Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Swann In Love, first part

Having completed the first part of "Swann in Love" I feel that I am woefully behind in my reading. There are many thoughts running through my head, but they have not yet come together. (Perhaps this is the precise effect on the mind that the novel is meant to create, to replicate the experience of the narrator.) So I will offer a few scattered observations.

Proust pops up everywhere. Is this not because his novel encompasses all of our experience of life? It certainly seems to be the one book to take to the desert island, and more so the required reading of every human being than Oprah's claim for Uncle Tom's Cabin, or whatever it was she choose.

The love of Swann and Odette is a clinical case. The ways by which one falls in love and pursues that love are so carefully dissected, and for those who think it shallow and unlike their own truer love, it must be as a revelation.

Is Swann's love for Odette just as much an aspect of Swann's Way as the physical path? Is this to set up a contrast to the narrator's love affairs later in the novel? Is Swann's relationship with the Verdurins also an aspect of his Way? He seems to think awfully highly of them as the first part of this section ends.

In this section, the narrative has turned almost imperceptively omniscient. How does the narrator know what has happened between Swann and Odette when they are alone together? Even allowing Swann has reported all the details to the narrator, how does the narrator know what Odette is thinking, or feeling, her motivation behind certain actions? I don't think we are to believe he has collected all this information from the principal characters, but simply accept the switch in point of view. Yet it leads me to wonder, are these pure childhood memories or are they adult reconstructions? Are these episodes that the adult writer is now using to tell his story to the reader, but which he did not really know as a child, as he does other parts of the story? As most of Proust's characters are said to be variations on actual people, was Proust privy to both sides in another pair of the sort of love he describes between Swann and Odette, was he privy to one side and extrapolated the other, was he writing about one love that he had experienced himself, or was he creating all of it from scratch?

What is the significance of the essay on Vermeer that Swann once started writing, gave up for a time, used as an excuse, and has now taken up again?


Blogger Stefanie said...

I'm feeling really behind. I've not reached as far as you have. I too have noticed Proust pops up everywhere. it would be creepy if it weren't so delightful. I don't know why Proust is everywhere, he seems to have something to say to everyone who is willing to pay attention.

I will have to keep the rest of your questions in mind as I catch up!

8:08 PM  
Blogger Dorothy W. said...

You're ahead of me too. I like the description of how Swann and Odette fall in love -- so not what we expect from Swann, since he doesn't initially find her attractive. It's interesting the way he sees only parts of her at times -- he's paying attention to what he finds attractive and ignoring the rest. He falls in love with her when he can compare her to a work of art.

8:15 PM  
Blogger Alan said...

Proust certainly has a lot to say about how we feel about people and things. He has a relevance and resonance with so much of our lives. But is that surprising when he really knows so much about human psychology?? We can identify with the descriptions of Swann in love and Swann in jealousy because Proust desribes so well how the character reacts and feels....and of course how we have felt and maybe reacted....???

8:39 AM  
Blogger Quillhill said...

Alan, I think you're right. Maybe the only thing that makes Proust stand apart from the rest of us is his deep analysis of experience. He leaves no nuances unexplored, and often (as Dorothy notes and we will see to a much greater extent much later) there are two sides to our experiences that seem incompatible.

I am rather amazed I am ahead in my reading, for I had the feeling I was not keeping up. And this morning I sat down and read maybe another twenty pages just to get caughter-up, or caught-upper. Any way, as good as Swann falling in love, the next part is even better.

12:13 PM  
Blogger Alan said...

The point about two sides (often contradictory) to many of our experiences (and Marcel's/Proust's/Author's)is so true and so apparent throughout the book.

By the way is there some sort of timescale for our reading???

12:55 PM  
Blogger Stefanie said...

We are reading at pur own pace but trying to keep up with 50-60 pages a week.

6:35 PM  
Blogger Dorothy W. said...

I'm rather hyper-organized about this sort of thing (okay, I'm obsessive), and by my count, reading 50 pages a week, I'm supposed to be up to page 300 by the end of this week. I'm at 260, so I'm not doing so bad!

But that's just me, being obsessive. As Stefanie says -- our own pace.

8:27 PM  
Blogger Quillhill said...

I have a feeling 20 pages of my hardcover Moncrieff translation is equal to 40 or 50 pages of paperback.

1:52 AM  
Blogger Alan said...

Thanks for the info on reading pace: sounds good to me.

6:56 AM  
Blogger Stefanie said...

And I'm about 30 pages behind you Dorothy and feeling like a slacker!

So that's your secret Quillhill!

7:05 AM  
Blogger sfp said...

Goodness, I'm ahead. I'm about 50 pages away from the end of "Swan in Love." I'd stop and wait for everyone to catch up, but I have the Jeremy Irons dvd to watch this weekend.

12:49 PM  

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