Наслаждайтесь миллионами электронных книг, аудиокниг, журналов и других видов контента

Только $11.99 в месяц после пробной версии. Можно отменить в любое время.

Swann's Way (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Swann's Way (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Читать отрывок

Swann's Way (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

729 страниц
13 часов
1 июн. 2009 г.


Swann's Way, by Marcel Proust, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:
  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.


Swann’s Way is the first novel of Marcel Proust’s seven-volume magnum opus À la rechercheé du temps perdu, or Remembrance of Things Past. Following Charles Swann’s opening ruminations about the nature of sleep is one of twentieth-century literature’s most famous and influential scenes: the eating of the madeleine soaked in a “decoction of lime-flowers,” the associative act from which the remainder of the narrative unfurls. After elaborate reminiscences about Swann’s childhood in Paris and rural Combray, Proust describes his protagonist’s exploits in nineteenth-century privileged Parisian society and his obsessive love for young socialite Odette de Crécy.


Filled with searing, insightful, and humorous criticisms of French society, this novel showcases Proust’s innovative prose style, characterized by lengthy, intricate sentences that elongate, stop, and reverse time. With narration that alternates between first and third person, Swann’s Way unconventionally introduces Proust’s recurring themes of memory, love, art, and the human experience—and for nearly a century readers ha

1 июн. 2009 г.

Об авторе

Marcel Proust (1871–1922) was a French novelist, critic, and essayist best known for his monumental novel À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time; earlier rendered as Remembrance of Things Past), published in seven parts between 1913 and 1927. He is considered by critics and writers to be one of the most influential authors of the twentieth century.

Связано с Swann's Way (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Похожие Книги

Похожие статьи

Связанные категории

Предварительный просмотр книги

Swann's Way (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) - Marcel Proust

Table of Contents


Title Page

Copyright Page














When a man is asleep, he has in a circle round him the chain of the hours, the sequence of the years, the order of the heavenly host.

(page 5)

The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us) which we do not suspect. And as for that object, it depends on chance whether we come upon it or not before we ourselves must die.

(page 46)

And once again I had recognized the taste of the crumb of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-flowers which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like the scenery of a theatre to attach itself to the little pavilion, opening on to the garden, which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated panel which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I was sent before luncheon, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine. And just as the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little crumbs of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch themselves and bend, take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, permanent and recognizable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann’s park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and of its surroundings, taking their proper shapes and growing solid, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.

(page 49)

‘It’s unbelievable how time flies.’

(page 106)

And then—oh, marvellous independence of the human gaze, tied to the human face by a cord so loose, so long, so elastic that it can stray, alone, as far as it may choose—while Mme de Guermantes sat in the chapel above the tombs of her dead ancestors, her gaze lingered here and wandered there, rose to the capitals of the pillars, and even rested upon myself, like a ray of sunlight straying down the nave, but a ray of sunlight which, at the moment when I received its caress, appeared conscious of where it fell.

(page 185)

In his younger days a man dreams of possessing the heart of the woman whom he loves; later, the feeling that he possesses the heart of a woman may be enough to make him fall in love with her.

(page 208)

Among all the methods by which love is brought into being, among all the agents which disseminate that blessed bane, there are few so efficacious as the great gust of agitation which, now and then, sweeps over the human spirit. For then the creature in whose company we are seeking amusement at the moment, her lot is cast, her fate and ours decided, that is the creature whom we shall henceforward love.

(page 244)

‘This is delightful; I’m becoming neurasthenic.’

(page 334)

Sometimes he hoped that she would die, painlessly, in some accident, she who was out of doors, in the streets, crossing busy thoroughfares, from morning to night. And as she always returned safe and sound, he marvelled at the strength, at the suppleness of the human body, which was able continually to hold in check, to outwit all the perils that environed it (which to Swann seemed innumerable, since his own secret desire had strewn them in her path), and so allowed its occupant, the soul, to abandon itself, day after day, and almost with impunity, to its career of mendacity, to the pursuit of pleasure.

(page 373)

‘To think that I’ve wasted years of my life, that I’ve longed to die, that I’ve experienced my greatest love, for a woman who didn’t appeal to me, who wasn’t even my type!’

(page 401)

Published by Barnes & Noble Books

122 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY 10011


Du cote de chez Swann, the first volume of Proust’s seven-part A la recherche du temps perdu,

was first published in French in 1913. C. K. Scott Montcrieff’s translation

of Swann’s Way first appeared in 1922.

Published in 2005 by Barnes & Noble Classics with new Introduction,

Notes, Biography, Chronology, Inspired By, Comments & Questions,

and For Further Reading.

Introduction, Notes, and For Further Reading

Copyright © 2005 by Elizabeth Dalton.

Note on Marcel Proust, The World of Marcel Proust and Swann’s Way,

Inspired by Swann’s Way and Remembrance of Things Past,

and Comments & Questions

Copyright © 2005 by Barnes & Noble, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted

in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy,

recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without the

prior written permission of the publisher.

Barnes & Noble Classics and the Barnes & Noble Classics

colophon are trademarks of Barnes & Noble, Inc.

Swann’s Way

ISBN-13: 1-978-59308-295-6

ISBN-10: 1-59308-295-9

eISBN : 978-1-411-43322-9

LC Control Number 2005923985

Produced and published in conjunction with:

Fine Creative Media, Inc.

322 Eighth Avenue

New York, NY 10001

Michael J. Fine, President and Publisher

Printed in the United States of America


1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2



Marcel Proust was born in the Paris suburb of Auteuil on July 10, 1871. His father, Adrien Proust, was a physician; his mother, Jeanne Weil, was the beautiful, cultivated daughter of a prosperous Parisian Jewish family. Proust’s mother and his maternal grandmother gave young Marcel a taste for literature, poetry, and music; throughout his life his deepest love was for his mother. When Marcel was three, his family moved to a fashionable neighborhood in Paris near the Champs-Elysées and not far from the Bois de Boulogne and the Faubourg Saint-Germain, settings that would later appear in his great seven-volume novel À la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past). Marcel spent the Easter holidays and the summers in his father’s village of Illiers, south of Paris, later re-created in the fictional Combray.

In 1890 Proust entered the Sorbonne to study law and political science. Around this time, he began to frequent the salon of Madeleine Lemaire, where he met leading artists, writers, politicians, and aristocrats who would inspire some of the characters in his novel. In his early twenties, Proust contributed stories, essays, and reviews to several journals, including La Revue blanche, where many of the stories and portraits in Les plaisirs et les jours (1896; Pleasures and Days) first appeared. In 1895, while traveling in Brittany with the musician Reynaldo Hahn, Proust began writing the novel Jean Santeuil, but, unable to organize its loose, episodic passages into a cohesive form, he abandoned it in 1899.

Though he was never robust, in the early years of the new century Proust’s health went into a serious decline; the asthma that had afflicted him since childhood became progressively worse. With the help of his mother, Proust began translating works by the English art critic John Ruskin. The death of his mother in 1905 left Proust devastated and depressed; he spent several months in a sanatorium and, as his habitual insomnia worsened, gradually withdrew from social life. A reclusive, nocturnal figure, he nonetheless maintained his friendships in Parisian society.

In 1908 Proust began a new work, Contre Saint-Beuve (Against Sainte-Beuve), gradually transforming its aesthetic framework, ideas, character studies, and narrative episodes into the beginning drafts of Remembrance of Things Past. He sequestered himself in a cork-lined room, working on his manuscript. In 1913 the first volume, Du cote de chez Swann (Swann’s Way) , was published by Grasset, but at Proust’s expense. The outbreak of World War I in 1914 delayed publication of the second volume long enough for Proust to expand the envisioned trilogy into seven long books. In 1919 A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (Within a Budding Grove) was published, earning Proust the Prix Goncourt, France’s highest literary prize.

Despite isolation and failing health, Proust continued to write, edit, revise, and arrange his manuscript for publication. Le cote de Guermantes (1920-1921; The Guermantes Way) and Sodome et Gomorrhe (1921-1922; Cities of the Plain), the next two installments of Remembrance of Things Past, were the last volumes Proust lived to see published. He completed the final three books—La Prisonnière ( 19 2 3; The Captive), Albertine disparue ( 19 2 5 ; The Sweet Cheat Gone), and Le Temps retrouvé ( 19 2 7 ; Time Regained)—but was unable to make his final revisions before his death. After contracting pneumonia, Marcel Proust died on November 18, 1922.




Swann’s Way is a novel of the rediscovery of experience through memory, of desire and disillusionment, and of the development of an artistic vocation. In its best-known scene, perhaps the most celebrated in modern literature, the narrator tastes the madeleine, the little cake dipped in tea that opens the magical gates of time and memory

A beautiful and fascinating novel in itself, Swann’s Way is also the introduction to the great seven-part work Remembrance of Things Past, which is a kind of paradise of the novel, one of the greatest works of fiction of the twentieth century. The French title of the larger work, A la recherche du temps perdu, actually means In Search of Lost Time, suggesting, as the English title does not, the narrator’s mental and moral activity in search of the meaning of his experience in time.

As Swann’s Way begins, the narrator, a man apparently in early middle age, describes sleepless nights and fragmentary dreams in which bits of his past drift through his consciousness. Amid memories of illness, of lonely nights in strange rooms, of illusory loves, he wakes in darkness, no longer sure where or even who he is. Frightened and disoriented, he is rescued by another kind of memory, like a rope let down from heaven to draw me up out of the abyss of not-being (p. 5), the involuntary memory lodged in the body that will eventually give him access to a forgotten past. In recalling the various scenes of his life, his thoughts return again and again to the village of Combray, where he spent childhood vacations with his family. In these memories, he finds the deepest layer of his mental soil, the very source of his being.

As the seven novels are actually all parts of one longer novel, broken somewhat arbitrarily into volumes by the requirements of publication, so Swann’s Way is also made up of parts. The first two could stand alone, although juxtaposed in one volume they illuminate each other. The first section, Combray, is concerned with the narrator’s childhood world, whose characters and events are the source of everything to follow, and with the powerful experience of memory that revives this forgotten past. The second section, Swann in Love, set in Paris about ten years before Combray, is the account of a love affair of Charles Swann, an important figure in the narrator’s childhood, whose experience prefigures his own later life. In the third section, Place-Names: The Name, which moves forward in time to a point slightly later than the Combray years, the narrator reflects on the idealized and unreal essences contained in the names of places, develops an adolescent passion for Swann’s daughter, and says a premature good-bye to the world of his youth—premature because he wiH reenter that world in subsequent volumes.

