Day Twenty-Two: Swann's Way, pp. 300-317

From "So the salon which had brought ..." to "... one cannot foresee in the old." 

Proust further analyzes "the very chemistry of [Swann's] disease."

Cut off from the Verdurins' circle, Swann experiences more separations from Odette, as she's invited to places with them. He "would read in Odette's eyes a fear that he would ask her not to go, which once upon a time he would not have been able to keep himself from kissing as it passed over his mistress's face, and which now exasperated him." When he tries to explain himself to her, in a long-winded, intensely convoluted and somewhat insulting speech, he fails:

Although she failed to grasp the meaning of this speech, she did understand that it might belong to the category of "scoldings" and scenes of reproach or supplication, and her familiarity with men enabled her, without paying attention to the details of what they said, to conclude that they would not make such scenes if they were not in love, that since they were in love it was pointless to obey them, that they would be only more in love afterward.
One begins here to suspect that Swann has greatly underestimated her intelligence -- or at least her cunning and her knowledge of the relationships between men and women.

Even the change in her physical appearance -- "she was growing stout" and has lost some of her youthful freshness -- doesn't deter him, "knowing that under the new chrysalis, what lived on was still Odette, still the same will, evanescent, elusive, and guileful."

As the weather grows warmer, the Verdurins invite Odette to join them on more travels outside Paris, torturing Swann because he can't join them and also can't just show up in the places they're visiting without revealing his obsession and thereby losing face. The cruel fact is that Odette frequently returns to Paris without even letting him know -- sometimes "only after several days." She lies to him about her returns, and for once he fails to see through the lie.

Sometimes, especially after she torments him by flirting with Forcheville, he hates her.

And because his hatred, like his love, needed to manifest itself and to act, he took pleasure in pursuing his evil fantasies further and further, since, because of the perfidies he imputed to Odette, he detested her still more and could, if -- something he tried to picture to himself -- they were found to be true, have an occasion for punishing her and for satiating on her his increasing rage.
She even asks him for money, so she can go to Bayreuth with the Verdurins. He is rightly outraged by the request, but softens at the thought that if he "went out of his way to make it pleasant for her, she would come running to him, happy, grateful, and he would have the joy of seeing her, a joy which he had not experienced for almost a week and which nothing could replace."

Proust's analysis of this almost sadomasochistic relationship is so thorough, so dense in its particularities, that it comes as a bit of a shock when the novel's narrator surfaces again, likening the tormented Swann to himself: "as anxious as I myself was to be some years later on the evenings when he would come to dine at the house, at Combray." It's a startling interruption because we have at this point almost forgotten that the story of Swann in love is being told to us by someone who could not have witnessed the events, who claims to have been told these stories by Swann years later.

What purpose does this interjection by the narrator serve? I think it must be at least in part a preparation for the narrator's own experiences later in the book -- a suggestion that the narrator could not have analyzed Swann's experiences in such detail, have imagined them so specifically, if he had not undergone something similar. It's this identification of the narrator with Swann (and obviously of Proust with both of them) that enables him to write sentences like these:

Like all those who enjoy the possession of a thing, in order to know what would happen if he ceased for a moment to possess it he had removed that thing from his mind, leaving everything else in the same state as when it was there. But the absence of a thing is not merely that, it is not simply a partial lack, it is a disruption of everything else, it is a new state which one cannot foresee in the old.

No comments: