Friday, 9 December 2011

The Colour of Hawthorns

One day, the narrator and his family decide to walk down Swann's Way. The narrator hopes to catch sight of Swann's daughter, Mlle Swann, who has made an impression on him. He spots a basket and a fishing line by the lake and thinks he is about to have an encounter when "I found the whole path throbbing with the fragrance of hawthorn blossom. The hedge resembled a series of chapels, whose walls were no longer visible under the mountains of flowers".

The narrator stands there, enjoying the scent of the flowers, trying to preserve the memory of it, denying himself the scent and then returning to it with renewed vigour. Then his grandfather calls him over to have a look at a particular pink hawthorn. "High up on the branches, like so many of those tiny rose trees, their pots concealed in jackets of paper lace, whose slender stems rise in a forest from the alter on the greater festivals, a thousand buds were swelling and opening, paler in colour; but each disclosing as it burst, as at the bottom of a cup of pink marble, its blood-red stain, and suggesting even more strongly than the full-blown flowers the quality of the hawthorn tree which, whenever it budded, whenever it was about to blossom could bud and blossom in pink flowers alone".

Suddenly, the narrator is unable to move as when a deeper kind of perception requires the participation of our whole being. He has seen a girl with red hair carrying a trowel. "I gazed at her, at first with that gaze which is not merely a messenger from the eyes, but in whose window all the senses assemble, and lean out, petrified and anxious, that gaze which would fain reach, touch, capture, bear off in triumph the body at which it is aimed, and the soul with the body". Clearly, this is well overwrought for modern tastes. Proust has just described his senses of smell, taste, touch and hearing as leaning out through his eyes. He hears that the girl's name is Gilberte.

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