2018: Our Year of Reading Proust discussion

Marcel Proust
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Characters > Swann

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message 1: by Lori (new)

Lori (lorifw) | 40 comments Mod
A place to post comments about Swann -- thoughts about his character, his relationship with Odette, with the narrator and etc.


message 2: by MJD (new)

MJD | 5 comments I enjoyed his little odyssey to find out the name of the music that he enjoyed at a party in "Swan's Way."


message 3: by April (last edited Jun 06, 2018 08:35AM) (new)

April | 300 comments Isn't Swann a sort of person who likes to compete with people to win. What makes him fall for Odette, who is not even pretty, and gives him a lot of pain and uncertainty? I think just because he wants to win over Odette from Forcheville, and the marriage isn't a result of love but jealousy.


message 4: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth | 239 comments Re Odette & Swann. One thing to consider: "We love not where we choose, but where the lightning strikes." Altho you're right, competition & jealousy play a huge role. To a modern reader, the Narrator (and Proust himself, actually) have an incredibly warped sense of romantic love.


message 5: by April (last edited Jun 07, 2018 06:42AM) (new)

April | 300 comments I actually have a friend who did just that, that is why I "know".

Jealousy just wrecks one's nerves, and keeps things going, in the end they married, but from the beginning of the marriage, Swann doesn't like Odette at all. One loses his interest once the desire is secured.

But marcel's love is just opposite. His jealousy is in another direction. He just doesn't feel good when Gilberte wins, he wants so much her to be lost that he gave up his love.


message 6: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth | 239 comments Here's something that no one ever mentions...Swann, in the beginning of their affair, has a "little shop girl" he is having a fling with...he has long, hot rides w/ her in his carriage right before he goes to see Odette at the Verdurins...and he's good with this; the unspeakable irony of it never hits him.


message 7: by Lori (last edited Jun 16, 2018 11:40AM) (new)

Lori (lorifw) | 40 comments Mod
Elizabeth wrote: "Here's something that no one ever mentions...Swann, in the beginning of their affair, has a "little shop girl" he is having a fling with...he has long, hot rides w/ her in his carriage right before..."

I had forgotten this from the first time reading, and was surprised by it!

I really do not know why Swann becomes so smitten with Odette. It's something that has always puzzled me.


message 8: by MN (new)

MN (mnfife) | 19 comments Lori wrote: "I really do not know why Swann becomes so smitten with Odette. It's something that has always puzzled me."

I wondered whether there's perhaps a partial explanation for this in the narrator's account of the development of his attraction to Albertine - much of which is an attraction to an everchanging, idealised construct.


message 9: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth | 239 comments To quote another author (Theodore Sturgeon): "Why can't we love where we choose, instead of where the lightning strikes?"

Also remember: Odette and Albertine are both young and very attractive--even if O. is a "woman who was not my type!"


message 10: by MN (new)

MN (mnfife) | 19 comments I agree to some extent with this, but one of the characteristics of Proust that I revel in is his ability to analyse both the sensations and the causes of an emotion. In connection with Swann and Odette, for example, he writes: 'In his younger days a man dreams of possessing the heart of a woman he loves; later the feeling that he possesses a woman's heart may be enough to make him fall in love with her' (Kilmartin/Moncrieff, p. 214). Initially, Odette works hard to attract Swann, but then Swann later seems to work equally as hard to be attracted to her, only really 'settling into it' once he has conviced himself of Odette's resemblance to Botticelli's Zipporah.


message 11: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth | 239 comments One of the best college profs I ever had told us: ALL art, is about Art...this is on every page of ISOLT. Proust debates how Art influences (copies, etc) life...think of when he is describing Giotto's Charity; or his Justice: He says (and I'm misquoting) her narrow, mean features echoed those of several ladies in the congregation of Combray, who had long been enrolled in the forces of Injustice.


message 12: by MN (new)

MN (mnfife) | 19 comments Art in the text is such a rich topic - I think it might merit a thread of its own.

Having read your comment, Elizabeth, I've been mulling over the kinds of connection(s) between Art and experience that Proust uses/develops.

Swann seems to use Zipporah to validate - perhaps more accurately - re-fuel his feelings towards Odette:
'The words "Florentine painting" were invaluable to Swann. They enabled him ... to introduce the image of Odette into a world of dreams and fancies which, until then, she had been debarred from entering... And whereas the mere sight of her in the flesh ... cooled the ardour of his love, those misgivings were swept away and that love confirmed now that he could re-erect his estimate of her on the sure foundations of aesthetic principle' (Kilmartin/Moncrieff, pp. 244-5).

