Day Eighteen: Swann's Way, pp. 239-250

From "Swann asked to be driven ..." to "... be disillusioned by love." 

At last, Swann and Odette "make cattleya" -- a twee euphemism that I'm certain Proust invented to emphasize the unsuitability of the relationship between the sophisticated, intellectual Swann and the shallow, slightly vulgar Odette. The consummation of their relationship is characterized as "having ended by possessing her that night," although Proust shortly afterward observes that "the act of physical possession" is one "in which, in fact, one possesses nothing" -- hinting that in no real way does Swann possess Odette.

Swann's experience with Odette has not yet achieved the bitterness that Shakespeare ascribes to sated lust in Sonnet 129:

Mad in pursuit, and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and prov'd, a very woe;
Before, a joy propos'd; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.
But at least Swann is beginning to have doubts. He "could not ask himself without anxiety what Odette would mean to him in years later." He continues to associate the phrase from Vinteuil's sonata with their love, even though Odette's tastes in music are trashy. Sometimes

he realized that Odette's qualities did not justify his attaching so much value to the time he spent with her. And often, when Swann's positive intelligence alone prevailed, he wanted to stop sacrificing so many intellectual and social interests to this imaginary pleasure. But as soon as he heard it, the little phrase had the power to open up within him the space it needed, the proportions of Swann's soul were changed by it.

And so Swann is being brought down to Odette's level. Except for the piece of Vinteuil, he "did not try to make her play things he liked or, any more in music than in literature, to correct her bad taste. He fully realized that she was not intelligent."

What great repose, what mysterious renewal for Swann -- for him whose eyes, though refined lovers of painting, whose mind, though a shrewd observer of manners, bore forever the indelible trace of the aridity of his life -- to feel himself transformed into a creature strange to humanity, blind, without logical faculties, almost a fantastic unicorn, a chimerical creature perceiving the world only through his hearing.

The awareness of Odette's past doesn't trouble him: "He merely smiled sometimes at the thought that a few years before, when he did not know her, someone had spoken to him of a woman who, if he remembered rightly, must certainly have been she, as a courtesan, a kept woman." Up to this point, Odette has scarcely existed to him except when they are together. But now a friend reports seeing her on the street, and "it suddenly made him see that Odette had a life which did not belong entirely to him."


Sally Hamilton said...

Just want you to know how much I enjoy reading this as I read Proust for the same time (I am using Lydia Davis's superb translation, and also plodding through in French at the same time).

Anonymous said...

I read half of Proust years ago and wanted to remind myself of what I had read before I picked up where I left off. Thank you for making this so easy!