A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Proust Project, Day 19

Where this began
Day 18


Swann's Way (translated by Lydia Davis), pp. 250-276.

So much of the Swann-Odette affair has been seen from his point of view, that we're almost overdue seeing it from hers. When we do, we find that she regards Swann as "intellectually inferior to what she would have imagined" and that he's "reserved"
-- partly because he's aware that she's incapable of understanding him. "She would marvel more at his indifference to money, his kindness to everyone, his refinement." Rather surprisingly, perhaps, though she's awed by his "position in society," she is not inclined to use him as a vehicle for social climbing, partly because she dreads the world's cruelty, and partly because, being ignorant of this more fashionable world, she fears it. And so she begins to imagine barriers between herself and Swann:
People who liked collecting curios, were fond of poetry, despised crass calculations, dreamed of honor and love, she saw as an elite superior to the rest of humanity. One did not really have to have these predilections, provided one proclaimed them.... But men who, like Swann, had these tastes, yet did not talk about them, left her cold.... [I]n fact, what spoke to her imagination was not the practice of disinterestedness, but its vocabulary.

And so it falls to Swann to try "to see that she enjoyed being with him, not to oppose the vulgar ideas, the bad taste, which she displayed in all things, and which he loved, moreover, like everything else that emanated from her." He "sought to enjoy the things she liked" rather than make the considerable effort to educate her tastes. The affair intoxicates him so that "he did not dare to say to himself, afraid that he would not believe it, that he would always love Odette." Because he thinks that he will always be able to see her at the Verdurins, he convinces himself that they possess virtues that they don't actually have: "How fundamentally real their life is! How much more intelligent, more artistic, they are there than high-society people!... More and more, that is where I will find my companionship and live my life."

The trouble is, the Verdurins don't reciprocate his enthusiasm. And their suspicions that Swann isn't really one of them come to a head at the dinner party at which Swann's honesty is judged inferior to the hypocrisy of the snobbish Comte de Forcheville, and his intellect to the pretentiousness of Brichot, a professor at the Sorbonne whose wit "would have been considered pure stupidity by the people among whom Swann had spent his youth." It's Forcheville in particular who puts Swann on the spot with the Verdurins by revealing some of his connections to the aristocracy whom the Verdurins regard as "bores."

Swann's unwillingness to renounce such connections unequivocally draws Mme. Verdurin's fire: "she was feeling the rage of a grand inquisitor who cannot manage to extirpate the heresy." She presses Swann to speak ill of his friends, but he persists in saying, "They're charming people." It outrages Mme. Verdurin "that because of this one infidel she would be prevented from creating a complete moral unanimity among the little clan."

The evening ends with Swann "still unaware of the disgrace that threatened him at the Verdurins'" and with M. Verdurin, because "Swann wants to play the society man with us, defender of duchesses," suggesting that "Odette really seems to prefer Forcheville" who is, after all, he notes, the "Comte de Forchevile."

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