But sometimes, rather than influencing Swann's emotions, art is influenced by his experience, as when recognition of similarity between the physical features of figures in a painting gives him a 'way in' to a painting.

Related to this: I can't yet decide whether Swann is a mere dilettante.


message 13: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth | 239 comments Hard to say...he has certainly never followed through on his considerable intelligence & aesthetic awareness, except to amuse himself. But "mere"? I cannot tell.

Also I dislike where Proust says of him: that he would respond erotically to "healthy, abundant" flesh in a woman, but would "freeze" at the sight on feminine intelligence and introspection. This makes it difficult to maintain even the slightest respect for him. N.b. the Goncourt brothers had exactly the same attitude.

And how about the "little shop girl" he is carrying on with, at the same time he is seeing Odette and having a damn nervous breakdown if he thinks she might be with another man?

Now: how much of this is Proust's keen analysis of an individual, and how much of his own possible misogyny, sexism, and classism seeping through?


message 14: by MN (new)

MN (mnfife) | 19 comments Elizabeth wrote: "I dislike where Proust says of him: that he would respond erotically to "healthy, abundant" flesh in a woman, but would "freeze" at the sight on feminine intelligence and introspection.

Most relationships in 'Swann's Way' seem to be based on possession - the possession of a predator, perhaps, or is that too strong? - and so little communication is authentic. None of the characters I've encountered to date are particularly appealing.

Now: how much of this is Proust's keen analysis of an individual, and how much of his own possible misogyny, sexism, and classism seeping through?
This is such an interesting question. I'm afraid I know so little about Proust, though, that I can't attempt a response.


message 15: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth | 239 comments You've got 2 people "telling" you ISOLT. Marcel Proust and the Narrator. Very hard to tell who's talking, at times. Proust is obviously more enlightened and tolerant than the Narrator...at least one hopes so. Altho both seem to have this idea of "love as possession." In addition there is that whole thing of, "If I let __ know I love her, she will no longer care for me."

A bit on Proust; by Talmudic law a Jew (and he kept up with his mother's Weil relatives all his life), by society a baptized (but nonpracticing) Catholic. A homosexual whose main character is heterosexual. He puts Jews, and homosexuals, in ISOLT, but on the periphery...It can get rather confusing.

Also I have a private theory that Bloch is Proust's alter ego...


message 16: by MN (new)

MN (mnfife) | 19 comments I'm intrigued by the idea of two narrative voices - two focalisers perhaps? This will need much thought! As will your suggestion that Bloch is Proust's alter ego. I begin to see just how superficially I'm reading the text at the moment...

Thank you for the background info on Proust. Heavens! It's a confusion!

Your comments are wonderfully provocative. More please!


message 17: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth | 239 comments You know how you do/say something stupid in a social group? And how you berate yourself for your awkwardness afterward? I think Proust--who entered Paris high society (and he was just a "nice bourgeois boy" (what Charlus calls the Narrator)) as a young man--and no doubt made some mistakes thereto. And he made Bloch the focus of all these, in a kind of catharsis? Maybe. N.b. Bloch is not only tactless and awkward, he is also Jewish (but hetero).


message 18: by MN (new)

MN (mnfife) | 19 comments Ah yes - this is a perceptive and very helpful. Thank you.

I've been tempted to go back and re-read Swann's Way, after reading your comments, but perhaps will postpone any re-reading until after I've read the whole text.


message 19: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth | 239 comments The Thing About Art. It bears repetition. Read, re-read, and re-re-re-re read. How far along are you in the text?


message 20: by MN (new)

MN (mnfife) | 19 comments I completely agree with you about re-reading.

I'm (still) only on the first chapter of The Guermantes Way. (I'm reading it distressingly slowly at the moment ...)


message 21: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth | 239 comments The slower the better. His portrait of the Duchesse de Guermantes is amazing. Very subtle. The Duke is a horse's ass the second he opens his mouth (if not before, actually), but Proust's depiction of the Duchess is...well, you'll see. I like questions; I taught high school for 20 years and so am open to them.


message 22: by MN (new)

MN (mnfife) | 19 comments Thank you! I'm currently clearing decks free up some time at the weekend, when I hope to make more progress!

Your character analyses/assassinations are a joy!


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