2017: Our Year of Reading Proust discussion

83 views
Swann's Way Discussion Questions

Comments Showing 1-19 of 19 (19 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Natalie (new)

Natalie Tyler (doulton) I have copied these from the website of Penguin Press and wonder if they might inspire people to have some new thoughts.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

Why does the narrator begin his story by describing in such detail his feelings upon awakening?

What does the narrator mean when he says that "our social personality is a creation of the minds of others" (p. 19)? Is there such a thing as a core self, according to the novel?

Why is his mother's kiss so important to the narrator?

Why is the Combray church so intensely meaningful to the young narrator? Why is the first piece of his own writing that he likes a description of Combray's three steeples?

According to the narrator, why are we only familiar "with the passions of others," and able to understand our own passions only through theirs (p. 132)?

What do, respectively, the Guermantes Way and Swann's Way represent to the narrator?

Why is the narrator so strongly and lastingly affected by his first sight of Gilberte, in Swann's park?

Does the narrator blame Swann for having "wasted his intellectual gifts in frivolous pleasures" (p. 198)?

Are we intended to see Swann's "boorishness" as a fault he should remedy or as a part of his character that he cannot alter (p. 200)?

What does the narrator mean when he says that he began to take an interest in Swann's character "because of the resemblances it offered to my own in completely different respects" (p. 201)?

Why does hearing Vinteuil's sonata fail to rejuvenate Swann, as the narrator suggests it might have? Why does it later reawaken Swann's memories of happiness with Odette and lead him to pursue her again?

Why does Swann come to love Odette passionately, despite not being attracted to her initially?

Why does the narrator liken great landscapes to great art in their necessity and unchangeability? What makes them, to the narrator, "more real than myself" (p. 400)?

Describing works of art, the narrator says that "we will perish, but we have for hostages these divine captives who will follow us and share their fate. And death in their company is less bitter, less inglorious, perhaps less probable" (p. 363). What does he mean?

Why does Proust choose not to describe how Swann and Odette were reunited and came to marry?

How similar is the narrator's fixation on Gilberte to Swann's obsession with Odette?

For Further Reflection

What are the most important sources of identity? To what extent is identity fixed, and to what extent is it the creation of oneself and/or others?

Why does the understanding of something about ourselves—like Swann's intermittent understanding of the fruitlessness of his obsession with Odette—not in itself enable us to change or resist it?

Do you agree that the feelings "we are made to experience by the joy or the misfortune of a real person are produced in us only through the intermediary of an image of that joy or that misfortune," such as that produced through fiction (p. 86)? Is it possible to reach a true understanding of one's past? Is attempting to do so a worthwhile endeavor, even if it takes a great deal of time and effort?


message 2: by Petra (last edited Jan 28, 2017 03:23PM) (new)

Petra What does the narrator mean when he says that "our social personality is a creation of the minds of others" (p. 19)? Is there such a thing as a core self, according to the novel?

I think that people make assumptions and conclusions of others, who they are and what they stand for with incomplete information...which basically means that others (social) create a person's personality, traits and convictions in their own minds without taking the time to truly get to know the person. As long as society can put a personality or label on a person, that's "good enough", even if that label is incorrect (created in society's own mind).
Also, we do tend to put forward different faces in different social situations and protect our core selves by keeping it inside.
I think it's wonderful that Proust is so aware of this action of all of us and is putting it into the novel. It would mean that any character in this book will be different, depending on who they are with and what that person's idea is of the character's personality.


message 3: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth | 50 comments Petra: killer comment. Proust is the best. And you are 100% on the money re characters' evolving, becoming different, etc. Think of something that torments many of us: trying to be the daughter/son that our parents wished they had had, rather than the one they really have. But perhaps the younger generation is more honest...


message 4: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth | 50 comments Natalie: amazing questions! All I can do is...take them in order. Perhaps Proust feels that one is more--oneself, as it were--upon awakening.
Can't do better than Petra on second one.
The Narrator seems to be an unbelievably sensitive, nervous person; he has very ambivalent feelings about the night (tied in to his long discussion that begins the novel), and his mother's kiss seems to give him calm, and peace of mind. A very other-directed ambition.
Gilberte: the Narrator is very, very sensitive to beauty, especially feminine beauty, and Gilberte is a very pretty little girl. Also the taint of scandal that surrounds her adds to his interest.
I think the Narrator identifies w/ Swann's dependence on Odette, as a parallel to his dependence on his mother. Also the jealousy theme, of course, and the theme of unrequited love.
Yes, why does Proust not tell us about Swann's marriage? And when the heck did Odette have time to have Gilberte? I mean, it ends w/ Swann's cry of "I have wasted years of my life..." and a page later he has obviously been married a long time & has a child who is about the same age as the narrator. Remember, too, that the Narrator tells us that "Swann's great love story" begins about the time of his parents' marriage. But there is no mention of a pregnancy, except a faint hint on p. 342 of my edition: "Physically, she was passing through an unfortunate phase; she was growing stouter..." Except for that...the whole thing seems to happen, as it were, offstage.


message 5: by Petra (new)

Petra Thank you, Elizabeth!

I'm hoping that we learn more of Swann & Odette's further courtship and marriage later on. That relationship was left hanging, knowing what we already know.
I, too, wondered whether a pregnancy was the cause of the marriage but that leaves the question of whether the child is Swann's. Odette did have a few gentlemen callers at that time. Swann may have been the only one to step up to the plate, so to speak. In his way, he does love Odette and Odette, in her way, might be able to be somewhat content with the lifestyle that Swann can provide. I hope we find out more.
Perhaps pregnancy is an offstage event in Proust's time? Did women still go into confinement at that time? They stopped appearing in public, then they were mothers.


message 6: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth | 50 comments Well, yes, you've got that whole Victorian mind-set; but Proust unabashedly mentions masturbation (either "Overture" or "Combray") so he doesn't seem to have bought into that one. Also, it was a European custom to farm out newborns; illegitimate ones as well as others (Jane Austen, born in wedlock to a very respectable family, was--as were all her brothers and her sister). So Odette may have had that baby "offstage" as it were, farmed it out, & taken off on the Verdurin's yacht.


message 7: by Petra (new)

Petra Good points! I hadn't thought of the practice of farming out the baby. Interesting thought. :D


message 8: by Dan (new)

Dan Elizabeth wrote: "Natalie: amazing questions! All I can do is...take them in order. Perhaps Proust feels that one is more--oneself, as it were--upon awakening.
Can't do better than Petra on second one.
The Narrator..."


It happens before our narrator was born.

Swann's Way (Swann in Love) is a very conventional 3rd party narration This section may feel like it is written by the narrator, but the narrator of the first section (and the other volumes) is "Marcel", while Swann's story is not.


message 9: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth | 50 comments Good point. POV is always tricky.


message 10: by Dawn (new)

Dawn (goodreadscomdawn_irena) Hi all ~ I have not peeped in for a few days I dropped my IPad and my MAC desktop was needing some extra memory so my Daddy helped me out by buying me a New IPad Pro with a smart key board ( much better than a laptop ) and we fixed my Mac problem too because I applied for a job in publishing as a editor at the suggestion of an old friend . I say that in my soft secret voice because I do not think I have a chance even with an inside contact .

Funny me , I told them I would work free as an apprentice if they had already filled the position , but I seriously meant it ! I have been freelance writing and editing my own blog for years now . To me that is publishing for free ! HA!

Enough of that , I wanted to direct a statement to what Petra referred to earlier about Proust saying we all have sort of a social or public self and then we have the self inside which makes up our core being . To me , this is something I have heard all of my life as a Southerner . Being raised as a young girl in the South you have to become many people reflecting different outside personalities according to where you are and who you are with at the time . I actual believe most people do this and it is not just a Southern thing. I think everyone puts on a facade or mask to play his /her part for occasions to fit in when necessary. Some people refuse to do so and what you see is what you get ! People like this must feel so free and confident. Inside my heart or soul which I say are the morals , virtues and manners I believe I honor and respect concerning my relationships with others even when I where a mask or not I call these centering beliefs my "core being " . My core being is truly who I am and I can never deny . Sometimes the weakness of my core being may make me behave a certain way to hide these beliefs for fear of being so vulnerable to others who might consider these values weak . If people suspect your core being are weak they will take advantage of you and that is why it is best to live with your core being protected unless you trust someone explicitly with your best interests. It is truly hard to know everything about one individual. This subject about a core being is one of my favorite topics . I sometimes feel it is an intuitive feeling seen in the eyes or small gestures in movement. Maybe certain ways that a person says certain statements or just a word may give their core beliefs a glance .

Maybe I am wrong ... maybe I am not ,
Dawn


message 11: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth | 50 comments More of Natalie's questions:
I think the statement "able to understand our own passions through theirs" links to "our social personality is a creation in the minds of others." See the connection?

The two ways, Guermantes and Swann's (aka the Méséglise Way) represent complete opposites; their length, the scenery, even to the fact that the family uses different doors to go out for them. Possibly they are parallels to the opposite poles of an individual's personality.

Doe the Narrator blame Swann for having "wasted" his intellectual gifts? Well, he never says; but this is an accusation the young Proust had to endure, when he--obviously a brilliant person--began to go out into society.

