Moncrieff: 108-134; Grieve: 80-99
by Dennis Abrams
Gilberte’s use of popular phrases: “I can see I’m not having much of a success with my tea!” The popularity of Mme Swann’s salon. Mme Swann’s use of English words, and her praise for Francoise. Marcel, when Gilberte is not available, visits with M. Swann in his library, andis unable to think clearly while there, “I no longer knew what I was doing.” The sumptuousness of Mme Swann’s bedroom, her three lady’s maids, and the footman in knee-breeches. Mme. Swann’s attempts to form a salon of her own, using many of the same phrases as the Verdurins. The Swanns’ pride that Mme. Bontemps, the wife of the Chief Secretary to the Minister of Public Works came to tea. “Moreover, people who had known the old Swann not merely outside society, as I had, but in society…such people might have been astonished to observe that the Old Swann had ceased not only to be discreet when he spoke of his acquaintance, but particular when it came to choosing it. How was it that Mme. Bontemps, so common, so ill-natured, failed to exasperate him? How could he possibly describe her as attractive?” But, as with the case of the Grand Duchess at Mme de Guermantes, “from the moment they had in her in their houses they went out of their way to find her agreeable, since they were unable to say to themselves that it because she was agreeable that they invited her…The faculty of saying such things…and of saying them sincerely, Swann had acquired from the Duchess, and had never lost. He made use of it now with reference to people who came to his house. He went out of his way to discern and to admire in them the qualities that every human being will display if we examine him with a prejudice in his favour and not with the distate of the nice-minded.” the amusement of Marcel’s mother at Mme Swann’s attempts to form a salon. “Mme. Swann had, however, met with no success outside what was called the ‘official world.’ Elegant women did not go to her house.” The first mention of the earthquake through society caused by the Dreyfus case, as Jews go from being acceptable to non-acceptable. M. Swann’s acceptance of Odette. Swann’s amusement at introducing inappropriate people to each other. Swann’s lack of jealousy (or interest) in Odette’s past, except for his need to know if she had been with Forcheville that day when he had “rung her bell and rapped on her window in vain.” Swann in love with another woman, “a woman who gave him no grounds for jealousy but none the less made him jealous, because he was no longer capable of altering his mode of loving, and it was the mode he had employed with Odette that must serve him now for another.” “And he, who when he was suffering at the hands of Odette, so longed to let her see one day that he had fallen for another, now that he was in a position to do so took infinite precautions lest his wife should suspect the existence of this new love.”
Once again, we gain another perspective on M. Swann, in love with another woman, yet “That was enough to reawaken in him the old anguish, that lamentable and contradictory excrescence of his love, which alienated Swann from what was in a fact a sort of need to attain (the real feelings this young woman had for him, the hidden longing that absorbed her days, the secret places of her heart), for between Swann and the woman whom he loved this anguish piled up an unyielding mass of previous suspicions, having their cause in Odette, or in some other perhaps who had preceded Odette, which allowed the aging lover to know his mistress of today only through the old, collective spectre of the “woman who had aroused his jealousy,” in which he had arbitrarily embodied his new love.”
The more one reads about M. Swann, the more I think he gains, both in his humanity, and as a subject of our sympathy. I’m not a big fan of the idea of “relating” to a character, but…I can recognize in myself that I have been capable (and am, undoubtedly, capable of it again) of the kind of jealous all-consuming love that Swann had for Odette, as well as the ability (for good or bad) to live with what remains after that has gone.
So, I’m curious. Swann has been a character who has inspired much debate, both positive and negative. What are your feelings about, and how would you describe M. Swann, as we know him now at this stage of the book?
And on one more personal note. This afternoon a friend of mine posted on Facebook that the new year seems just like the old one, and asked whether that was good, bad, or just life. I had the extreme pleasure to respond with the discussion of the new year on pages 81-82 of Moncrieff, specifically that “New Year’s Day was not a day different from the rest…it was not the first day of a new world…I had just spend the New Year’s Day of old men, who differ on that day from their juniors, not because people have cased to give them presents, but because they themselves have ceased to believe in the New Year.” I have to confess that I thought a lot about that passage over the past weekend.
And finally, now that the holidays are behind us. What seems to be the right pace for the group? I’ve been aiming for between 10-18 pages per day, depending on where a logical break falls. Is this too much? Too little? Just right?
Moncrieff: Page 134 “It was not only in those tea-parties…” through Page 149 “…as the victoria swept by.”
Grieve: Page 100 “These invitations to tea…” through Page 110 “…by her side in the victoria.”