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.
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.