Monday, August 14, 2006

On beginning to write

I recently wrote about the fabulous scene in Swann’s Way where the narrator sees Mme. de Guermantes for the first time and is enraptured with her; what I just realized is that immediately after that scene comes the story of how the narrator becomes a writer. In a way, it makes sense that these two scenes are right next to each other – they are about artistic discovery, about beauty, about the excitement of seeing something newly. After he has seen Mme. de Guermantes, the narrator despairs at his inability, up until that point, to write. But it is as though the beauty he sees in her inspires him to produce beauty himself:

Then, quite apart from all these literary preoccupations and not connected to them in any way, suddenly a roof, a glimmer of sun on a stone, the smell of the road would stop me because of a particular pleasure they gave me, and also because they seemed to be concealing, beyond what I could see, something which they were inviting me to come take and which despite my efforts I could not manage to discover.

I love the way the narrator feels that the objects he sees around him are calling out to him to discover them. In response, he observes these objects, trying to figure out what it is they are saying:

I would stay there, motionless, looking, breathing, trying to go with my thoughts beyond the image or the smell. And if I had to catch up with my grandfather, continue on my way, I would try to find them again by closing my eyes; I would concentrate on recalling precisely the line of the roof, the shade of the stone which, without my being able to understand why, had seemed to me so full, so ready to open, to yield me the thing for which they themselves were merely a cover.

Earlier he had expected that philosophical ideas were going to inspire him to write, and his despair at his inability to write came because these ideas were getting him nowhere. But he learns here that it’s the material world and its beauty that will be his source of inspiration. When he sees the Martinville church and its steeples, he feels so compelled to figure out their source of fascination that he gets paper and pencil and begins to write while on a bumpy carriage ride. And this is how he responds to having written, finally:

When in the corner of the seat where the doctor’s coachman usually placed in a basket the poultry he had bought at the market in Martinville, I had finished writing it, I was so happy, I felt it had so perfectly relieved me of those steeples and what they had been hiding behind them, that, as if I myself were a hen and had just laid an egg, I began to sing at the top of my voice.

Beautiful, yes?


Blogger Stefanie said...

Yes :)

7:55 PM  
Blogger Alan said...

I have recently finished reading the [Grieve]translation of [Swann's Way]sadly translated as [The Way by Swann's. This was in fact the third time I had read the book over a period of some ten years and I have to comment that translations do matter. I flew through the new translation- it really does let [Proust] be [Proust. I am very very new to Librarything -4days old and am overjoyed at finding this group -I started reading [In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower] last week and Swann's trials and tribulations continue.


4:25 AM  
Blogger Stefanie said...

You are welcome to join the group if you'd like Alan. Just email me and I'll send you a Blogger group invite.

7:16 AM  
Blogger Dorothy W. said...

Interesting perspective on the translations, Alan. Three times through Swann's Way! That's great.

8:22 AM  
Blogger Condalmo said...

I've been circling "Swann's Way" (the Davis) for some time now - nearly bought it a couple of times, but it's a little bit daunting. Your post here pushed me a little closer... great stuff.

9:58 AM  
Blogger Dorothy W. said...

Oh, do try Condalmo! I've found that if I don't try to read too much at once, it's not difficult at all.

8:11 PM  

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