In Search of Lost Time: Volume 1, Swann's Way (Modern Library Classics) (v. 1)
by Marcel Proust, translated by Scott Moncrieff
Part Three: Place-Names: The Name
How much more individual still was the character that they assumed from being designated by names, names that were only for themselves, proper names such as people have. Words present to us little pictures of things, lucid and normal, like the pictures that are hung on the walls of schoolrooms to give children an illustration of what is meant by a carpenter's bench, a bird, an ant-hill; things chosen as typical of everything else of the same sort. But names present to us—of persons and of towns which they accustom us to regard as individual, as unique, like persons—a confused picture, which draws from the names, from the brightness or darkness of their sound...The name of Parma, one of the towns that I most longed to visit, after reading the Chartreuse, seeming to me compact and glossy, violet-tinted, soft, if anyone were to speak of such or such a house in Parma, in which I should be lodged, he would give me the pleasure of thinking that I was to inhabit a dwelling that was compact and glossy, violet-tinted, soft, and that bore no relation to the houses in any other town in ItalyNames are imbued with his impressed imagination from a few clues about that name. So yet again the name of the book looms significant. "Swann's Way" was about a place, a particular memory on a particular walk and the girl first encountered there, about Swann and his love, and a love significantly similar for that little girl. Yet these examples he has, Parma, Balbec, and so on, had such significance based on nothing but imagination and a hint or two of the reality. To put it in an extreme way, those loves could be said to be like that also.
All the time that I was away from Gilberte, I wanted to see her, because, having incessantly sought to form a mental picture of her, I was unable, in the end, to do so, and did not know exactly to what my love corresponded. Besides, she had never yet told me that she loved me. Far from it, she had often boasted that she knew other little boys whom she preferred to myself, that I was a good companion, with whom she was always willing to play, although I was too absent-minded, not attentive enough to the game. Moreover, she had often shewn signs of apparent coldness towards me, which might have shaken my faith that I was for her a creature different from the rest, had that faith been founded upon a love that Gilberte had felt for me, and not, as was the case, upon the love that I felt for her, which strengthened its resistance to the assaults of doubt by making it depend entirely upon the manner in which I was obliged, by an internal compulsion, to think of Gilberte.A love like Swann's...is that Swann's way?
But at the period when I was in love with Gilberte, I still believed that Love did really exist, apart from ourselves; that, allowing us, at the most, to surmount the obstacles in our way, it offered us its blessings in an order in which we were not free to make the least alteration; it seemed to me that if I had, on my own initiative, substituted for the sweetness of a confession a pretence of indifference, I should not only have been depriving myself of one of the joys of which I had most often dreamed, I should have been fabricating, of my own free will, a love that was artificial and without value, that bore no relation to the truth, whose mysterious and foreordained ways I should thus have been declining to follow.
Suddenly I would stop, in alarm. I had realised that, if I was to receive a letter from Gilberte, it could not, in any case, be this letter, since it was I myself who had just composed it. And from that moment I would strive to keep my thoughts clear of the words which I should have liked her to write to me, from fear lest, by first selecting them myself, I should be excluding just those identical words,—the dearest, the most desired—from the field of possible events.There is an effort to resist the relentless track, but it is fairly futile.
They would ask one another, "Who is she?", or sometimes would interrogate a passing stranger, or would make a mental note of how she was dressed so as to fix her identity, later, in the mind of a friend better informed than themselves, who would at once enlighten them. Another pair, half-stopping in their walk, would exchange: "You know who that is? Mme. Swann! That conveys nothing to you? Odette de Crecy, then?" "Odette de Crecy! Why, I thought as much. Those great, sad eyes... But I say, you know, she can't be as young as she was once, eh? I remember, I had her on the day that MacMahon went."I suspected Mme. Swann might be Odette, but the time frames have been murky, and I thought also it might be possible Swann had recovered his love addiction and moved on to someone else. I find myself wondering, was this supposed to be a great love story, or a tragic one? When Odette was losing her figure suddenly, was she pregnant? If so, whose baby was Gilberte? Did Swann then marry her out of chivalry? Did his love finally win her over after he'd finally felt over her, and her baby was legitimately conceived? I suspect now there are all kinds of code words and phrases going on that are no longer used so I didn't catch them.
I further wonder, was it in the very giving up of his love that Swann was hooked? Was it then that Odette said the little thing that folded him in again, as to an addiction to a pain without which he'd no longer have a clear identity?
Related to the Celtic belief he sited, the narrator felt the past could not be recaptured with volition. Only if we chanced upon some link it might open back up to us. So this whole book, a chance re-awakening? And in that unfolding blooms larger and more vividly perhaps, full of romantic wishes.
On the Bois de Boulogne, seeing the people strolling there, the elegance of Mme. Swann and those days, lost:
They were just women, in whose elegance I had no belief, and whose clothes seemed to me unimportant. But when a belief vanishes, there survives it—more and more ardently, so as to cloak the absence of the power, now lost to us, of imparting reality to new phenomena—an idolatrous attachment to the old things which our belief in them did once animate, as if it was in that belief and not in ourselves that the divine spark resided, and as if our present incredulity had a contingent cause—the death of the gods.Is he saying that we create the divine spark through our creative memory?
...helped me to understand how paradoxical it is to seek in reality for the pictures that are stored in one's memory, which must inevitably lose the charm that comes to them from memory itself and from their not being apprehended by the senses. The reality that I had known no longer existed. It sufficed that Mme. Swann did not appear, in the same attire and at the same moment, for the whole avenue to be altered. The places that we have known belong now only to the little world of space on which we map them for our own convenience. None of them was ever more than a thin slice, held between the contiguous impressions that composed our life at that time; remembrance of a particular form is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years.
Weeks 5 and 6