Davis: 316-328; Moncrieff: 433-450
by Dennis Abrams
Swann attempts to go several days without seeing Odette. Her response, whether positive or negative, changes his mind. Swann decides that if he feels he can go fifteen days without seeing her, it’s OK if he actually sees her, as long as he has an excuse. Swann begins to enter the world without Odette, revisiting both bourgeois and aristocrats, becoming once again “young Swann.” “And the thought that if he were to collapse at home from the effects of a sudden illness it would quite naturally be the Duc de Chartres, the Prince de Reuss, the Duc de Luxembourg, and the Baron de Charlus whom his valet would run off to himd, brought him the same consolation as to our old Francoise the knowledge that she would be wrapped in a shroud of her own fine sheets…” (Once again, the Narrator enters the narrative.) “If he were obliged to give his excuses to the society people for not visiting them, it was precisely for his visits to her that he sought to excuse himself to Odette. He even paid for them…” Swann asks others, the Baron de Charlus and Marcel’s great-Uncle Adolphe, to intercede with Odette. Swann hears stories about Odette’s morals, and begins to ask questions about her past, and the lovers she may or may not have had at Baden and Nice. Swann begins to believe that although she was a “kept woman,” that fact doesn’t reflect who she is. “Reputations of this sort, even if true, are created out of other people’s ideas.” Odette’s willingness to abandon Swann for theater or supper with friends. Swann questions the Baron de Charlus on his evenings out with Odette.
From Harold Bloom:
Later, Swann’s passion for reconstructing the petty details of Odette’s social life is compared to the passion of “the aesthete who ransacks the extant documents of fifteenth-century Florence in order to penetrate further into the soul of the Primavera, the fair Vanna, or the Venus of Botticelli.” Odette’s soul is impenetrable, as Swann discovers, which becomes a perpetual provocation to fresh onslaughts of the torments of jealousy, mixed with the ‘nobler” desire to know the truth. In one of Proust’s loveliest ironies, Swann finds that “it was another of the faculties of his studious youth that his jealousy revived, the passion for truth, but a truth which, too, was interposed between himself and his mistress, receiving its light from her alone.” Such a truth, at the matrix of all jealousies, receives only darkness from the gloom that the lover emanates. Freud’s ironic description of being in love, “the over-estimation of the object,” is inadequate to the passion that jealousy initially augments and then replaces. (Nice insight.) Here the genius of Proust goes beyond Shakespeare, beyond Freud, as an insight into erotic obsession:
“Certainly, of the extent of this love Swann had no direct awareness. When he sought to measure it, it happened sometimes that he found it diminished, shrunk almost to nothing: for instance, the lack of enthusiasm, amounting almost to distaste, which, in the days before he was in love with Odette, he had felt for her expressive features, her faded complexion, returned on certain days. “Really, I’m making distinct headway,” he would tell himself next day. “Looking at things quite honestly, I can’t say I got much pleasure last night from being in bed with her. It’s an odd thing, but I actually found her ugly.” And certainly he was sincere, but his love extended a long way beyond the province of physical desire. Odette’s person, indeed, no longer held any great place in it. When his eyes fell upon the photograph of Odette on his table, or when she came to see him, he had difficulty in identifying her face, either in the flesh or on the pasteboard, with the painful and continous anxiety which dwelt in his mind. He would say to himself, almost with astonishment, ‘It’s she!’ as though suddenly we were to be shown in a detached, externalized form one of our own maladies, and we found it bore no resemblance between love and death, far more striking than those which are usually pointed out, that they make us probe deeper, in the fear that its reality may elude us, into the mystery of personality. And this malady which Swann’s love had become had so proliferated, was so closely interwoven with all his habits, with all his actions, with his thoughts, his healthy, his sleep, his life, even with what he hoped for after his death, was so utterly inseparable from him, that it would have been impossible to eradicate it without almost entirely destroying him; as surgeons say, his love was no longer operable.”
Today’s Reading: The beginning of the first big party scene.
Davis: Page 328 “Even when he could not find out where she had gone…” through Page 340 “…in which his lair is hidden.”
Moncrieff: Page 450 “Even when he could not discover where she had gone…” through Page 465 “…the idea of the forest that enshroud his secret lair.”