A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Proust Project, Day 27

Where this began
Day 26


Swann's Way (translated by Lydia Davis), pp. 369-396.

A poison-pen letter arrives, accusing Odette of numerous affairs, including some with women, and even frequenting "houses of ill-repute." But Swann is not outraged so much by the accusation as he is by the anonymity of the letter-writer, and begins to compile a list of suspects, starting with M. de Charlus, M. des Laumes, and M. d'Orsan, and eventually including his coachman Rémi, the writer Bergotte, the Verdurins and their friend the painter, and even the narrator's grandfather. But he remains unconvinced that any of these is guilty.

He is initially less concerned by the charges included in the letter because "Swann, like many people, had a lazy mind and lacked the faculty of invention." That is, he tended to assume that people were the same in moments when he wasn't in their company as they were when he was. But the allegations gradually nag at him, especially the ones "that she went to procuresses, took part in orgies with other women, that she led the dissolute life of the most abject of creatures." His suspicions, reinforced by some suddenly surfacing memories of things she had done or said, eventually lead him to question Odette, though he tries to find ways at first of introducing the subject casually or obliquely.
"Odette," he said to her, "my dear, I know I'm being hateful, but there are a few things I must ask you. Do you remeber the idea I had about you and Mme. Verdurin? Tell me, was it true, with her or with anyone else?"

She shook her head while pursing her lips.... When he saw Odette make this sign to him that it was untrue, Swann understood that it was perhaps true.

And he tries to make her swear on her medal of Our Lady of Laghet that she has never been sexually involved with other women, because he knows she's pious enough not to bear false witness on the medal. Hesitating, she finally blurts out that she may have done so "a very long time ago, without realizing what I was doing, maybe two or three times." And under Swann's scrutiny, she recalls an incident in the Bois de Boulogne involving a woman she says she rejected.

Swann is startled by his own homophobia: "He marveled that acts which he had always judged so lightly, so cheerfully, had now become as serious as a disease from which one may die." And in the days that followed, he finds more fuel for his disillusionment with Odette. When he asks her "if she had ever had any dealings with a procuress," she replies, "'Oh, no! Not that they don't pester me,'... revealing by her smile a self-satisfied vanity which she no longer noticed could not seem justified to Swann." She also admits that she had lied to him once, not admitting that she had been to Forcheville's because he "asked me to come and look at his engravings." (I almost wrote "etchings.") But Swann doesn't break things off with Odette, and her presence "continued to sow Swann's heart with affection and suspicion by turns." Though they continue to "make cattleya," Swann visits brothels, thinking he may find her name mentioned there.

They are also separated by Odette's frequent voyages with the Verdurins. "Each time she had been gone for a little while, Swann felt he was beginning to separate from her, but as if this mental distance were proportional to the physical distance, as soon as he knew Odette was back he could not rest without seeing her." But Swann discovers that, "corresponding to the weakening of his love there was a simultaneous weakening of his desire to remain in love." And after a dream, a nightmare in which he symbolically yields Odette to Forcheville, he decides to leave Paris for Combray, "having learned that Mme. de Cambremer -- Mlle. Legrandin -- was spending a few days there."

He now decides that he's cured.
And with the intermittent coarseness that reappeared in him as soon as he was no longer unhappy and the level of his morality dropped accordingly, he exclaimed to himself: "To think that I wasted years of my life, that I wanted to die, that I felt my deepest love, for a woman who did not appeal to me, who was not my type!"