The structure of Swann’s Way is obviously not that of the classical nineteenth-century novel, which generally follows the chronological order of the events of a plot. In Proust’s novel, however, blocks of writing are juxtaposed, added on, loosely connected, forming a chain of episodes and reflections related in an intuitive and subjective rather than a logical or chronological mode. This structure emerged from Proust’s struggle to find a form for his work, a new and personal kind of novel that could combine fiction, autobiography, and reflections on art and society. The form of Combray in particular is based on Proust’s distinctive way of writing about different experiences in nearly self-contained sections linked by association rather than along a single line of narrative. The second section, Swann in Love, does follow a single narrative line, but the force that drives it is neither chronology nor plot, but the demonic energy of erotic obsession.

The novel’s structure has been compared to that of a musical composition, held together by recurring motifs of theme and imagery. Another analogy, to some form of vegetation, is suggested by the gardens and flowers that bloom profusely throughout Combray and find their way into the other sections as well. The lush, tangled narrative lines, with their buried horizontal connections that disappear for a time and then reappear, are like the roots of plants running underground.

In the classical Aristotelian structure of Western drama and fiction, incidents are organized in a plot that accumulates tension, leading to a climactic resolution. But in Proust’s novel, episodes are added on without adding up, without ever achieving a totalizing structure of meaning, what the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, in his semiotic study Proust and Signs, calls the pseudo-unity of the Logos (p. 465; see For Further Reading). If the classical structure is envisioned as pyramidal, building up to a final revelation of meaning, Proust’s structure looks more like a web, with incidents all on the same plane. Or perhaps the structure is like that of a labyrinth, the maze of experience in a world without final meaning. Indeed, the topography of Combray and its surroundings forms a kind of labyrinth, with its two meandering paths, Swann’s way and the Guermantes’ way, that lead the narrator along the paths of experience—nature, art, society, sex, and so on—without ever connecting with each other or reaching their mysterious end points.

The structure of the novel also evokes an image of the labyrinth of consciousness, which is explored in a style almost as complex and ramified as the mind itself. In Swann’s Way there is a passage describing the phrases of Chopin, those long-necked, sinuous creatures, ... so free, so flexible, so tactile, which begin by seeking their ultimate resting-place somewhere beyond and far wide of the direction in which they started, the point which one might have expected them to reach, phrases which divert themselves in ... fantastic bypaths (p. 349), but which always find their way back to their appointed conclusions.In an essay on Proust in Études de style, the critic Leo Spitzer has pointed out that this passage could apply as well to Proust’s own sentences, those extraordinarily strong and flexible instruments for the representation of mental life in all its layered complexity

Although it goes further than its predecessors, Proust’s rigorous and nuanced dissection of the psyche is rooted in a rich strain of psychological analysis in French literature—the self-examination of Montaigne’s essays, Racine’s probing of the passions, the painful self-revelations of Baudelaire—as well as in a French tradition of revealing autobiography, including Rousseau’s Confessions and Chateaubriand’s Mémoires d’outre-tombe (Memoirs from Beyond the Tomb) . The dark and obsessional quality of sexual passion and the strange juxtaposition of elements in the souls of Proust’s characters—the mixture of timidity and sadism in Mlle Vinteuil, for instance—suggests his affinity for Dostoevsky. But his main source was his understanding of himself. Like Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams, Proust analyzes above all his own psychic life.

His representation of the mind is strikingly similar to that of Freud, whose work he apparently never knew. In its interest in childhood, dreams, and the multiple versions and perversions of sexuality, and especially in its understanding of the complexity of the inner world, Proust’s work presents almost uncanny parallels to that of his older contemporary. Like Freud, Proust understood the decisive significance of the child’s early attachments, especially the knot of desire, dependency, and aggression that Freud called the Oedipus complex. Proust’s concept of involuntary memory, the crucial experience through which the past returns to life, is much like the emergence, through free association, of repressed unconscious memories in psychoanalysis. Like Freud, Proust was an intellectual, brilliantly gifted, highly educated, formidably well read; yet for both writers, the creative powers of the mind originate not in intellect but in the irrational and the unconscious. Each day, I attach less value to the intellect, Proust wrote in the opening line of Contre Sainte-Beuve (Against Sainte-Beuve), a volume containing early versions of parts of the novel.

Proust’s novel is drawn from his own experience, not only his inner life but also his life in society. In particular, the Combray portion of Swann’s Way is largely autobiographical. The characters are generally based on, but not identical to, someone the author knew or a combination of several such persons. The first-person narrator, however, is more problematic. Is it Proust himself? The narrator remains a nameless I throughout Swann’s Way; only in a later volume of the series does his mistress, Albertine, finally call him Marcel. This teasing delay suggests the ambiguity of the relationship between author and narrator. There is a further ambiguity in the difference between the I who narrates the novel and the I of the child Marcel, whose perceptions and adventures are narrated. Proust himself, however, did not always maintain these distinctions. Cut everything, he wrote in a note concerning the manuscript of The Captive, ... up to my arrival in Venice with my mother (in Carter, Marcel Proust, p. 802).

Nonetheless, Marcel is not exactly Marcel Proust, but his fraternal twin, his fictional double. The most significant difference between them is in sexual orientation. While the fictional Marcel falls in love with Gilberte Swann, and in a later volume with Albertine, the real Marcel Proust fell in love with his chauffeur, Alfred Agostinelli. Although the fictional Marcel remains staunchly heterosexual, almost no one else in the novel does. Homosexuality eventually reveals itself in most of the characters, either as the dominant mode or as a secret strain within heterosexuality. Like Freud, Proust saw sexuality as inherently ambiguous, a mixture of male and female, heterosexual and homosexual elements. For Proust, however, the homosexual side seldom remains entirely repressed.

The Marcel Proust who wrote Swann’s Way, like the insomniac narrator of the opening sequence, was a semi-invalid who withdrew from the world in early middle age to reflect on his past. Born in 1871, he was the son of upper-middle-class Parisian parents of quite disparate origins. His father, Adrien Proust, came from the provincial lower middle class and rose, by means of intelligence, ambition, and state scholarships, to become a wealthy and distinguished physician, inspector-general of health services, and a professor at the Faculty of Medicine in Paris. Marcel’s mother, born Jeanne Weil, a sensitive, cultivated woman who loved literature and knew English and German as well as French, was the daughter of a prosperous Parisian Jewish family. The marriage produced two sons—Marcel, the frail, sensitive boy who shared his mother’s temperament and interests, and his younger brother, Robert, who became a physician like his father. From the age of nine, Marcel suffered from the severe asthma that would lead him, years later, to have his bedroom lined with cork to keep out dust.

Although the family was nominally Catholic, Catholicism and to a lesser extent Judaism function as sources of allusion and imagery, rather than belief, in Proust’s novel. His father was devoted to science rather than religion, while his mother came from an assimilated family whose practice of Judaism was apparently confined to the high holy days. In spite of his attachment to his mother, Proust did not consider himself Jewish, although he never hid his origins. In a letter to Count Robert de Montesquiou referring to the Count’s negative comments about a group of Jews, including Proust himself, Proust wrote, Though I am a Catholic, like my father and brother, my mother is Jewish. I am sure you understand that this is reason enough for me to refrain from such discussions (in Carter, Marcel Proust, p. 211 ) . During the Dreyfus affair, in which an army officer, a French Jew, was convicted of treason on forged evidence, Proust joined the campaign in support of Émile Zola, who wrote in defense of the Jewish people. The Dreyfus affair, which divided France at least until World War II, figures in later volumes of Proust’s novel, where characters take sides for and against Dreyfus.

In Swann’s Way, two characters seem to embody the suppressed Jewish side of Proust’s identity. One is Bloch, an insufferable young friend of Marcel’s, whose dandyism and precociously advanced literary tastes resemble those of the young Proust. The other, more important, character is Charles Swann, the son (as Proust was the grandson) of a Jewish stockbroker, who becomes a member of the exclusive Jockey Club and frequents the aristocratic society of the Faubourg Saint-Germain. In Swann in Love, he prefigures the narrator’s own future as obsessed lover and disillusioned man about town. Swann is what Marcel, and Proust as well, could have become: a brilliant dilettante who wastes his gifts in social life.

Proust himself, during and after some desultory studies in political science and law, then in literature and philosophy, spent years cultivating friendships in the aristocratic milieu represented in the novel. At the same time he wrote sketches, reviews, stories, and even society columns, and translated Ruskin, whose aesthetic influenced his own. The death of his adored mother in 1905, a loss from which he never recovered, seems nonetheless to have liberated him to find a form for the work he had been contemplating for years, whose revelations would doubtless have horrified her. He withdrew from social life and was soon living almost exclusively in the cork-lined bedroom, emerging occasionally, swathed in black, to attend a party or a performance, such as those of the Ballets Russes in 1910, then returning to his cell to write about his glamorous friends from the skeptical, witty perspective of the half-invalid, half-Jewish, homosexual outsider. In declining health made worse by his strange mode of life, he devoted himself, until his death in 1922, to the novel in which he tried to recapture the lost world of his childhood and youth.

Swann’s Way, as well as the longer novel of which it is part, is framed as a search for time—lost time. Time is the element of life, the medium of all experience, and yet it destroys us and all that we value. In a world governed by religious faith, human time is only the prelude to eternity. But Proust lived in a skeptical modern milieu of scientific discovery and progress, the world of his father and brother; his writing is full of analogies drawn from medicine and the physical sciences. In this desacralized world, time leads only to the nothingness of death, rendering all experience meaningless. The search, then, is for a way to recuperate the narrator’s lost time—experience that seems meaningless or wasted (another meaning of perdu)—to redeem it by understanding it through memory and art.

Proust’s treatment of time is often said to have been influenced by the ideas of the philosopher Henri Bergson, who was related to him by marriage. Bergson’s interests—perception, intuition, consciousness, memory—are also those of Proust. The French critic Georges Poulet, however, points out that their conceptions of time are quite different. For Bergson, time is full and continuous, while for Proust it is empty and intermittent. Proustian time is a kind of void into which years and decades may vanish. Living memories of the past return with stunning immediacy, but at random. Far from being as Bergson wished it, a ‘continuité mélodique,’ human duration in Proust’s eyes is a simple plurality of isolated moments, remote from each other (in Girard, Proust: A Collection of Critical Essays, p. 173). Proust’s time is the ambiguous, fragmented time of modern and postmodern literature.


Swann’s Way begins with time (temps) in the very first word: longtemps je me suis couché de bonne heure—literally, for a long time I went to bed early. In the French sentence there is an untranslatable disjunction between two different times—the present perfect tense of the verb—je me suis couche—suggesting a single completed action, and the long duration implied by longtemps. Slipping through this odd gap between verb and adverb, the narrator lures the reader into an ambiguous temporality, a fluid medium in which all times mingle without chronology. This is the subjective time of dream and memory in which experience may be reclaimed and recreated in the timeless world of art.

These reveries lead the narrator back to his childhood bedtimes in Combray, when sleep was already elusive, the bedroom a place of isolation and abandonment. A magic lantern projects images of the giant Golo in pursuit of the Merovingian princess Geneviève de Brabant across the walls, disrupting the comforting familiarity of the room with the mystery and beauty of art and frightening the child, who recognizes in the legendary figures the forces of his own unconscious. Placed at the beginning of Combray, this sequence suggests that the novel itself will be a kind of magic lantern, stripping away the deadening layers of habit to cast a new light on reality.

The child, Marcel, lives in a comfortable bourgeois household offering the pleasures of a well-ordered existence. Yet within this stability is a good deal of cruelty, rendered invisible by habit, as in the great-aunt’s nightly power play, in which she pours out forbidden cognac for the grandfather, then makes a joke of the grandmother’s distress. There is also unkindness in the family’s treatment of Swann, their neighbor and occasional dinner guest, who has married his former mistress for the sake of his child, a little girl whose existence Marcel’s father refuses to acknowledge.

Swann himself is not what he appears to be. The family knows nothing of his brilliant social life, never suspecting that after leaving them, he often spends the remainder of his evening in the company of dukes and duchesses. Other characters too lead double lives. Françoise, the cook, a devoted and perfect servant to the family, is a tyrant in the kitchen, a persecutor of maids, a murderess of chickens; her backstairs reign, like those of queens portrayed at prayer in church windows, is stained by oppression and bloodshed (p. 128).

Swann’s double life suggests the mystery of personality itself. According to the narrator, we create our pictures of people according to our own conceptions; when Swann enters the garden, Marcel’s great-aunt would vitalize, by injecting into it everything she had ever heard about the Swann family, the vague and unrecognizable shape which began to appear ... against a background of shadows (p. 19). This shadowy shape, created more by the observer than by the subject himself, is far from the solid, substantial characters of the nineteenth-century realistic novelists.

In Proust we find instead the modern conception of personality as divided, protean, unstable, mysterious:

None of us can be said to constitute a material whole, which is identical for everyone, and need only be turned up like a page in an account-book or the record of a will; our social personality is created by the thoughts of other people. Even the simple act which we describe as seeing someone we know is, to some extent, an intellectual process. We pack the physical outline of the creature we see with all the ideas we have already formed.... In the end they come to fill out so completely the curve of his cheeks, ... the line of his nose, ... the sound of his voice that these seem to be no more than a transparent envelope, so that each time we see the face or hear the voice it is our own ideas of him which we recognize (p. 19).

Many of Proust’s characters have the nearly caricatural clarity and brilliance found in the creations of the great nineteenth-century novelists. The awful Madame Verdurin, for instance, could come from a novel by Dickens or Balzac. But her personality eventually reveals gaps and contradictions resembling the inner divisions of the patients in Freud’s case histories, rather than the more unified and consistent psyches created by earlier writers.

Most of the central characters of Swann’s Way—Marcel, his family, Françoise, Swann—are introduced in the first episode, which occurs on a night when Swann comes to dinner. Its climax—the drame du coucher (bedtime drama)—is the emotional core of the novel, a scene that will be replayed many times, in different forms, in Marcel’s life and in that of his alter ego, Swann. It is an Oedipal drama with roots in the child’s pre-Oedipal bond with his mother, the early stage of development that Freud calls the oral phase, when the child is still almost part of the mother’s body, depending on her for nourishment, comfort, life itself, all taken in through the mouth.

For the older child, the ritual good-night kiss is mostly a remnant of this early physical intimacy, a symbol of the mother’s continuing love and presence. But for Marcel, the kiss is less a token of presence than a painful prelude to absence: This good night lasted for so short a time ... that the moment in which I heard her climb the stairs ... was for me a moment of the keenest sorrow (p. 13). Instead of gratifying his desire, the kiss only heightens it, causing him to ask for still another kiss in a potentially endless series, angering his father, who doesn’t want him to have any kisses at all, and suggesting the insatiability of desire itself.

The transcendent significance of the kiss is suggested by the imagery. The mother’s face bent over the child’s bed is like a Host, for an act of Communion in which my lips might drink deeply the sense of her real presence, and with it the power to sleep (p. 13). Just as the real presence, the actual body of Christ in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, offers eternal life, so the child drinks in, from contact with the mother’s body, the life-giving power to sleep—a power that still eludes the middle-aged narrator.

