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Archive for December, 2009

Monceiff:  98-108; Grieve:  73-80

by Dennis Abrams

Marcel receives a letter from Gilberte, saying that “…my friends come to tea here every Monday and Friday.  Mamma askes me to tell you it will be a great pleasure to us all if you will come too as soon as you are well again…”  Marcel’s nervous system receives the news of his happiness before his mind registers it.  “Happiness, happiness through Gilberte, was a thing I had never ceased to think of, a thing wholly in my mind…”  The unexplainable miracle of the letter.  Marcel realizes it happened because, one day when Bloch and Dr. Cottard were visiting him, Bloch mentioned that he had been told by a lady friend of his that Mme. Swann was very fond of Marcel.  And while this wasn’t true (they had never met), Dr. Cottard, who was Mme Swann’s doctor, used the information to assure Odette that he, too, knew Marcel, who was a charming young man and a great friend of his as well.  “Thus at length I came to know that house from which was wafted even onto the staircase the scent that Mme Swann used, but which was more redolent still of the peculiar, disturbing charm that emanated from the life of Gilberte.”  Tea parties with Gilberte and her friends.  Marcel allows special attributes to the Swann’s staircase.

—–

Before taking our New Year’s break, I wanted to share with you three sections from poet Howard Nemerov’s study of Proust, The Oak in the Acorn.

The first paragraph discusses a section we’ve already read:  the very beginning of “Mme. Swann at Home,” beginning with having Norpois to dinner, the discussion of the fall of Swann’s reputation and the rise of Cottard’s, the brief history of Norpois’ career, Marcel’s continued unhappiness at Gilberte’s absence from the park, Marcel’s attempt to write something to impress Norpois, his doctor’s advice not to allow him to see La Berma, his parent’s subsequent permission and Marcel’s reflections on whether or not he should go if it makes his mother unhappy, ending with “The doors will be closed at two o’clock.”  Nemerov uses this ten pages to look at Proust’s narrative art:

“So.  Ten pages have been taken up in a way that no self-respecting novelist ought to do, with reflections on people who are not even to appear in the scene when it gets going (Swann, Cottard), with multiple comparisons, interventions of strange materials, digressions.  And yet in this style they are not digressions, they are the action itself.  Somewhat as in Shakespeare’s strange and wonderful Troilus and Cressida, the ways in which the action for the most part defers itself and gets lost turn out to be the action.

This is so because for Proust there is almost no such thing as the present; we live only in anticipation and memory, most of our days on earth, and the other names for anticipation and memory are desire and regret.  It is anxiety, on the one hand, and remorse, on the other, that are able to unfold whole complex worlds from a single instant, and this — how imagination makes reality before experiencing it, and later tries for the most part vainly to put the two together — is Proust’s real subject:  artistic vision, artistic creation, in themselves.”

—-

The following paragraph was written to reflect on the scene of Marcel attending La Berma’s performance of Phedre, and the subsequent dinner with Norpois:

“…you can see something of Proust’s remarkable differences from other novelists.  He rarely aims at a single effect, that’s one thing, and when Marcel aims at a single effect (to get M. de Norpois to speak of him to Odette), he fails, as usual.  And yet the whole scene, composed of so many elements, has a coherency of its own, and this is partly because, as I observed before, the novel has already become its own memory, and ours as well.

This is so simple a point that it might easily be overlooked; yet it is odd.  In most sorts of fictional narrative it would be out of place for the author, even through the voice of a character, to do literary criticism.  As Stendhal said of introducing politics, it would be like a pistol shot in the middle of a concert.  Only there is this difference, that the literary criticism here is of Bergotte, who is already a character in the novel.  As the world of the book gradually expands from the room in Combray to take in paris and the great world of society, it does so particularly by this echoing, resonant, returning method, whereby people and their doings are considered from a good many points of view; and by these intermittences and returns Proust is imperceptibly building in our own minds the idea of his world as always enlarging yet always self-contained:  it is not too much to say that one law of his composition is this:  no matter how exclusive the people — such as Oriane, whose theme song is that she “simply doesn’t know” this one, that one and the other one — everyone in this book either knows everyone else or will know everyone else.”