Last: Swann's "boorishness." I need help here. I cannot find it in either of my volumes. Please elucidate.


message 12: by Petra (new)

Petra Elizabeth wrote: "Last: Swann's "boorishness." I need help here. I cannot find it in either of my volumes. Please elucidate. ..."

I'm not sure where his "boorishness" is mentioned. Page 200 in my book is shortly before the beginning of Swann In Love. Nor do I know whether all these questions pertain to Swann's Way.
From what I gather so far, Swann was a suave, upstanding, intelligent man with "connections". These connections don't happen to dull, boorish men.
However, he then gets mixed up with Odette, who is more common and less of everything Swann is.....so he kind of dumbs himself down to fit into her lifestyle. Perhaps that's what's meant? By fitting into Odette's world he has to make himself a bit "boorish"?
Or is it that the narrator's family think that Swann is "boorish"?

Either way, if a person is this way, they can change but it takes an awakening, of sorts. Boorish indicates misunderstanding, miseducation, misinformation in one's thoughts. As people, we have the ability to rise above these things; to open our minds and relearn a concept when presented with additional information and extra thought. We can grow out of the boorish within our minds....but it takes time and we've got to be open to change.

I'm not sure how that applies to Swann, though.


message 13: by Petra (new)

Petra Why is the Combray church so intensely meaningful to the young narrator? Why is the first piece of his own writing that he likes a description of Combray's three steeples?

I can't answer this question directly. I don't find that I know the narrator enough.
However, the steeple is an interesting figure. It seems to be seen from throughout the town. No matter where one is, the steeple is always in sight. There's a stability and assuredness in knowing that there's something in one's life that will always be there.
As one moves through the town, one also sees different sides and aspects of the steeple. By seeing all sides, one gets to know it thoroughly and throughout. There's a security in knowing something/someone from all sides and throughout.
It's always there but also, always different...yet still stable and trustworthy. It brings solace or peace always.

That may lead to another question:
"How similar is the narrator's fixation on Gilberte to Swann's obsession with Odette?"
Neither Swann or the narrator seem to know their "significant others" from all sides, in all lights. Therefore, neither Gilberte or Odette can bring them that feeling of solidity, solace and peace. There's always a feeling of unease and insecurity in the relationship.


message 14: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth | 50 comments Combray church. Proust was raised a Catholic (altho by Talmudic law he was Jewish--"If your mother is a Jew, then you are a Jew"--and he kept up w/ his mother's family all his life). However, he never seemed to evince the slightest interest in any religion...he kind of separates spirituality from architecture...


message 15: by Petra (new)

Petra That may explain why, although the Church is rather prevalent, I don't get the feeling that the Narrator is deeply religious.


message 16: by Dan (last edited Feb 22, 2017 07:46AM) (new)

Dan When I read about the church in Combray, now that I've been through this once, it simply makes me think that Proust sees everything and everyone like he sees (saw) the church. His views of the steeple are his standard perspective in how he sees, and how he thinks about and analyzes what he sees. This is his normal lens on the world.


message 17: by Estep (new)

Estep Nagy | 2 comments Seems to me that as the narrator matures as an observer -- which is also to say, as a writer -- his view of the steeple shifts, deepens, becomes complex in ways that fundamentally surprise him. But that complexity, which I think he comes to recognize as superior to 'mere' observation, doesn't really come via intensity or originality of observation, as he first thinks it will/might/must, but rather as a sort of gift from the emotions that slowly build up, like sediment, around the steeple as he moves forward in -- and looks backward through --- time. So that his experience of the steeple tracks, in a small way, his experience of the drama of becoming a writer.


message 18: by Dan (new)

Dan Seems to me that there is a deep maturity and keen, deep observation from "For a long time I used to go to bed early." The story of the narrator is told from the beginning by a mature writer, one that has seemingly figured out everything before he even starts.

"the door handle in my room, which was different to me from all the other door handles in the world in as much as seemed to open of its own accord . . . lo and behold, it was now an astral body for Golo." is Marcel observing quite perceptively while little.

His very first writing, when the family is picked up in the carraige of Doctor Percepied, where he puts down his impressions of the changing views of the steeples, made him so happy, "as though I myself were a hen and had just laid an egg. I began to sing at the top of my voice."

It is a "sort of a gift", and it took Proust time to understand and then use it, but Marcel has it all along.


message 19: by Marcelita (new)

Marcelita Swann | 17 comments Elizabeth wrote: "Combray church. Proust was raised a Catholic (altho by Talmudic law he was Jewish--"If your mother is a Jew, then you are a Jew"--and he kept up w/ his mother's family all his life). However, he ne..."

Spinning over to the "Proust Prep" page, to share a related article. "https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/..."


back to top