Sunday, 17 June 2012

Swann in Love

There is now an interregnum in the narrator’s own account and this filled by the telling of the love affair between Swann and Odette de Crecy. We are told that Odette has a disreputable past and that she has little obvious appeal to Swann. She attends a salon comprised of people below Swann’s own social standing and lacking his refinement. Despite this and against his better judgment Swann finds himself falling in love and this leads to an obsession with her.  

Swann finds an emblem for his love in a phrase from a piece of music which he hears played at the salon attended by Odette: "...below the delicate line of the violin-part, slender but robust, compact and commanding, he had suddenly become aware of the mass of the piano-part beginning to emerge in a sort of liquid rippling of sound, multiform but indivisible, smooth yet restless, like the deep blue tumult of the sea, silvered and charmed into a minor key by the moonlight. But then at a certain moment, without being able to distinguish any clear outline, or to give a name to what was pleasing him, suddenly enraptured, he had tried to grasp the phrase or harmony-he did not know which-that had just been played and that had opened and expanded his soul, as the fragrance of certain roses, wafted upon the moist air of evening, has the power of dilating one's nostrils."

Swann learns that the composer of this phrase is called Vinteuil and he recalls a music teacher from Combray by that name:

“”Perhaps that’s the man” cried Mme Verdurin. 

“Oh no!” Swann burst out laughing. “If you had ever seen him for a moment you wouldn’t put the question.””

But it is the same man. Proust unpicks Swann’s pretension. Swann cannot conceive of such an unprepossessing man creating sublime art (this same Vinteuil has the daughter described in my post: The face of a young woman in tears. The daughter has a lesbian lover and after Vinteuil’s death the narrator spies on the two women as they abuse Vinteuil’s memory and spit on his photograph).

Swann becomes possessive, fixated on knowing what Odette is up to when she is not with him. This ultimately results in him stealing her mail and spying on her. He accuses her of prostitution and of having lesbian relationships, and she neither denies nor admits to this. Swann withdraws from his place in society and tries to identify his rivals for Odette’s affections. He finds himself supplanted in the respect of the salon by others and he becomes disparaging of them in turn.

Over time he attains a more realistic view of his relationship and of Odette, her “pallid complexion, her too thin cheeks, her drawn features, her tired eyes”. He achieves a higher degree of self-realisation.

“To think that I have wasted years of my life, that I have longed for death, that the greatest love that I have ever known has been for a woman who did not please me, who was not in my style”.

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