—-

And finally, Nemerov’s look at Proust’s portrait of Norpois:

“Then there is the figure of Norpois himself, who dominates the action, or inaction, for three-fifths of the time.  He is the Polonius of the novel, “full of high sentence, but a little obtuse,” shrewd, short-sighted, pompous, complacent, and drawn with marvelous art.  In general, however broad the comic treatment of some of the persons, there is a great subtlety in Proust’s knack of getting their style of talk — when he comes to exhibit (and for a hundred pages or so) the wit of the Guermantes, you observe how neatly Oriane’s examples of the celebrated wit are just witty enough to pass for miraculous in her circle even while they are just plain not witty enough for the reader to be drawn into that circle.

In the midst of the high comedy involved in the presentation of Norpois before the admiration of the father, the suppressed and deferential skepticism of his mother, the deadpan naivety of Marcel as foil to all this, and even before Francoise’s estimate of him on grounds rather of age than of his position as ambassador (“He’s a good old soul, like me,” she says), much that is serious and dark is also going forward.  For in the devastating portrait of this old man, this old politician, is also a savage critique of worldliness, of stupidity in power, of the corruption of language liberated from the restraining influence of thought, of the hopelessly triumphant smugness that was all unconsciously leading the nations of Europe into madness during the couple of decades between the Dreyfus case and the World War; for real-life imitations of Norpois you might well look at Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August.

—–

This will be my final post until Monday, January 4th.  Since it’s a holiday weekend, and to let everybody catch-up, I’m going to “assign” a fairly light reading for the rest of the week.

Moncrieff:  Page 108 “Gilberte’s girl friends were not all plunged…” through Page 134 “…should suspect the existence of this new love.”

Grieve:  Page 80 “Not all of Gilberte’s other guests were so tipsy…” through Page 99 “…to keep his wife in ignorance of his new affair.”

Enjoy.

And…a very happy and healthy new year to all of you.  Thank you all again for being part of the experience.

Dennis

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Moncrieff:  85-98; Grieve:  63-75

by Dennis Abrams

Gilberte returns to play in the Champs-Elysees, and reveals to Marcel of her mother and father that, “You know, they can’t stand you!”  Marcel writes a sixteen page letter to Swann, who doesn’t trust his intentions,to try and change his mind; but Gilberte reveals that his response was  simply  “All this means nothing:  it only goes to prove how right I was.”   While waiting for Francoise outside the public “water-closet,” Marcel notices that its “cool, fusty smell,” brings him pleasure he does not understand; later he recognizes that the smell reminded him of his uncle Adolphe’s sitting-room at Combray, but still does not understand his happiness.  Marcel “wrestles” with Gilberte to gain possession of his letter to Swann, and achieves his first orgasm. “I felt, like a few drops of sweat wrung from me by the effort, my pleasure express itself in a form which I could not even pause for a moment to analyse:  immediately I snatched the letter from her.”  Marcel becomes ill, has what seems to be asthmatic attacks, and is treated by his parents with alcohol, much to his grandmother’s unhappiness.  Not responding, Marcel is visited by Dr. Cottard who prescribes “Purges, violent and drastic purges:  milk for some days, nothing but milk.  No  meat.  No alcohol.”  Marcel’s parents resist the treatment, but when Marcel’s health deteriorates, they follow his prescription to the letter:  “In three days my rattle and cough had ceased, I could breathe freely…And we realised that this imbecile was a great physician.”

—-

For some time now, there has been much discussion regarding exactly what age Marcel and Gilberte are supposed to be at this stage of the book.  Now that we’ve read the “emission” scene, I can safely post a response to this question that I received from Eric Karpeles, the author of Paintings in Proust.

“My answer to your question is 14– but– and in any attempt to pin down Proust there is ALWAYS a but– Marcel and Gilberte are also as young as 13 and as old as 16. That is quite a spread of years. But think about what we have just read. We have just had described for us sexual behavior in two adolescents ranging from the entirely innocent to the shockingly graphic. In one passage Marcel is acting like a baby boy in a little sailor suit with his nanny in tow, in another he is voraciously thrusting himself upon a young female and experiences the unexpected thrill of his first coupling orgasm. Yes, dear reader, in case you missed it, in 1913 this brief “emission” was buried in the text and must have been astonishing to those who knew it for what it was.