What Marcel wants is total possession of his mother, the impossible return to a state of primitive oneness. That desire will become the fundamental pattern of his relation to reality, taking the form of a wish for fusion not only with the mother but with other persons and objects as well, a wish expressed in oral imagery of all kinds of edible and drinkable things—cakes and tea, ripe fruits, cream cheese and strawberries, even the bread and wine of Communion—that have both literal and symbolic meanings. Even Marcel’s desire to discover and unite himself with the truth seems derived from his early feeling of separation and his longing for oneness.

On the fateful evening of the drame du coucher, when Swann has come to dine, Marcel’s father sends him to bed without the mother’s precious kiss, so that he must set forth without viaticum—that is, without the consecrated host given the dying as a passport to eternal life. Imagery of death prevails: I had ... to dig my own grave as I turned down the bedclothes, to wrap myself in the shroud of my nightshirt (p. 29). In desperation, the child summons his mother with a note, to be delivered by Françoise.

Marcel’s fantasy of the note’s progress towards his mother demonstrates the power of Proust’s extraordinarily capacious, complex, and subtle prose to recreate, through its very structure and rhythm, a whole emotional and psychological experience.

At once my anxiety subsided; it was now no longer (as it had been a moment ago) until to-morrow that I had lost my mother, for my little note was going—to annoy her, no doubt, and doubly so because this contrivance would make me ridiculous in Swann’s eyes—but was going all the same to admit me, invisibly and by stealth, into the same room as herself, was going to whisper from me into her ear; for that forbidden and unfriendly dining-room, where but a moment ago the ice itself—with burned nuts in it—and the finger-bowls seemed to me to be concealing pleasures that were mischievous and of a mortal sadness because Mamma was tasting of them and I was far away, had opened its doors to me and, like a ripe fruit which bursts through its skin, was going to pour out into my intoxicated heart the gushing sweetness of Mamma’s attention while she was reading what I had written. Now I was no longer separated from her; the barriers were down; an exquisite thread was binding us (p. 31).

The long clause that constitutes most of this sequence, beginning with it was now no longer, after moving back briefly to the fear of loss, begins to thread its way sinuously along the path of the note—my little note—stopping, paradoxically, after was going, to accommodate the obstacles contained in the phrase set between dashes—the mother’s annoyance and Swann’s presumed ridicule—then moving forward with was going to admit me, again qualifying the anticipated contact with the phrase invisibly and by stealth. At last the note, and the sentence along with it, gets closer to its goal—the mother: it enters the room and whispers in her ear. In the last clause the forbidden and unfriendly dining-room suddenly opens its doors and, like a ripe fruit bursting its skin, pours out the sweetness of the mother’s attention in the uninterrupted stream of language, finally free of hesitations and qualifications, that ends the sentence.

The syntactical control of this long, multi-clause sentence allows it to follow the path of the narrator’s desire, while at the same time incorporating obstacles, qualifications, and hesitations, delays that only intensify that desire. The German scholar E. R. Curtius writes of Proust’s style, The tension pushing the sentence towards its continually deferred conclusion is heightened to an almost painful degree, so that when the conclusion finally comes, the resolution is that much more efficacious (quoted in Spitzer, Études de style, p. 398, my translation). There is a détonation à la Chopin (Spitzer, p. 400), an explosion of relief at the end of a tense phrase. The sentence about the note has just such a detonation: the imagined reunion with the mother is skillfully withheld until the end when, after the restraint of obstacles, the imagery of gushing sweetness erupts, mingling oral and genital gratification in a confusion that recurs throughout the novel. Mother and child are reunited by the exquisite thread of the letter, which overcomes separation through language and writing. Perhaps the writing of the novel achieved the same goal for Proust himself

Marcel imagines that Swann might ridicule his letter, not realizing that Swann himself had endured the same kind of suffering: To him that anguish came through Love, to which it is in a sense predestined ... ; but when, as had befallen me, such an anguish possesses one’s soul before Love has yet entered into one’s life, then it must drift, awaiting Love’s coming (p. 31 ) . The child’s desire to possess his mother is fundamentally the same as the lover’s desire to possess his mistress. Like Freud, Proust sees in the child’s earliest relationship the pattern of all the later ones, especially those of love and sex.

Marcel throws himself on his mother when she comes upstairs, and is then confronted by his father, an immense figure in his white nightshirt looking like Abraham ... telling Sarah that she must tear herself away from Isaac. Yet unexpectedly, this stern father tells the mother to spend the night in the boy’s room. Although Marcel has won a kind of Oedipal victory, he knows that his father has conceded out of pity, even contempt. I’m not nervous like you two, says the healthy, confident father, relegating mother and son together to the nonmasculine realm of nerves (p. 38). Breaking still another taboo, Marcel’s mother lets him open his package of birthday books ahead of time, choosing to read to him from George Sand’s François le Champi (The Country Waif) , a novel about an orphan boy who marries his adoptive mother.

The events of this night have reverberated endlessly for the narrator: Of late I have been increasingly able to catch, if I listen attentively, the sound of the sobs which I had the strength to control in my father’s presence, and which broke out only when I found myself alone with Mamma. Actually, their echo has never ceased (p. 38).

For a long time, the narrator writes, the bedtime drama dominated his memory of childhood; the rest was in reality all dead (p. 45). But after many years, there is a resurrection. On a cold, depressing winter afternoon, the narrator—now the troubled middle-aged man of the first pages—returns to the Paris apartment he shares with his mother, who gives him a cup of tea and a little cake called petite madeleine. When he tastes the cake dipped in tea, he is flooded by a mysterious ecstasy: At once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory (p. 46). Only when he abandons his conscious search for the source of this joy does involuntary memory suddenly yield up the recollection of the tea and madeleine given him by his aunt Léonie on Sunday mornings in Combray, and with it the rest of his childhood.

The taking of the tea and madeleine replays elements of the bedtime drama, but in a more benign mode. On that earlier night, the child’s need for his mother was denied by his father, then contemptuously overindulged. With the tea and madeleine, the son’s dependency on his mother, his continuing need for nourishment from her, is quietly accepted. The past may then return. The oral and sacramental imagery of the earlier scene is repeated and transformed: the madeleine and tea echo the bread and wine of the mother’s eucharistic kiss. Indeed, consuming the madeleine and tea is a way of taking in the mother herself: the scallop-shaped madeleine, so richly sensual under its severe religious folds, suggests the repressed sensuality of the mother, also contained in the cake’s name, which is derived, as the critic Julia Kristeva points out in Time and Sense (pp. 12-13), from that of the prostitute/saint Mary Magdalene, foil and double of Mary, the virgin mother.

If the drama of the mother’s kiss is the emotional core of the novel, the tasting of the madeleine dipped in tea is its artistic core, the scene that makes the narrator’s past available as the material of art. The rediscovery of a forgotten experience in a similar one in the present fills the narrator with joy, not only because he remembers the past, but because he understands how it may become the genesis of a work of art.

The mind of the narrator, in searching for the source of its sudden ecstasy, must do more than merely seek an existing answer: Seek? More than that; create. It is face to face with something which does not so far exist, to which it alone can give reality and substance, which it alone can bring into the light of day (p. 47). The retrieval of memory involves a work of creation: What is thus palpitating in the depths of my being must be the image, the visual memory which ... has tried to follow it into my conscious mind. But its struggles are too far off, too confused; ... I cannot distinguish its form, cannot invite it (pp. 47-48). The attempt to seize an image just out of reach is also the writer’s struggle to create something that is not yet. Although the narrator has not yet articulated his desire to be a writer, the episode of the madeleine and tea records the achievement of memory that is involved in creation, and that leads to the writing of the novel itself.


The Combray that rises out of the narrator’s teacup is not the actual Combray, but an unseen world more marvellously supernatural than that of Golo and Geneviève de Brabant (p. 52). The unseen world is that of the artist’s imagination: despite its first-person narrator and autobiographical material, Combray will not be a memoir, but a work of fiction. What is recalled is Combray as it reveals its meaning and essential truth to the artist.

The reader enters Combray through the fragrant rooms of the narrator’s Aunt Léonie, who gave him the original madeleines dipped in tea on Sunday mornings. Léonie is a marvelous comic creation, a Dickensian bundle of tics and obsessions who has remained in bed since her husband’s death in an indefinite condition of grief, physical exhaustion, illness, obsessions, and religious observances (p. 52). She is also a kind of precursor and parody of the novelist. From her bedroom overlooking the street, she observes the coming and goings of her neighbors, reading in them the immemorial chronicles of Combray—doubtless the source of some of the narrator’s tales. To her avid gossip, Léonie brings something of the novelist’s capacity to endow ordinary lives with significance—as in her eagerness to know whether Mme Goupil got to Mass in time for the elevation. Even her tea, made from lime-flowers like those on the local trees, is like a book in which one is astonished to read the name of a person whom one knows (p. 54).

In her neurotic immobility and seclusion, muttering ceaselessly about her bodily sensations, Léonie is like the author himself, shut up in his cork-lined chamber after his mother’s death, exploring his inner life in the perpetual monologue of the novelist. On Léonie’s dinner plates are scenes from The Thousand and One Nights, one of Proust’s favorite works, whose central character, Scheherazade, saves herself from death by telling stories—like Léonie, like Proust himself.

The village church of Saint Hilaire is also in its own way an immemorial chronicle of Combray. Built over an ancient Merovingian crypt, the church gives mythic significance to everything it contains, including a tapestry depicting an ancestress of the aristocratic Guermantes family. When he actually sees the current Duchesse de Guermantes in church, Marcel is horribly disappointed to notice a pimple on her nose; moved, however, by the instinct of self preservation ... not to admit that I had been ... deceived (p. 186), he quickly reinstates her ideal beauty as a member of the family great and glorious before the days of Charlemagne (p. 185). The theme of the disparity between the real and the ideal, truth and illusion, will return in Swann in Love.

The search for truth is more fully articulated in the account of the enchanted hours spent reading in the garden. Most important to Marcel in everything he reads is his belief in the philosophic richness and beauty of the book, which he desires to appropriate for himself (p. 87). He seeks the secret of Truth and Beauty, not only in books, but also in nature, as in the remarkable passages on the hawthorn blossoms. Dazzled by these flowers, seen on the path called Swann’s way, Marcel tries to capture the secret of their beauty by comparing them to music, to Gothic architecture, to strawberry beds in spring, but their mystery eludes him, like those melodies which one can play over a hundred times without coming any nearer to their secret. The sentiment they arouse in him remains obscure and vague, struggling and failing to free itself, to float across and become one with the flowers (p. 147).

