Day Twenty-Nine: Swann's Way, pp. 410-423

From "One day, because I was bored..." to "...incognito in which he was wrapped."

What's in a name? Quite a lot if that name is Gilberte, which the narrator hears in the park on the Champs-Élysées. He has not seen Mlle. Swann since the day of the "indecent gesture," yet his infatuation with her has simmered and now comes to a furious boil. Even the fact that her governess wears "a blue ostrich feather" becomes part of his obsession, to the detriment of his own governess, Françoise, whom he now "noticed for the first time with irritation that she had a vulgar way of speaking, and alas, no blue feather in her hat." He is jealous of those who keep her company, including "a lady of a certain age" who is always in the park, whom Gilberte greeted every day and who "asked Gilberte for news of 'her love of a mother.'"

But he is invited to play with Gilberte and her friends, and soon becomes a regular part of their group. One day a snowfall delays the arrival of her friends, leaving the narrator alone for a while with Gilberte. This "caused my love to progress, for it was like a first sorrow that she had shared with me." And when the friends arrive, "That day which I had so dreaded was in fact, one of the only ones on which I was not too unhappy."

We're beginning to see the parallels between the narrator/Gilberte and Swann/Odette. (I keep leaving the final e off of "Gilberte," and if I fail to correct it, don't assume that I'm one of those who insist that Gilberte really is a Gilbert, or Albertine an Albert.) But Swann and Odette, we are reminded, were adults. What we have here is a case of puppy love (between some rather precocious puppies, to be sure). As the narrator says,

I still believed that Love really existed outside of us; that, allowing us at the very most to remove obstacles in our way, it offered its joys in an order which we were not free to alter; it seemed to me that if I had, on my own initiative, substituted for the sweetness of confession the simulation of indifference, I would not only have deprived myself of one of the joys of which I had dreamed most often but that I would have fabricated for myself in my own way a love that was artificial and without value, without any connection to the real one, whose mysterious and preexisting paths I would have had to forgo following.

Or as Lorenz Hart put it: "Falling in love with Love is falling for make-believe."

When Gilberte finally speaks the narrator's given name (which he coyly keeps from us), the effect is startlingly sensual. He had "the impression that I had been held for a moment in her mouth, I myself, naked, ... her lips ... seemed to strip me, undress me." What's in a name, indeed.

The friendship with Gilberte also gives the narrator a new perspective on Swann, hitherto not much more to him than the man who came to dinner.

For he and Mme. Swann -- because their daughter lived in their home, because her studies, her games, her friendships depended on them -- contained for me, like Gilberte, perhaps even more than Gilberte, as was proper for gods all-powerful with respect to her, in whom it must have had its source, an inaccessible strangeness, a painful charm.

No comments: