Davis: 230-248; Moncrieff: 314-339
by Dennis Abrams
The second visit to Odette. Swann sees Odette as Zipporah, the wife of Moses, as painted by Botticelli in a fresco in the Sistine Chapel. “He looked at her; a fragment of the fresco appeared in her face and in her body, and from then on he would always to try to find it again, whether he was with Odette or was only thinking of her, and even though he probably valued the Florentine masterpiece only because he found it again in her, nevertheless that resemblance conferred a certain beauty on her too, made her more precious.” Swann pretends to be angry with Odette in the hope of making her afraid of losing him. Swann arrives late at the Verdurins’, missing Odette. Swann’s search for Odette. The act of physical possession “in which, in fact, one possesses nothing.” Swann’s joy at knowing that Odette was waiting for him.
So much packed into just 12 tiny pages. Swann falls in love with Odette and possesses her physically, through a combination of illusion and absence. Or, as Howard Nemerov described it in The Oak and the Acorn, “For Swann could not fall in love with Odette, who, we are told first and last, was not his type, until he himself had transformed her, by the disguising, quasi-artistic power of illusion, into a woman mysteriously invested with the charm of art and tradition…And I think it not too much to say that the point about the futility of Swann’s quest to penetrate an illusion he has himself made up is symbolically made by a negation: he falls in love with her exactly when and exactly because she is not there.”
I will have more to say about this later, but I’d like to backtrack a bit today. I re-read this section from Proust’s Way the other day, in which Roger Shattuck uses the paragraph that describes Swann’s first meeting with Odette as a way to analyze Proust’s prose, and hope that everyone finds it as interesting as I did:
First the quote from Proust, italics added by Shattuck:
“But, whereas each of these liasions, or each of these flirtations, had been the more or less complete realization of a dream inspired by the sight of a face or body that Swann had, spontaneously, without effort, found attractive, on the contrary, when one day at the theater he was introduced to Odette de Crecy by one of his former friends, who spoke of her as a charming woman with whom he might get along, but painted her as more difficult than she really was in order to seem to have done him a bigger favor in introducing him, she appeared to Swann not unattractive certainly but to have a kind of beauty that was indifferent to him, that did not stir his desire, even inspired a kind of physical repulsion in him, to be the sort of woman, as happens to all of us in different ways, who is the opposite of what our senses ask for.”
Now, Shattuck’s analysis:
“By linking more than a dozen subordinate clauses to both ends of one principal clause, Proust has composed a difficult sentence. But the fully articulated syntax and the rhythm it enforces firmly direct the reading. The emphatic initial But, commands attention. Immediately following, whereasw projects far out ahead an organizing power that lasts until it is picked up by when and carried on to the central statement. The construction here is more sturdy than subtle. Why does Proust write one sentence instead of three or four? What is the effect?
Had he used several sentences, he would have had to rely on modifiers and rhetorical devices to bring out the central proposition. Or he would have had to delete details. In the sentence as written, subordination serves to arrange a large amount of material around the clause: ‘she appeared…indifferent to him…’ The facts that the introduction took place in the theater, and that she was not presented as a woman of easy virtue, are minor yet revealing details. Proust uses the nuances and hierarchies of syntax to hold these details in perspective. Furthermore, the very relationships expressed by the connectives (whereas, when, that, who; in other contexts he concentrates on causative, concessive, or conditional relations) form an essential part of Proust’s subject. This sentence contrives not only to tell us the circumstances under which Swann first met Odette but also to suggest the whole sinuous course of their love affair. Before that interlude, his life followed a recognizable pattern; during it, that pattern is so disrupted as to leave a deep mark on Swann; and at its close, he looks back at its surprising beginning (and in effect at this very sentence) to wonder bemusedly how it ever happened. A great number of complex, half-understood circumstances converge on any significant event, and then diverge toward a future of undivulged possibilities. The passage just quoted is one example of how Proust’s prose tends to reproduce that plentitude. He wants to make us see that intersection of lines.”
And one last observation. When Swann arrives at the Verundins’ after Odette’s departure, he watches them through the window, and sees “the figures of the guests stood out in silhouette, slender and black, screening the lamps, like those intercalated at intervals around a translucent lampshade whose other panels are plain light.” Similar, perhaps, to the effect of Marcel’s magic lantern?
Davis: Page 248 “He went to her house only in the evening…” through Page 260 “…and precipitated Swann’s fall from grace.” (That should pique your curiosity!)
Moncrieff: Page 339 “He went to her only in the evenings…” through page 356 “and precipitated Swann’s fall from grace.”