Remember what a compost heap of hormones a 13-16 year old creature is, male and female alike, in fin-de-siècle Paris as well as today. (Remember that when he was 13, Marcel Proust’s doctor-father sent Marcel, his older son, to a bordello, with 10 francs, to make a man of him.) Proust is extracting the conflicting essences of waning childishness and incipient lust (guys, remember those hugely embarrassing spontaneous erections we had to hide when we were that age?) and weaving the whole spectrum of pubescent sex into this scene. It’s not only “les jeunes filles” who are “en fleurs” as we segue into the next volume. Here Proust is celebrating the mystery and confusion and complexity of the act of becoming. For Proust, becoming is an ongoing activity. Why should a character be constrained by being only one age when (just as his characters are pastiches of several people he knew) they can slip in and out of various ages? This liberty taken on the part of the writer is what makes Proust so singular, so creative, so penetrating. When people ask you, “What is it about Proust’s book?” here is an example of how remarkable a writer he is. Not one to be held back by simple factual veracity like haing a character have only one age in any given scene. That accuracy was all he could muster in “Jean Santeuil,” his failed early novel. “Swann’s Way” is the transformed splendor, the work-in-progress of an emerging genius. Don’t haggle too long over facts; let go as readers, open your minds, let Proust lead you into his new literary world.”
Wednesday’s Reading:
Moncrieff:  Page 97 “One day, after the postman had called,” through Page 108 “…and the need to sleep.”
Grieve:  Page 73 “One day, when the postman had just come,” through Page 80 “…or think of going to bed.”
Enjoy.

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Moncrieff:  73-85;  Grieve:  53-63

by Dennis Abrams

Reading a review of La Berma’s performance in Phedre, Marcel becomes convinced of her greatness.  Marcel’s mother is not pleased that his father no longer thought of a diplomatic career for him.  Marcel discovers that he is subject to the laws of time.  “In theory, one is aware that the earth revolves, but in practice one does not perceive it, the ground upon which one treads seems not to move, and one can rest assured.  So it is with Time in one’s life…In saying of me, ‘He’s no longer a child,’ ‘His tastes won’t change now,’ and so forth, my father had suddenly made me conscious of myself in Time, and caused me the same kind of depression as if I had been, not yet the enfeebled old pensioner, but one of those heroes of whom the author, in a tone of indifference which is particularly galling, says to us at the end of a book:  ‘He very seldom comes up from the country now.  He has finally decided to end his days there.'”  Marcel’s parents discuss M. de Norpois.  Francoise learns, to her quiet pleasure, that she had been described by M. de Norpois as “a first-rate chef.”  Francoise’s dislike of other restaurants and pride in herself as a cook.  New Year’s visits.  Marcel leaves a letter for Gilberte at the stall from which Swann purchases gingerbread, telling her of his wish that they can start their relationship anew with the new year.  Coming home, Marcel realizes that “For all that I might dedicate this new year to Gilberte, and, as one superimposes a religion on the blind laws of nature, with the particular image that I had formed of it, it was in vain…I had recognized, had sensed the reappearance of, the eternal common substance, the familiar moisture, the unheeding fluidity of the old days and years.”  Marcel senses the hopelessness of his letter “by means of which I hoped, in telling her of my solitary dreams of love and longing to arouse similar dreams in her.  The sadness of men who have grown old lies in their no longer even thinking of writing such letters, the futility of which their experience had shown.”   Gilberte still has not reappeared at the Champs-Elysees, and as Marcel’s memory of her face fades, he fears that he no longer loves her.

—-

Wow.  Those last few pages of New Year’s Day melancholy and futility are so beautifully written, yet, as we approach our own New Year’s Day, are, for me at least, emotionally devastating.  I’m turning fifty next month, and Proust’s reminder of Time, and its effects on one’s hopes, seems to be right along my own line of thought these days.

—-

On a brighter note, I do want to note that, as much as I enjoyed reading the Davis translation of Swann’s Way, I am very happy to be back reading Moncrieff again.  It’s probably because this is the translation in which I’ve read Proust before, but to my ear, it captures how I think Proust sounds.  The art of translation and what one likes is, as I said in one of my first posts, a very personal decision.

And finally, since, not surprisingly, there has been much discussion of Swann and Odette’s marriage, I thought I’d share with you Roger Shattuck’s brief summation of their relationship from his book Proust’s Way.

