Thursday, November 5, 2009

18: Swann's Way

"And, drying my eyes, I promised them [the hawthorn flowers] that, when I grew up, I would never copy the foolish example of other men, but that even in Paris, on fine spring days, instead of paying calls and listening to silly talk, I would make excursions into the country to see the first hawthorn-trees in bloom."

Proust, Swann's Way, somewhere towards the end of Combray chapter

I had been reading this book for a whole year before I finished it. Most of the time, I was lost in Combray, in the little remembrances that make up the whole books. In contrast, I read Swann in Love, the second half of this book is barely any time.

I remember the episode where the narrator soiled his fancy traveling clothes to say goodbye to a particularly fine hawthorn-tree and I wanted the quote, which you see above. Finding it was like wading through a pond of Combray-coloured memories, all of which are distinct yet so similar, and being lost. When I listen to a CD repeatedly, at the end of a track, I would start to hear, in my head, the beginning of the next track. Sometimes, when one rereads familiar works, at the end of a scene or passage, one gets the feeling of the next passage before it arrives. But this book, when I went through it, trying to find my hawthorns scene, so many passages gave me the feeling that the passage that I was looking for was immediately following - it all seems to be the same kind of moment, lived out in different actualities. It is only by the miracle of Project Gutenberg's searchable text, that the above quote was brought to you.

But all of the remembrances of the narrator's childhood summer home and perfectly every day occurrences there - the walks along Swann's way or Guermantes Way, tearful farewells to hawthorn flowers, and sleepless, miserable nights because maman would not come say goodnight - constitute the whole of this book and the story of Charles Swann in love is just a strange interlude, after which we return to the narrator and his unrequited love for Gilberte Swann, Charles Swann's daughter.

I might note that nowhere do we find the narrator's name. The only other book that I've ever read where we never see the narrator's name is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Well, this book is technically not over yet. I have to go find the next volume.

"For what we suppose to be our love, our jealousy are, neither of them, single, continuous and individual passions. They are composed of an infinity of successive loves, of different jealousies, each of which is ephemeral, although by their uninterrupted multitude they give us the impression of continuity, the illusion of unity."

Marcel Proust, Swann's Way

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