Posted by: Lizzie Ross | August 13, 2010

Proust update #6

pp. 236-292, end of “Swann in Love” and beginning of “Place-names: The Name”

Lac du Bois de Boulogne, Courtesy Wikipedia

“For a man cannot change, that is to say become another person, while he continues to obey the dictates of the self which he has ceased to be.”

That quote comes near the end of the section about Swann’s affair with Odette, at the point where he is resigned to ending his torturous affair with her. It comes after much anguish, as he realizes that Odette had been unfaithful to him from the first moment of their liaison, not only with several men, but also with women (in the Bois de Boulogne, no less). Up to this point, he had clutched at his love for her:

In former times, having often thought with terror that a day must come when he would cease to be in love with Odette, he had determined to keep a sharp look-out, and as soon as he felt that love was beginning to escape him, to cling tightly to it and to hold it back.

But finally, it happens. He falls out of love.

This decline begins with Swann’s jealousy, which leads to suspicions that Odette no longer loves him, and culminates with his realization that she never did love him. (The arc here reminded me of Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, made into a passable film in 1983 by Granada Television. Read the book at Project Gutenberg.)

Bellini, courtesy Web Gallery of Art

A high point in these pages is Swann’s wish that Odette could die a swift and painless death. In his usual fashion, he connects his own feelings to works of art, this time to Bellini’s portrait of Mahomet II, who

on finding that he had fallen madly in love with one of his wives, stabbed her, in order, as his Venetian biographer artlessly relates, to recover his spiritual freedom.

I realize it’s strange to describe such revenge fantasies as a “high point”, but poor Swann sorely needs someone like Loretta Castorini (Moonstruck) to slap him and shout, “Snap out of it!” Instead, it takes an anonymous letter and weeks of Odette’s denials and careless slips to convince him it’s time to leave Paris for Combray, to escape Odette’s power over him, a step he’d been unable and unwilling to attempt even at the lowest point of his despair.

The section ends with Swann’s exclamation, “To think that I have wasted years of my life, that I have longed for death, that the greatest love that I have ever known has been for a woman who did not please me, who was not in my style!”

Ironically, he’s about to start again with someone equally inappropriate, Mme. de Cambremer (the former Mlle. Legrandin–remember the snobbish man from my earlier post?–this is his sister, the one who spends time in Balbec; she’s evidently as vulgar as Odette), whom we first see at a musical party that Swann attends. Once again, Swann’s emotions are whirled along by music and art. Marcel mentions one of the pieces played: Liszt’s “St. Francis Preaching to the Birds”. Enjoy!

(Liszt)

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