Posted by: Lizzie Ross | December 17, 2010

This’ll make you laugh

Within a Budding Grove, pp. 406-416

Mathilde Bonaparte, courtesy Wikipedia

So, as I was plodding away this week, hiking through Proust’s dense prose, I started to notice something weird, something akin to déjà vu. The narrator seemed to be repeating himself. The occasional passage was like an echo of something I’d read earlier, and Marcel was suddenly younger and once again out of favor with the Swann’s. It didn’t make sense, but I figured Marcel had his reasons for the repetitions and would eventually explain what was going on.

Then it hit me, like a kick in the shin: I’d started reading at page 306, when I should have begun at 406! Very irksome, for two reasons. First, of course, is that I wasted a half hour re-reading 5 pages from Swann’s Way. And second: that I didn’t notice sooner. Most of those 5 pages seemed brand new. Was I not paying attention when I read them the first time? Oy!!!

So, back to Marcel in his proper place, hanging out with the Swanns and pining away for Gilberte. He even makes the explicit comparison to Swann’s initial frustrated love for Odette but goes no further with the analogy.

I heard on the radio a few days ago that worry is future-focused. This is definitely Marcel. He (so far) has no regrets (which are, clearly, past-focused; the related present-focused emotion has to be fear, which Marcel exhibits only as reluctance to approach adults). For the most part, Marcel is a worrier — will Gilberte ever realize that she loves him? will she ever express this love? will she be at home? will she speak with him? etc. etc. mutatis mutandis.

Yet it’s a strange relationship. Marcel seems to be more appreciative of Gilberte’s parents than he is of her. He writes of going out in the carriage with M. and Mme. Swann, and I picture the three of them (who knows where Gilberte is? who cares?) driving through the Bois, bowing to various personages. Marcel looks admiringly at Mme. Swann and imagines the admiration and jealousy that others feel when they see him with her.

Then, suddenly, Mme. Swann introduces him and Gilberte to someone they meet — so she’s been there all along! And just as quickly she moves into the background. On these excursions, she says nothing, and Marcel thinks only of her parents. Very odd.

Are his affections changing? Not really. I suspect this is more of what he has touched on earlier, the idea that anticipation is much more exciting that reality. Thinking about Gilberte is more satisfying than being with her.

These few pages end with a tiff between Gilberte and her father, about going to the theater on the anniversary of her grandfather’s death. M. Swann doesn’t want her to go, but she refuses to submit. “I think it’s perfectly absurd,” she explains to Marcel, “to worry about other people in matters of sentiment. We feel things for ourselves, not for the public.”

The tiff transfers to Gilberte and Marcel when he tries to stop her.

“But Gilberte,” I protested, taking her by the arm, “it is not to satisfy public opinion, it is to please your father.”

“You are not going to pass remarks upon my conduct, I hope,” she said sharply, plucking her arm away.

Les Invalides, courtesy Wikipedia

A note about dates: a chance meeting between the Swanns and Princess Mathilde in the Jardin d’Acclimatation leads to a reference to Tsar Nicholas II’s visit to les Invalides (the site of Napoleon’s tomb), a visit which, after just a few moments on the internet, can be dated to October 1896. FYI: Dreyfus was first convicted in 1894, evidence implicating someone else was discovered (and suppressed) in 1896, Zola wrote J’Accuse! in 1898, and Dreyfus was finally exonerated in 1906. I don’t know what the Swanns talk about when they’re on their own, but in front of Marcel they seem totally unaware of the anti-Semitic storm that’s raging around them.



  1. 🙂 Hey, it´s snowing! Lovely!

    I had to smile- you´re not the only one, who rereads passages and thinks of déjà vus 😉

    …and “worry is future focused”, haven´t thought about that yet. Interesting definition. Just living in the present or being future focused- what´s better? Think, a good mixture of both…

    Have a nice day!

  2. The Swanns are not unique. Indeed, I might think about controversial issues but choose not to bring them up in ‘polite conversation’. It’s just such an effort winding people up and then getting them to calm down again. I’d like to suggest a book you might like for lighter reading: Kate Taylor’s Madame Proust and the Kosher Kitchen. Gives a thoughtful perspective on Proust’s neurasthenic tendencies, and Madame’s diary is fun. There is another strand to this flawed novel, but overall, I enjoyed it.
    Now the question is: in 2011, do I reread (for the 3rd time) The Alexandria Quartet or Remembrance of Lost Time (for the 2nd time, or perhaps the 1st time as I skipped parts when the going was so slow I’d fall asleep before finishing a single page.) Hmmm. There’s also Anna Karenina. Last year, I reread The Odyssey, Paradise Lost and Jan Wong’s Chinese Whispers, all three of which were better the second time around.

  3. Samantha: if you can wait on the Alexandria Quartet, I could join you, but not before May. I wouldn’t mind having someone with me now, on my journey through Proust. I’m going slow enough that you could probably catch up within just a couple of months.
    Marty: the snow is a special WordPress feature; you can control the direction of its fall by moving the cursor. The “worry is future-focused” really resonated with me; understanding that helps bring me back to the here and now.

  4. “Worry is future focused “- the more I reflect on the quote, the more I like it. A strong statement.I´m one of these future focused persons, worry too much about things…
    Had to share the quote with a friend today-was a complex discussion about living in the now and living for the future… so, thanks for sharing the quote!

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