Friday, September 15, 2006

A Few Questions

As I contemplate Swann's Way and try to grasp it in its entirety, I have a couple of detail questions.

In the "Combray" section Swann is married to Odette, right? But at the end of the "Swann in Love" section Swann is no longer in love with Odette and it appears that they are through. So how and why did they get married? Do we know this and I missed it?

In the final sections, "Place Names," the narrator has been playing with Gilberte for weeks before Swann comes on the scene. The narrator mentions that Swann doesn't visit his family anymore since they quarreled. Is there ever mention of this quarrel and what it was about? This was a surprising detail to me especially since Swann pretended he didn't recognize the narrator and it isn't that long between "Combray" and "Place Names." I wonder what could have been so bad to keep Swann from visiting the narrator's family?

And here's another question, what was the point of Swann's dream about Odette? I've been trying to figure out if there is some significance to it. Swann dismisses it when he wakes up, but he thinks about it again later that day so it obviously had an effect on him. Is Proust using Freudian dream symbolism to say something that I'm not getting because I'm not up on Freud?

Did Swann exasperate anyone else? I wanted to do him bodily harm to make him come to his senses.


Blogger Dorothy W. said...

Well -- I'm not sure how Swann and Odette ended up married; as far as I remember this part isn't explained. I wonder if it will be later?

It was my impression that Swann and the narrator's family didn't get along because the narrator's parents disapproved of Odette. I thought it was after Swann's marriage that their friendship cooled.

As for the dream -- I don't know! And I didn't have a super-strong exasperated response to Swann, but he was awfully waffling and occasionally annoying.

6:48 PM  
Blogger AC said...

As far as the first question, I'm not sure where this is found, but Swann marries Odette to legitimize their daughter, because he wants her (Gilberte) to be presented to the Duchesse de Guermantes. I didn't say it was a good reason....

Also, I don't think that Proust ever read Freud, so I doubt there's much Freudian symbolism going on there.

I actually wasn't exasperated by Swann when I read the book, as I'm sort of a waffler myself. (That sounds much better than it is). But this is not the end of the exasperation.

8:48 AM  
Blogger Quillhill said...

I think this is one of the best things about Proust. Questions, and sometimes answers, are brought up, but don't get answered or asked until hundreds of pages later.

If I read correctly, "Combray" comes in time after "Swann in Love" which is like one long flashback. My confusion was the opposite from yours, because I did not catch that Swann was married in "Combray" and was confused whether he was cheating on his wife, or where his daughter came from. That was cleared up at the end of the volume. But why they marry, when he seems to be cured of her, I did not learn. I was surprised to discover he marries Odette, and I simply thought it was a case of complexity, a man who once desired a woman now is cured of her attraction and so he marries her.

As the others noted, I think in "Combray" the narrator has a brief encounter with his uncle, who is entertaining a lady in pink who is not identified, but will be later. In the same place the narrator notes the beginning of the family quarrel over this lady.

The dream is the final indication that Swann is really free of his feelings for Odette. It is the final disillusionment of the section. It is him coming to his senses. Yes, it is exasperating, yet you could have done him bodily harm and it wouldn't have affected him. It is all too real.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Stefanie said...

Questions are the thing, aren't they? It's difficult keeping all the details straight, there are so many of them!

9:50 AM  
Blogger Dark Orpheus said...

I remember being as confused when I first started on "In the Shadow of Girls In Flowers" - but it does explain how it was partly because Swann was no longer in love with Odette that allows him to marry her. I think. That's my impression. It's a really thick book.

I think Proust has a thing about pulling the rug from under the readers. He introduces some characters, and by the next book, you are re-introduced to the characters in a different light. So we end "Swann's Way" with the end of love, and is re-introduced to Odette as Mrs Swann. (Odette goes through many guises through the book. She even turns up in a painting later.)

I like this method of characterisation though. In life, we never really know anyone. The characters remain elusive. Just as the narrator's family never truly knew the full Swann, with his society connections.

9:52 PM  
Blogger Stefanie said...

You make a good point Dark Orpheus. Everyone sees Swann differently, and we see Odette through different eyse too--Swann's, the narrator's family, the narrator himself--with glimpses of how others see her too. And all of them are different.

7:28 AM  
Blogger M. Barresi said...

I don't think you can really remember all the details. I don't think Proust expected the reader to. I don't think Proust remembers all the details and that's why things are not brought up or explained. It's part of the excitement of reading a Proust book...what he leaves out is sometimes incredibly important (or so the reader thinks) and sometimes it's nothing. Proust plays with memory and feeling and the disconnect between both. I'm reading Sodom and Gomorrah now, a few years after I read Within a Budding Grove, and I've forgotten many of the characters. But by forgetting them or mixing them up, I feel like I'm playing right into the hands of Proust.

11:40 AM  
Blogger rwconner said...

In the early part of "Swann in Love" I happened to notice that while he was arguing with himself about continuing to see Odette when he really did not find her attractive, she offers him a cup of tea. It provokes in him an epiphany, though not quite of the level of the famous one that Marcel imbibes with the madelein. But it causes him to reflect that it would be good to come home to a little woman and a very good cup of tea! A hint, perhaps, that after his midlife crisis, there might arise a domestic urge.

12:16 PM  

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