In telling the story of ‘Swann’s Way’, the narrator introduces many memorable characters, including Charles Swann, who forms an uneasy alliance with the prostitute Odette; Gilberte Swann, their daughter, with whom young Marcel falls in love; the aristocratic Guermantes family, which includes the immoral Baron de Charlus and his nephew Robert de Saint-Loup; and Albertine, to whom Marcel develops a passionate attachment.
The book’s narrator is a portrayal of Marcel Proust, although being distinctly different from the author in several respects. He struggles with nervous disorders and yearns for his mother’s nightly comforting kiss.
Marcel is a sensitive youngster who enjoys reading and has an early interest in aesthetics. He prefers aesthetic beauty to wants (such as gadgets) or amusement (e.g., puppet shows). Despite being unable to attend plays, he grows fascinated by La Berma, a mythical Parisian actress. Marcel tends to become fascinated with an imitation of something or someone before falling in love with them.
As a result, Gilberte, the daughter of Swann and Odette, and Balbec, a town, are names he obsesses with before he even knows anything about them. Additionally, he is deeply aware of ambivalence and how opposing emotions can coexist. For instance, the anticipation of his mother’s goodnight kiss makes him sad because it signals the kiss’s impending termination.
He is a close friend of Marcel’s family in Combray and a well-known figure in Parisian society, having socialized with prominent members of the French aristocracy and the Prince of Wales, among others. A successful stockbroker, he develops into a knowledgeable art critic and dealer.
Swann is also a womanizer who flatters women by equating them to works of art rather than accepting them as they truly are. Even though Odette is not his “type,” he is driven by this inclination to fall passionately in love with her. Swann’s idealization of Odette prevents him from recognizing her for who she truly is, and as a result, his love for her develops into a tragic sort of self-love.
Odette is flirty, loves living it up in Paris, and also maintains a sumptuously furnished home on a less-than-trendy street. She enjoys going to the theater and comedic operas and likes to be seen out and about with the stylish crowd. She lacks decent judgment in aesthetic issues and is not very intellectual, at least in Swann’s opinion. Odette eventually confesses to this and other allegations made in an anonymous letter to Swann that implies she has had numerous partners, including women.
M. de Charlus
Charlus is a personal friend and supporter of Swann. He helps Odette see Swann in a better light and eventually takes on the role of her “watchdog,” making sure she doesn’t cheat on him. The narrator gives the impression that Charlus aids Swann not only out of friendship but also out of unrequited love for him.
More than his father, Marcel’s mother spoils him. Marcel, now an adult, often reflects fondly on his mother’s young attractiveness. Marcel recalls how she makes him tea and a madeleine on a windy day when he returns home exhausted and cold many years later. They are still in touch, and she continues to look after him. Little is known about Marcel’s mother’s personal life outside of her relationship with her son except for these specifics.
Father of Marcel. To prevent Marcel from expressing his nightly yearning to kiss his “mamma,” he intimidates him. But one night, realizing how depressed Marcel is, he invites her to spend the night with him.
Duchesse de Guermantes
The fabled Geneviève de Brabant, a reputedly fictional medieval noblewoman renowned for her virtue, is supposed to be linked to the Guermantes dynasty. The Duchesse de Guermantes captivates Marcel. He imagines traces of her in the images created by his magic lantern as well as in the tapestries and stained-glass windows of the church in Combray before he even meets her. She is less impressive when he finally has a chance to meet her; she has a pimple right next to her big nose. Nevertheless, she captures Marcel’s heart.
Comte de Forcheville
Swann is mocked and insulted by Odette’s other boyfriend one night at the Verdurins. Swann learns that Forcheville visited Odette one day while she claimed to be asleep; he subsequently learns that Odette was with Forcheville the night when Swann and Odette shared their first bed.
The pompous and infuriatingly hypocritical aristocratic couple first introduces Odette to Swann and later Forcheville. They gather a group of “loyal” followers who turn into slaves and compel them to participate in various events. Swann is superior to the Verdurins in every way, including class, intelligence, culture, and social standing.
Daughter of Odette and Swann. Since she’s been a secret in his family, Marcel falls in love with her the moment he meets her. He doesn’t talk to her much and thinks her blue eyes are dark.
Bloch is a friend of Marcel’s from Combray. He introduces Marcel to Bergotte, one of his favorite authors. He is Jewish, and Marcel’s grandfather makes some anti-Semitic remarks as a result of his presence.
Uncle of Marcel, who has remained an expert on courtesans throughout his life. Swann and Adolphe almost fight over Odette. Adolphe never goes back to Combray because Marcel unintentionally comes to see him one day while he is with a harlot.
A great aunt of Marcel. She attempts to get as much sympathy for her different “ailments” as she believes she will die at any minute. Marcel, though, has pleasant memories of her and her propensity to dunk madeleines in tea. Marcel dips madeleines later on by hand, which helps him recollect his forgotten memories of Combray.
Vinteuil is the author of the sonata that Swann and Odette both like and that later became the romantic theme song for Swann. Even when Swann makes an effort to block out thoughts of Odette, this sonata can bring those sensations back. Swann’s pains are represented by Vinteuil’s sadness and desperation in this sonata about his daughter Mademoiselle Vinteuil’s lesbian relationship.
What is the character of Charles Swann in ‘Swann’s Way’?
Swann swings back and forth between being a callous womanizer and a hopeless romantic. Swann only wanted to “spend his time with ladies that he had already deemed appealing,” the narrator says. He has an infamous reputation, particularly for enticing the chefs and staff of the homes he visits. Proust even suggests that the expecting chef Swann referred to as “Giotto’s Charity” in Marcel’s Combray residence is his mistress.
Was the relationship between Odette and Charles Swann in ‘Swann’s Way’, toxic?
Yes. The relationship is toxic primarily because of Odette’s infidelity. Swann continues to deny allegations that Odette has had affairs in the past and present, including her current flirtation with Forcheville and the evident truth that she no longer loves Swann, making his love for Odette even more blinding. But because of her extraordinary ability to make him happy, he makes every effort to win her favor. Inversely, this drives Swann to avoid meeting Odette; instead, he sends her presents and money in the hopes that his kindness will make her think well of him.
Who is Marquise de Cambremer in ‘Swann’s Way’?
The Marquise de Cambremer is a simple woman who married into nobility; her name means “lake” or “pond.” She is a friend of Marcel’s family and Legrandin’s sister. She is the anonymous woman Legrandin declines to present to Marcel’s family because he feels she is too good for them when readers first meet her. Mme. de Cambremer, however, is viewed by the Duchesse de Guermantes as an uncultured “country relative.”
Why did Marcel dislike Charles Swann for visiting in ‘Swann’s Way’?
Marcel disliked Swann stopping for dinner with his family because it meant he would be deprived of his much-cherished goodnight kiss from his mom. Marcel was suffering from chronic insomnia and nervousness. He was also afraid of the dark and tormented by the thought of being alone. Consequently, he was only comforted by his mother’s kiss.