sufficient.”
Nabokov in his Lectures on Literature, had this to add on the subject of the essay that Marcel wrote after watching the visual dance of the three steeples:
“Proust now does a most interesting thing: he confronts the style of his present with the style of his past. Marcel borrows a piece of paper and composes a description of these three steeples which the narrator then proceeds to reproduce. It is Marcel’s first attempt at writing and it is charming although some of the comparisons, such as those of the flowers and the maidens, are made deliberately juvenile. The comparison comes, however, between the steeples which the narrator has just described from his later vantage point and Marcel’s literary attempt, which is surface description without the significance for which he was groping when he first experienced the sensation of these steeples. It is doubly significant that writing this piece ‘relieved my mind of the obsession of the steeples.’
Davis: Page 204 “Odette de Crecy came to see Swann again…” through page 216 “This is why:”
Moncrieff: Page 277 “Odette de Crecy came again to see Swann…” through page 294 “…for the following reason.”