Remember my reader who commented that one must reread Proust? I wonder if that was a subtle curse. Judge for yourself as you read the next update.
Within a Budding Grove, pp. 406-416
So, as I was plodding away this week, hiking through Proust’s dense prose, I started to notice something weird, something akin to déjà vu. The narrator seemed to be repeating himself. The occasional passage was like an echo of something I’d read earlier, and Marcel was suddenly younger and once again out of favor with the Swann’s. It didn’t make sense, but I figured Marcel had his reasons for the repetitions and would eventually explain what was going on.
Then it hit me, like a kick in the shin: I’d started reading at page 306, when I should have begun at 406! Very irksome, for two reasons. First, of course, is that I wasted a half hour re-reading 5 pages from Swann’s Way. And second: that I didn’t notice sooner. Most of those 5 pages seemed brand new. Had I not been paying attention when I read them the first time? Oy!!!
So, back to Marcel in his proper place, hanging out with the Swanns and pining away for Gilberte. He even makes the explicit comparison to Swann’s initial frustrated love for Odette but goes no further with the analogy.
I heard on the radio a few days ago that worry is future-focused. This is definitely Marcel. He (so far) has no regrets (which are, clearly, past-focused; the related present-focused emotion has to be fear, which Marcel exhibits only as reluctance to approach adults). For the most part, Marcel is a worrier — will Gilberte ever realize that she loves him? will she ever express this love? will she be at home? will she speak with him? etc., etc., mutatis mutandis.
Yet it’s a strange relationship. Marcel seems to be more appreciative of Gilberte’s parents than he is of her. He writes of going out in the carriage with M. and Mme. Swann, and I picture the three of them (who knows where Gilberte is? who cares?) driving through the Bois, bowing to various personages. Marcel looks admiringly at Mme. Swann and imagines the admiration and jealousy that others feel when they see him with her.
Then, out of the blue, Mme. Swann introduces him and Gilberte to someone they meet — Gilberte’s been there all along! And just as quickly she moves into the background. On these excursions, she says nothing, and Marcel thinks only of her parents. Very odd.
Are his affections changing? Not really. I suspect this is more of what he has touched on earlier, the idea that anticipation is much more exciting that reality. Thinking about Gilberte is more satisfying than being with her, even if she’s actually there.
These few pages end with a tiff between Gilberte and her father, about going to the theater on the anniversary of her grandfather’s death. M. Swann doesn’t want her to go, but she refuses to submit. “I think it’s perfectly absurd,” she explains to Marcel, “to worry about other people in matters of sentiment. We feel things for ourselves, not for the public.”
The tiff transfers to Gilberte and Marcel when he, emulating Swann, tries to stop her.
“But Gilberte,” I protested, taking her by the arm, “it is not to satisfy public opinion, it is to please your father.”
“You are not going to pass remarks upon my conduct, I hope,” she said sharply, plucking her arm away.
Marcel, in supporting the father’s wishes, risks losing the daughter.
A note about dates: a chance meeting between the Swanns and Princess Mathilde in the Jardin d’Acclimatation leads to a reference to Tsar Nicholas II’s visit to les Invalides (the site of Napoleon’s tomb), a visit which, after just a few moments on the internet, can be dated to October 1896. FYI: Dreyfus was first convicted in 1894, evidence implicating someone else was discovered (and suppressed) in 1896, Zola wrote J’Accuse! in 1898, and Dreyfus was finally exonerated in 1906. I don’t know what the Swanns talk about when they’re on their own, but in front of Marcel they seem totally unaware of the anti-Semitic storm that’s raging around them.