His frustrating sense of separation from the flowers suggests a troubling philosophical problem. When I saw any external object, my consciousness that I was seeing it would remain between me and it, enclosing it in a slender, incorporeal outline which prevented me from ever coming directly in contact with the material form (p. 87). The idea of an unreachable essence within reality is close to Kant’s conception of the Ding an sich, the unknowable thing-in-itself that can never be apprehended directly because of the very nature of consciousness, which knows only through its own categories, such as time and space. For Marcel, this elusive essence seems, nonetheless, to correspond to something in himself, some intuitive unconscious knowledge, obscure and vague, struggling and failing to free itself, as when he tastes the madeleine and tea.

Marcel’s wish to float across and become one with the flowers (p. 147) is his characteristic wish for fusion and incorporation, which he tries to accomplish here through metaphor. Such a metaphor actually takes shape as he tries to imitate, somewhere inside myself, the action of their blossoming, imagined as a swift and thoughtless movement of the head with an enticing glance from her contracted pupils, by a young girl in white, careless and alive (p. 117). In a dazzling series of images, the odor of the flowers, a bitter-sweet fragrance of almonds (p. 119), is compared to the taste of the burnt parts of an almond cake, then to the sweetness of Mlle Vinteuil’s freckles; finally the blossoms become stinging insect-flowers, quivering like a roadside hedge explored by living antennae (p. 119), a powerful image of sexualized vitality. In this cascade of metaphors, the narrator takes possession of material reality by creating immaterial images in his mind, overcoming, at least for the moment, the separation between consciousness and its object. The narrator is a writer in the process of discovering his vocation, and the transformation through metaphor of the hawthorns is an act of artistic creation.

The hawthorn blossoms, like other flowers, are rich in sexual associations. The hawthorns are repeatedly compared to girls; lilacs are houris, the young beauties in the Muslim afterlife. Marcel’s first exploration of his own sexuality takes place in a bathroom smelling of iris-root, and leaves its trace of semen on the branches of the wild-currant bush that push in through the window, mingling human and vegetable fertility. It is through a hedge of pink hawthorns that Marcel gets his first glimpse of Gilberte, Swann’s young daughter, whose fair reddish hair and pinkish freckles suggest a pink hawthorn in human form.

Their encounter, however, ruptures the ecstatic beauty of the passage on hawthorns, suggesting the darkness and ambivalence of erotic relations in the novel. Gilberte makes an indelicate gesture and Marcel’s response is equally shocking: I knew her to be so beautiful that I should have liked ... to shake my fist at her and shout, ‘I think you are hideous, grotesque; you are utterly disgusting!’ (p. 150). The same strange mixture of love and hatred, desire and aggression, marks another scene observed by Marcel on one of his walks: the sadomasochistic lovemaking of Mlle Vinteuil and her female lover, in which the dead father’s picture is desecrated. Proust’s understanding of the symbolic function of profanation is strikingly like Freud’s analyses of the perversions.

Love is almost invariably bound up with hatred and the anguish of jealousy, which involves hatred for both rival and beloved. The duo of lover and beloved is in reality only two sides of a triangle, as with Mlle Vinteuil, her lesbian lover, and her dead father, or in Swann in Love, with Swann, Odette, and Odette’s other lovers. Even Aunt Léonie is part of such a triangle, the other sides being occupied by her friend Eulalie and by Françoise, the cook, who compete for Léonie’s favor, while she works herself into a frenzy imagining that one or the other is stealing from her. The original triangle in the novel, whose anguish infiltrates love, and can become forever inseparable from it, is of course that of Marcel, his mother, and his powerful father. Although Marcel has fantasies of one day becoming a famous writer like Swann’s friend Bergotte, his rambles around Combray do not seem to him of any literary interest. Seeking a subject with philosophical significance of infinite value (p. 182), he finds in his mind only emptiness and resigns himself to die like other men: I was to be distinguished merely as one of those who have no aptitude for writing (p. 183). Like Scheherazade, he can think of only one way to oppose death: by telling stories, by writing. At the same time, he continues to be fascinated by random sense impressions: a roof, a gleam of sunlight reflected from a stone, the smell of a road, which seem to contain a secret treasure of which they were themselves no more than the outer coverings (p. 188).

Marcel has the familiar sense of mystery when he sees the three steeples of Martinville apparently changing places as he approaches on a winding road. As he concentrates on them, their outlines and their sunlit surface, as though they had been a sort of rind, were stripped apart (p. 190). He writes a description comparing the steeples to birds, golden pivots, flowers, and dancing maidens. As with the disturbing beauty of the hawthorns, Marcel masters the phenomenon of the moving steeples in a series of metaphors by

Вы достигли конца предварительного просмотра. Зарегистрируйтесь, чтобы узнать больше!
Страница 1 из 1


Что люди думают о Swann's Way (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

0 оценки / 0 Обзоры
Ваше мнение?
Рейтинг: 0 из 5 звезд

Отзывы читателей