“The stations of Swann’s love for Odette begin and end in indifference, and between those terms his sentiments, still covered by the generic word “love,” pass through multiple, overlapping stages:  aesthetic appreciation of Odette’s beauty, passive acceptance of her company, suffering because of being deprived of her company, urgent physical need for her, brief happiness in the satisfaction of that need, the torments of jealousy, social disgrace in her eyes because of his importunate behavior, a sense of physical and nervous sickness, despair at the recollection of his happier moments, incapacity to act in order to rescue himself, and the slow cooling of affection.  Only afterward, when the subjective emotions of love have been exhausted, does Swann marry Odette, an insignificant event that takes place offstage, barely mentioned.  Not one image:  a multitude.  The action of the first twenty-eight hundred pages out of three thousand can be seen as consisting in Marcel’s gradual discovery and acceptance of the truth that no person, no action, no sentiment, no social phenomenon is ever simple or consistent.  Most of the way through, the Search remains a book of disenchantments.  Things are never what they seem.”

—–

Tuesday’s Reading

Moncrieff:  Page 85 “At last she returned to play there…” through Page 98 “…that it was social and professional.”

Grieve:  Page 63 “Eventually she came back to the Champs-Elysees…” through Page 73 “…she was a social and professional pessimist.”

Enjoy.  And trust me…you will.

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Moncrieff:  20-71; Grieve:  17-53

by Dennis Abrams

Francoise flexes her culinary muscles preparing dinner for M. de Norpois.   Marcel enjoys the theater experience until the moment the curtain rises.  “So long as I had not yet heard Berma speak, I still felt some pleasure.”  Marcel’s disappointment in La Berma.  “I could not even, as I could with her companions, distinguish in her diction and in her playing intelligent modulations or beautiful gestures.  I listened to her as though I were reading Phedre, or as though Phaedra herself had at that moment uttered the words that I was hearing, without its appearing that Berma’s talent had added anything to all at them.”  The Narrator interjects “One discovers the touch of genius in Berma’s acting either a week after one has heard her, from a review, or else on the spot, from the thundering acclamation of the stalls.”   Marcel meets M. de Norpois.  M. de Norpois, in his own way, approves of Marcel’s interest in literature, “but the very terms that he employed showed me Literature as something entirely different from the image that I had formed of it at Combray, and I realised that I had been doubly right in renouncing it…now M. de Norpois  took away from me even the desire to write.”  M. de Norpois condescends to Marcel’s father regarding Marcel’s investments.  Marcel tells M. de Norpois of his disappointment in La Berma, and is convinced by him that he is wrong.  “‘It’s true!’ I told myself, ‘what a beautiful voice, what an absence of shrillness, what simple costumes, what intelligence to have chosen Phedre!  No, I have not been disappointed!'”  Cold spiced beef with carrots.  M. de Norpois approves of King Theodosius’ use of the word “affinities.”  M. de Norpois disapproves of the Emperor of Germany.  M. de Norpois finds Balbec “charming,” speaks slightingly of its church.  M. de Norpois tells of his dinner at the Swann’s, speaks approvingly of the state of their marriage.  We learn that Odette had threatened to not allow Swann to see their daughter unless he married her.  Swann’s dream of marrying Odette and presenting her to the Duchesse de Guermantes, who befriends both her and Gilberte.  We learn that this won’t happen until after Swann’s death. “The laborious process of causation which sooner or later will bring about every possible effect, including, consequently, those which one had believed to be least possible, naturally slow at times, is rendered slower still by our desire (which in seeking to accelerate only obstructs it), by our very existence, and comes to fruition only when we have ceased to desire, and sometimes ceased to live.”  M. de Norpois does not approve of Bergotte, either as a writer or as a person.  M. de Norpois does approve of Gilberte.  M. de Norpois makes clear that he will not serve to introduce Marcel to Mme. Swann.

—–

This was a long section.  I hope it wasn’t too much to read over Christmas, but I couldn’t find any other way to break it up.

—–

1.  A few words on La Berma and Phedre.  La Berma, obviously, is based at least in part on Sarah Bernhardt, “the Divine Sarah,” France’s greatest actress of the age.  It was Victor Hugo who used the phrase “golden voice,” to describe her — “silvery” and “flute-like” were other terms used to describe her voice.   My hunch is that while based on her silent film performances, her acting style, at least to our eyes, seems staggeringly melodramtic and overdone; at her peak, and in comparison to what had come before her, she brought what can only be called a dramatic purity to her acting.

