Davis: 328-340; Moncrieff: 450-465
by Dennis Abrams
Swann’s desire to be able to stay at Odette’s home, waiting for her to return. Swann’s attempts to stop thinking about Odette, and his desire to become ill “…he felt real joy at the thought that he might have a fatal tumor, that he was no longer going to have to take charge of anything, that it was the disease that would manage him, make him its plaything, until the impending end.” Swann’s inability to imagine how Odette spends her time. The Hippodrome. Swann’s desire to know somebody, anybody who knows Odette. Odette’s new self-assurance with Swann. “We do not tremble except for ourselves, except for those we love. When our happiness is no longer in their hands, what calm, what ease, what boldness we enjoy in their company!” Swann takes Odette’s desire to transform him as proof of her love. “This new manner, indifferent, distracted, irritable, certainly caused Swann to suffer; but he was not aware of his suffering; since it was only gradually, day by day, that Odette had cooled toward him, it was only by comparing what she was not to what she had been in the beginning that he would have been able to fathom the depath of the change that had taken place…He would certainly say to himself in an abstract way: There was a time when Odette loved me more,’ but he would never look back at that time.” A musical evening at the home of the Marquise de Saint-Euverte. Charlus promises to spend the evening with Odette. Swann, no longer caring about the fashionable life, looks at it purely from an aesthetic sense, comparing those he sees to works by Mantegna, Durer, and Cellini. The footman advances to take his things, “But the hardness of his steely gaze was compensated by the softness of his cotton gloves, so that as he approached Swann he seemed to be showing contempt for his person and consideration for his hat.” Swann climbs the grand staircase, passing a concierge, a majordomo, a steward, all in their finest, but thinks “with what joy by contrast would he have gone up the dark, evil-smelling, and rickety flights to the little retired dressmaker’s, in whose ‘fifth floor” he would have been so happy to pay more than the price of a weekly stage box at the Opera for the right to spend the evening when Odette came there, and even on the other days, so as to be able to talk about her, to live among the people she was in the habing seeing when he was not there…” A comparison of monocles.
One of our fellow readers had a question regarding Odette and “her like” and their ability to move easily through all levels of society. I found this excerpt from an essay, which should help. And keep the questions coming!
“Courtesans exist in all times and places….But has there ever been an epoch in which they made the noise and held the place they have usurped in the last few years?” wrote an observer of Parisian society in 1872. “They figured in novels, appeared on stage, reigned in the Bois, at the races, at the theatre, everywhere crowds gathered.” In a study of the emergence of modernism, The Painting of Modern Life, T. J. Clark argues that the courtesan was a category, a way of perceiving (and representing) a changing Parisian culture. She was, Clark writes, “the necessary and concentrated form of Woman, of Desire, of Modernity… ‘the captain of industry of youth and love’.” Captain of industry, but only with a wink of the eye, for “it was part of the myth that the courtisane’s attempt to be one of the ruling class should eventually come to nothing.” The courtesan’s game was “to play at being an honest woman;” her admirers, aware of the game, knew she was not of the ruling class at all but from the “faubourgs or the Parisian lower depths….”
Odette was from the demimonde, the half world, Proust tells us. The term refers to the night world of prostitution and suggests a place in the consciousness of the bourgeoisie where the lower classes are shuffled off, marginalized, and contained. Demimonde also brings to mind the outskirts of the city where the working class was being relocated as Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann remade Paris.
Odette’s play acting causes us sometimes to laugh and other times to cringe as she attempts to be part of high society. Proust calls her a cocotte—hen—a term used for women who had not achieved the highest rank in the world of courtesans (see Virginia Rounding’s study of Parisian courtesans, Grandes Horizontales, for the distinctions). Though Odette succeeds at ruling Swann sexually, she is not convincing in her role as a woman of the ruling class.
Though the middle and upper classes marginalized the courtesan’s origins, they cast her in a central role as representative of the cultural changes sweeping Paris.
One observation. In the Combray section of Swann’s Way, it is noted that M. Swann had given Marcel photos of symbolic figures painted by Giotto, and that Swann “when he asked for the kitchen maid he would say: ‘How is Giotto’s Charity?'” comparing the pregnant housemaid to the Virtues and Vices of Padua. At the end of today’s reading we are reminded of this, “and meanwhile, behind his own [monocle], M. de Palancy, who, with his big, round-eyed-carp’s head, moved about slowly in the midst of the festivities unclenching his mandibles from moment to moment as though seeking to orient himself, merely seemed to be transporting with him an accidental and perhaps purely symbolic fragment of the glass of his aquarium, a part intended to represent the whole, reminding Swann, a great admirer of Giotto’s Vices and Virtues at Padua, of Injustice, next to whom a leafy bough evokes the forests in which his lair is hidden.”
Davis: Page 340 “Swann had walked on into the room…” through Page 355 “…Just think, I never see you again at all now!”
Moncrieff: Page 465 “Swann had gone forward into the room…” through Page 487 “…Imagine, I never see you at all now!”