A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Proust Project, Day 8

Where this began
Day 7


Swann's Way (translated by Lydia Davis), pp. 90-102.

The narrator is introduced to the works of a writer named Bergotte "by a friend of mine older than I whom I greatly admired, Bloch." Unfortunately, the rather pretentious and affected Bloch is not admired by the rest of the family. The narrator's grandfather is concerned that Bloch is "a Jew, which would not have displeased him in principle -- even his friend Swann was of Jewish extraction -- had he not felt that it was not from among the best that I had chosen him." His barometer-watching father is perturbed by Bloch's indifference to the weather. His grandmother suspects Bloch of insincerity when he wipes away tears after hearing that she was "a little indisposed." And when he arrives for lunch "an hour and a half late covered with mud," Bloch, instead of apologizing, proclaims that he knows "nothing about the use of those ... pernicious and insipidly bourgeois implements, the watch and the umbrella." But the final straw is Bloch's telling the narrator "that he had heard most positively that my great-aunt had had a wild youth and had been known to be a kept woman." The narrator, incapable of keeping secrets, tells his parents with the result that Bloch is banished and the narrator's tattling ends their friendship.

But the narrator's obsession with Bergotte continues. He becomes so taken with the writer's observations and opinions "that, when by chance I happened to encounter in one of his books a thought that I had already had myself, my heart would swell as though a god in his goodness had given it back to me, had declared it legitimate and beautiful." So he's overcome when Swann informs him that he knows Bergotte quite well and would even ask him to inscribe the narrator's book. The narrator learns that La Berma is Bergotte's favorite actress and that Swann's daughter is great friends with Bergotte, which puts the narrator "on the point of falling in love with" Mlle. Swann.
Our belief that a person takes part in an unknown life which his or her love would allow us to enter is, of all that love demands in order to come into being, what it prizes the most, and what makes it care little for the rest. Even women who claim to judge a man by his appearance alone see that appearance as the emanation of a special life. This is why they love soldiers, firemen; the uniform makes them less particular about the face.

In these pages we also learn a little more about Swann's mannerisms, including his adoption of an ironic tone of voice, "as though he had put it between quotation marks, seeming not to want to take responsibility for it," when expressing an opinion.
Until then his horror of ever expressing a serious opinion had seemed to me a thing that must be elegant and Parisian and that was the opposite of the provincial dogmatism of my grandmother's sisters; and I also suspected that it was a form of wit in the social circles in which Swann moved, where, reacting against the lyricism of earlier generations, they went to an extreme in rehabilitating those small, precise facts formerly reputed to be vulgar, and proscribed "fine phrases." But now I found something shocking in this attitude of Swann's toward things. It appeared that he dared not have an opinion and was at his ease only when he could with meticulous accuracy offer some precise piece of information.




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