Racine’s tragic play Phedre, which was written in alexandrine verse, tells the story (taken from Greek mythology) of Phedre, who, in the absence of her husband Thesee, declares her love for his son from a previous marriage, Hippolyte.  The role was one of Bernhardt’s greatest, and when in 1905 she appeared in NYC in the play, the New York Times had this to say about her performance.

“In respect to plastic grace, power of emotion, and classic grandeur, Mme. Bernhardt’s Phedre, revealed yesterday afternoon at the Lyric, occupies a position which is unique…it is an acting achievement of the very highest order, and as such fully merits the enthusiastic praise which has been lavished on it for years…In attempting to do justice to such an achievement one is confronted by almost insurmountable difficulties, for pliant as the language of description may be, it cannot compare in expressiveness with the varying means employed by so great an artiste to illuminate such a role…There is perhaps no more difficult scene in poetic drama than the one in which Phedre confesses to Hippolyte the existance of her secret passion.  Mme. Bernhardt gives the incident all possible value, but so discretely is her manifestation accomplished that the lines of dramatic propriety are never transcended.  The passage following the discovery of Hippolyte’s revulsion at her disclosure is terrific in its intensity.”

So one of today’s questions.  Why was Marcel, at least initially, disappointed?

—-

2.  One of my favorite paragraphs, describing Swann’s marriage to Odette.

“Almost everyone was surprised at the marriage, and that in itself was surprising.  No doubt very few people understand the purely subjective nature of the phenomenon that we cal love, or how it creates, so to speak, a supplementary person, distinct from the person whom the world knows by the same name, a persom most of whose constituent elements are derived from ourselves.”

It is lines like those which, as marchhare said in response to my last post, have changed my life, by making me look at things through different eyes.  Is the person I love not the person the rest of the world sees, but is he someone I in effect “created” for myself?  And, if that’s the case, can we trust our feelings of love, if they’re not based in “reality?”  Any thoughts on that?

—–

3.  And finally.  given the sacrifices that Swann has made, and his touching yet almost at the same time comic dream of being able to present Odette to the Duchesse de Guermantes, how do you feel about M. Swann now?

—-

Monday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  Page 71 “After M. de Norpois had gone my father…” through Page 85 “…and no longer loved her.”

Grieve:  Page 53 “After M. de Norpois’s departure…” through Page 63…”and had stopped loving her.”  (My apology to Grieve readers — the paragraph breaks for Moncrieff and Grieve do not always align.)

Enjoy.

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by Dennis Abrams

Marcel’s father dreams of him becoming a diplomat, but Marcel doesn’t want a job that will take him to a city where Gilberte is not.  M. de Norpoise assures Marcel’s father that contrary to what he thought, “it was perfectly possible for a writer to enjoy as much esteem, and to exercise as much influence, as any diplomat, while retaining more independence.”  On hearing this, Marcel’s father gives his approval for Marcel to become a writer, and encourages him to write something to show M. de Norpois.  Marcel finds himself unable to write anything, but cheers himself up with the thought of seeing La Berma, and compares it to “when I could step out of a gondolak, to stand in front of the titian in the Frari or the Carpaccios in San Giorgio degli Schiavoni.  Marcel’s desire to see Le Berma in a classic play such as Phedre, a play he knows because “seeing her in a new play would make it difficult to appreciate her skill and diction, as I would be unable to distinguish between the unfamiliar text and all the intonations and gestures which, although she had added them, which seem to belong inseparably to it; where as the classical texts I knew by heart were like broad surfaces, already designated and prepared, awaiting only the fluent frescoes that La Berma would lavish upon them and the unconstrained appreciation which I would greet the inexhaustible felicities of her inspiration.” 

—-

I’ll have much to say about Phedre and La Berma in my Sunday evening post.

The Reading For the Rest of the Week:

Moncrieff:  From “Alas, that first matinee…” through page 71, “…unknown life and home.”

Grieve:  Page 17 “This first matinee was, alas…” through page 53 “…inside her known house and life.”

Enjoy.

Have a great holiday everybody!

