Sunday, November 01, 2009

Slow Read: Swann's Way, Week 3

In Search of Lost Time, Volume 1: Swann's Way by Marcel ProustIn Search of Lost Time: Volume 1, Swann's Way (Modern Library Classics) (v. 1)
by Marcel Proust, translated by Scott Moncrieff

Combray, continued

Aha! So the end of last week I left off wondering why Bloch was was because he

had gone on to assure me that he had heard it said on unimpeachable authority that my great-aunt herself had led a 'gay' life in her younger days, and had been notoriously 'kept.' I could not refrain from passing on so important a piece of information to my parents; the next time Bloch called he was not admitted, and afterwards, when I met him in the street, he greeted me with extreme coldness. I'm left wondering, why can't this kid keep these things to himself?

I was wondering about St. Hilaire/St. Hilarius. Interesting that he shares a name with a naturalist with similar ideas to Darwin.
Very well, that is Saint Hilaire, who is also known, you will remember, in certain parts of the country as Saint Illiers, Saint Helier, and even, in the Jura, Saint Ylie. But these various corruptions of Sanctus Hilarius are by no means the most curious that have occurred in the names of the blessed Saints.
The boy witnesses his aunt waking from a bad dream in which her dead husband is alive and he makes her go for a walk. It's an interesting little glimpse that the narrator keeps to himself. I wonder if she is agoraphobic, and if it came about because of her husband's death.

The boy especially sees women in flowers...
It was in these 'Month of Mary' services that I can remember having first fallen in love with hawthorn-blossom. The hawthorn was not merely in the church, for there, holy ground as it was, we had all of us a right of entry; but, arranged upon the altar itself, inseparable from the mysteries in whose celebration it was playing a part, it thrust in among the tapers and the sacred vessels its rows of branches, tied to one another horizontally in a stiff, festal scheme of decoration...
...its bunch of stamens, slender as gossamer, which clouded the flower itself in a white mist, that in following these with my eyes, in trying to imitate, somewhere inside myself, the action of their blossoming, I imagined it as a swift and thoughtless movement of the head with an enticing glance from her contracted pupils, by a young girl in white, careless and alive.
At first I think M. Legrandin is having an affair, and thus wouldn't acknowledge the family, but it turns out to be a class thing, in spite of M. Legrandin trying to act all proletariat.
M. Legrandin had barely acknowledged the courtesy, and then with an air of surprise, as though he had not recognised us, and with that distant look characteristic of people who do not wish to be agreeable, and who from the suddenly receding depths of their eyes seem to have caught sight of you at the far end of an interminably straight road, and at so great a distance that they content themselves with directing towards you an almost imperceptible movement of the head, in proportion to your doll-like dimensions. Now, the lady who was walking with Legrandin was a model of virtue, known and highly respected; there could be no question of his being out for amorous adventure, and annoyed at being detected; and my father asked himself how he could possibly have displeased our friend.
Their suspicion is confirmed when M. Legrandin does not tell them (again) of his sister's nearness to Balbec, where the boy will stay with his grandmother. The man is a secret snob. He blathers on about knowing many people in many places. Here's a good hint --> if someone blathers on without quite answering a question directly, he's hiding something.

Oh! Swann's way is a walk. They either go the Guermantes way, or Swann's way, also known as Meseglise.
Since my father used always to speak of the 'Meseglise way' as comprising the finest view of a plain that he knew anywhere, and of the 'Guermantes way' as typical of river scenery, I had invested each of them, by conceiving them in this way as two distinct entities, with that cohesion, that unity which belongs only to the figments of the mind; the smallest detail of either of them appeared to me as a precious thing, which exhibited the special excellence of the whole, while, immediately beside them, in the first stages of our walk, before we had reached the sacred soil of one or the other, the purely material roads, at definite points on which they were set down as the ideal view over a plain and the ideal scenery of a river, were no more worth the trouble of looking at them than, to a keen playgoer and lover of dramatic art, are the little streets which may happen to run past the walls of a theatre. But, above all, I set between them, far more distinctly than the mere distance in miles and yards and inches which separated one from the other, the distance that there was between the two parts of my brain in which I used to think of them, one of those distances of the mind which time serves only to lengthen, which separate things irremediably from one another, keeping them for ever upon different planes.
He's very sensitive and sensual, this boy. Of lilacs along the walk:
Despite my desire to throw my arms about their pliant forms and to draw down towards me the starry locks that crowned their fragrant heads, we would pass them by without stopping...
He's always been very interested in Swann's little girl, because of her author friend Bergotte, so when they walk by, the narrator hopes to see her.
I should have liked to see their reckoning proved false, to see, by a miracle, Mlle. Swann appear, with her father, so close to us that we should not have time to escape, and should therefore be obliged to make her acquaintance. And so, when I suddenly noticed a straw basket lying forgotten on the grass by the side of a line whose float was bobbing in the water, I made a great effort to keep my father and grandfather looking in another direction, away from this sign that she might, after all, be in residence.
I know from the hawthorn on my street, they can have a stunning presence, and I don't have the boy's association with the ceremonies he loves. grandfather called me to him, and, pointing to the hedge of Tansonville, said: "You are fond of hawthorns; just look at this pink one; isn't it pretty?" ...that it was Nature herself who had spontaneously expressed it (with the simplicity of a woman from a village shop, labouring at the decoration of a street altar for some procession) by burying the bush in these little rosettes, almost too ravishing in colour, this rustic 'pompadour.'
Such a significant moment. Taking in his beloved hawthorns, coming upon the unique pompadour hawthorn, then seeing the girl at Swann's.
Suddenly I stood still, unable to move, as happens when something appears that requires not only our eyes to take it in, but involves a deeper kind of perception and takes possession of the whole of our being. A little girl, with fair, reddish hair, who appeared to be returning from a walk, and held a trowel in her hand, was looking at us, raising towards us a face powdered with pinkish freckles. Her black eyes gleamed, and as I did not at that time know, and indeed have never since learned how to reduce to its objective elements any strong impression, since I had not, as they say, enough 'power of observation' to isolate the sense of their colour, for a long time afterwards, whenever I thought of her, the memory of those bright eyes would at once present itself to me as a vivid azure, since her complexion was fair; so much so that, perhaps, if her eyes had not been quite so black—which was what struck one most forcibly on first meeting her—I should not have been, as I was, especially enamoured of their imagined blue.
And this girl holds hints of ways of being that this obedient boy has not known before.
...she allowed her eyes to wander, over the space that lay between us, in my direction, without any particular expression, without appearing to have seen me, but with an intensity, a half-hidden smile which I was unable to interpret, according to the instruction I had received in the ways of good breeding, save as a mark of infinite disgust; and her hand, at the same time, sketched in the air an indelicate gesture, for which, when it was addressed in public to a person whom one did not know, the little dictionary of manners which I carried in my mind supplied only one meaning, namely, a deliberate insult. "Gilberte, come along; what are you doing?" called out in a piercing tone of authority a lady in white, whom I had not seen until that moment, while, a little way beyond her, a gentleman in a suit of linen 'ducks,' whom I did not know either, stared at me with eyes which seemed to be starting from his head; the little girl's smile abruptly faded, and, seizing her trowel, she made off without turning to look again hi my direction, with an air of obedience, inscrutable and sly.
Again, I happened to pick a stopping point that leaves me eager for the next installment. This is purely accidental, as there are many long-winded spots that would not have yielded such an introduction to an intriguing character, so obviously significant to the narrator.

Previous posts:
Week 1
Week 2

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