A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Proust Project, Day 23

Where this began
Day 22


Swann's Way (translated by Lydia Davis), pp. 317-328.

Disease or addiction? Proust shifts to the latter metaphor for Swann's obsession with Odette in this section, describing Swann's futile attempts "to break the habit of seeing her."
just as a morphine addict or a consumptive, persuaded that they have been prevented, one by an outside event just when he was about to free himself of his inveterate habit, the other by an accidental indisposition just when he was about to be restored to health at last, feel misunderstood by the doctor who does not attach the same importance they do to these contingencies.

The disease metaphor continues to dominate, however: "this disease which was Swann's love had so proliferated ... that it could not have been torn from him without destroying him almost entirely: as they say in surgery, his love was no longer operable." Proust also announces here what is perhaps the central theme of his fiction: "one thing love and death have in common ... is that they make us question more deeply ... the mystery of personality."

At this point, another figure begins to play a significant role: the Baron de Charlus. Proust has already alerted our suspicions about Charlus by showing him in the company of Odette when the narrator first sees Mlle. Swann. But Swann has no such suspicions. Charlus is one of the "distinguished friendships" that bring him "consolation" that his affair with Odette has not been damaged. Indeed, he relies on Charlus, whom he refers to as "my dear Mémé," as a kind of go-between between him and Odette, asking him to "run over to her house" and to reassure him that all is well with her. "He was happy each time M. de Charlus was with Odette. Between M. de Charlus and her, Swann knew that nothing could happen."

The narrator returns, mentioning that his great-uncle Adolphe, the one for whom he would later precipitate a break with his family, was "acquainted with" Odette. Swann asks Adolphe for advice in his relationship with Odette, but this ends badly: "A few days later, Odette tells Swann she had just had the disappointment of discovering that my uncle was the same as every other man: he had just tried to take her by force." But by now, the reader has every reason to doubt Odette's veracity. The break with Adolphe thwarts Swann's plan to ask him about Odette's life in Nice, about which Swann has heard rumors:
He was even given to understand, at one point, that this laxness in Odette's morals, which he would not have suspected, was fairly well known, and that in Baden and in Nice, when she used to spend a few months there, she had had a degree of amorous notoriety.

Unable to get solid confirmation of the rumors, Swann falls back on his usual rationalizations and willful blindness.