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Moncrieff:  1-12; Grieve:  3-11

by Dennis Abrams

M. de Norpois is invited to dinner.  Swann, now that he is married to Odette, is a changed man, “braying out the fact that the wife of an undersecretary’s undersecretary had returned Mme. Swann’s visit.”  Professor Cottard is now a successful physician, and one who has changed his nature and adopted an icy demeanor; “cold and taciturn,” except when with the Verdurins.  The Marquis de Norpois and his diplomatic career.  Men of breeding who lavish their attentions on politicians.  “Government mentality.”  M. de Norpois befriends and takes an interest in Marcel’s father.  Marcel’s mother attempts to admire the ambassdor for her husband’s sake, despite the fact, as the Narrator describes it that “M. de Norpois’s conversation was such a complete catalogue of outmoded speech forms belonging to the style of a particular career, class, and period — a period which, for that career and class, may not have quite ended yet..”  Marcel’s parents to make up for his unhappiness at gilberte being gone for the New Year holidays, decide that his grandmother should take him to see the actress La Berma.

Since most of us are reading (I think) are reading the Moncrieff et al translation of Volume II, I thought I’d share with you excerpts from James Grieve’s introduction to his translation, published by Penguin as In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower

“This section section of In Search of Lost Time is in two parts:  “At Mme Swann’s” and “Place-Names:  the Place.”  In Proust’s original conception, the book was not split after Swann’s Way.  Grasset, his first publisher, required him to make more than one volume of it.  Proust transposed some pages from a later passage, to round off what thus became the first major section of the novel as we know it.  This is why, at the end of both Swann’s Way, and “At Mme Swann’s,” we find Mme Swann with sunshade in an avenue in or near the Bois de Boulogne.  The consecutiveness of the original text remains visible, despite the division of the book:  at the beginning of this section of Proust’s work, the narrator is still moving into the vicinity of the Swanns, as he was at the end of Swann’s Way.  In “At Mme Swann’s” the narrator continues to be infatuated with Odette and besotted with her daughter, Gilberte.  She is the first of the adolescents with whom he dallies  here.  The others he will meet at the seaside, at Balbec in “Place-Names:  The Place.”  The cast of Proust’s great and memorable characters is now enriched, especially by the advent of Albertine and (briefly) of Charlus, who will both figure largely in the later volumes, and by Bergotte and Elstir, who completes the trio of artists begun in Swann’s Way with Vinteuil.  Proust’s characters are, be it noted, the work of a caricaturist:  he gives to each a distinctive voice and mode of speech, most noticeably here Norpois and Charlus…

Largely devoted to the narrator’s attempts to love and be loved by a serious of girls, and to his serious acquaintance with love as a source of pain, this section also expands three other worlds he will explo9re further in later volumes:  art, society, and friendship…

Love, art, society, friendship:  these are the major realms of experience to be explored by the young protagonist.  From the narrator’s encounters with these great engimas and temptations, Proust distills his lengthy mediations, variations on some of the most structural themes of his novel:  the disparities bebween cognition and thing, theory and practice, desire and discovery, appearance and truth, imagination and reality.  For the narrator is now coming to an awareness of life as a mystery, full of passions that baffle, appearances that conceal, illusions that seem to promise, impressions that tantalize.”

—-

Wednesday’s Reading:  (I thought I’d keep it short because the next natural break would probably have been too long because of people’s schedules and the upcoming holiday.   I’ll post again for Christmas Eve, and the next reading I “assign” will take us through the beginning of next week.)

Moncrieff:  Page 12 “But it was because M. de Norpois…” through Page 20 “The doors will be closed at two o’clock.”

Grieve:  Page 11 “It was because M. de Norpoise…” through Page 17 “The doors will be closed at two o’clock sharp.

Enjoy.

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Davis:  429-444, Moncrieff:  586-606

by Dennis Abrams

Marcel’s fascination with the street where the Swanns lived, and his parent’s lack of interest.   Marcel listens to the sound of the word “Swann” in his head, “I contrived at every turn to make my parents say the name Swann…”  Marcel learns that the woman in the black, who sits in the park and is friends with Gilberte is not who he thinks she is, at least according to Marcel’s mother, “She’s horrible, frightfully vulgar, and a troublemaker in the bargain.”  Marcel tries to look like Swann.  Marcel’s mother is polite with Swann when she meets him at the umbrella counter of Trois Quartiers.  Marcel leads Francoise on walks past the Swann’s house.  Marcel goes to the Bois de Boulogne to watch Mme. Swann go on her walks and carriage rides, the Narrator compares it to the Alley of the Myrtles in The Aeneid.  “But it was Mme. Swann whom I wanted to see, and I waited for her to pass, as moved as if she were Gilberte, whose parents, steeped like all that surrounded her in her charm, excited in me as much love as she did…”   “I would see Mme. Swann letting the long train of her mauve dress spread out behind her, clothed, as the common people imagine queens, in fabrics and rich finery that other women did not wear, lowering her eyes now and then to the handle of her parasol, paying little attention to the people passing, as if her great business and her goal were to take some exercise, without thinking that she was being observed and that all heads were turned toward her.  But now and then, when she had looked back to call her greyhound, she would imperceptibly cast a circular gaze around her.”  Men, stopping to watch her,would  make comments “‘Do you know who that is?  Mme. Swann!  That means nothing to you?  Odette de Crecy?’  ‘Odette de Crecy?  Why in fact I was just wondering…Those sad eyes…But you know she can’t be as young as she once was!  I remember I slept with her the day MacMahon resigned.’…’Yes, but if only you’d known her then — how pretty she was!  She lived in a very strange little house filled with Chinese bric-a-brac.  I remember we were bothered by all the newsboys shouting outside, in the end she made me get up.'”  Marcel raises his hat with a grand sweeping gesture to Mme. Swann.   Years later, the Narrator returns to the Bois de Boulogone, and is disappointed by what has been changed and what has been lost.  “I wanted to see before my eyes again at the moment when Mme. Swann’s enormous coachman, watched over by a little groom as fat as a fist and as childlike as Saint George, tried to control those wings of steel as they thrashed about quivering with fear.  Alas, now there were only automobiles driven by mustached mechanics with tall footmen by their sides.  I wanted to hold in front of my bodily eyes, so as to know if they were as charming as they appeared in the eyes of my memory, women’s little hats so low they seemed to be simple crowns.  All the hats were now immense, covered with fruits and flowers and varieties of birds.”  “The reality I had known no longer existed.”

—-

The sense of loss, and of sadness at what has been lost (except in memory) at the end of the book is palpable.

—–

Before we move on to Volume II, I’d like to backtrack just a bit (I didn’t have this available to me while I was on vacation, my apologies) and  share with you Harold Bloom’s observations on one of the great paragraphs in the book, the last of “Swann in Love.”

“But while, an hour after his awakening, he was giving instructions to the barber to see that his stiffly brushed hair should not become disarranged on the journey, he thought of his dream again, and saw once again, as he had felt them close beside him, Odette’s pallid complexion, her too thin cheeks, her drawn features, her tired eyes, all the things which — in the course of those successive bursts of affection which had made of his enduring love for Odette a long oblivion of the first impression he had formed of her — he had ceased to notice since the early days of their intimacy, days to which doubtless, while he slept, his memory had returned to seek their exact sensation.  And with the old intermittent caddishness which reappeared in him when he was no longer unhappy and his moral standards dropped accordingly, he exclaimed to himself:  ‘To think that I’ve wasted years of my life, that I’ve longed to die, that I’ve experienced my greatest love, for a woman who didn’t appeal to me, who wasn’t even my type.'”

Bloom:  “Caddishness reappears when unhappiness ceases, and this allows our mortality to sink to its normal level.  That delicious observation is preamble to preamble to Swann’s immortal lament, fit medicine for all of us, of whatever gender or sexual persuasion.  Odette certainly was not Swann’s mode, genre, type, being neither high enough nor low enough for an aesthete and dandy with so brilliant a social life.  Swann, alas, is caught; in Proust’s cosmos, you cannot say “Goodbye, Odette, and I forgive you for everything I ever did to you” (the American mode) or “Falling out of love is one of the great human experiences; you seem to see the world with newly awakened eyes” (Anglo-Irish style).  For Swann love dies, but jealousy endures longer; so he marries Odette, not despite but because she has betrayed him, with women as well as with men.”

We will have more about the marriage as we proceed.

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Tuesday’s Reading:

Moncrieff:  Page 1 “My mother, when it was a question…” through Page 12 “…for grandmother can take you.”

I’ll have the page counts for the Penguin edition (translated by James Grieve with the title In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower) starting tomorrow.

Enjoy.

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