About the Book

Book Protagonist: Marcel, Charles Swann
Publication Date: 1913
Genre: Classic, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction


Swann's Way

By Marcel Proust

'Swann's Way' is comprised of thought-provoking dialogues and quotes pertaining to sensory memory, love, and happiness, among others. Proust also explores the hidden consciousness of the human mind.

Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way comprises intriguing dialogues and interior monologues that hook the audience. Marcel Proust employed modernist literary techniques in Swann’s Way. This literary trend was motivated by a deliberate intention to challenge established forms of representation and communicate the fresh sensibilities of the age. The First World War’s atrocities caused the previous social presumptions to be reevaluated, and a lot of 20th-century modernist literature addresses the social and technological developments of modernity.

Awareness and Knowledge

 When a man is asleep, he has in a circle round him the chain of the hours.

For the person who is sleeping, the world is in order, and the “chain of hours” is a part of that order, according to Marcel. The sleeping person then awakens, re-enters that sequence, and resumes living. The awakening, however, can also cause uncertainty because the person may see other bedrooms from the past and be confused about which one they are in. According to Marcel, he experiences thiswithout knowing where I wassituation almost daily.

Here, in the opening chapters of ‘Swann’s Way,’ Marcel Proust exhibits his capacity to switch effortlessly between fictitious occurrences and overarching observations about how the world functions. Proust frequently shifts into this essayistic mode in ‘Swann’s Way’ and the other volumes of ‘In Search of Lost Time.’ He delves so deeply into the inner lives of fictional characters that they reveal universal truths.

Accuracy of detail … is easier, often, to obtain when we are studying the lives of people who have been dead for centuries

Marcel introduces Swann’s love affair with Odette after Part 2, a story he will recount in Part 3 when he stops being a character in the book and becomes a narrator.

According to Marcel, he was given the tale of Swann’s “great affair” with Odette, which started before he was even born. Despite his claims, Marcel is somehow unable to get to an “accuracy of detail” about Swann. Marcel uses words and scenes that he has never heard or seen to narrate Swann’s story. However, Marcel claims that, in this instance, accuracy is simpler. He is asserting the veracity of fiction. Marcel claims that “every emotion is increased tenfold” in novels. This elevated existence—the life experienced in or through art—is the truer, more authentic life in his eyes. He can also be right about events that occurred before he was born, such as the affair between Swann and Odette.

Sadness and Unhappiness in Swann’s Way

The moment … I heard her climb the stairs … was for me a moment of the keenest sorrow.

Marcel is thinking back to his difficulty falling asleep and the comfort of his mother’s goodnight kiss. He is not describing a specific episode but rather what used to occur repeatedly. The goodnight kiss is the only happy moment he has in the entire trying night. Marcel worries ahead of time about the moment the goodnight kiss will be gone, and he will be alone once more, even though he knows it will be fleeting and the unpleasant night long. He hears the sound of his mother’s footsteps as the coming of his “keenest grief” rather than the harbinger of his happiness.

Proust excels at capturing ambivalence. German scientist Paul Eugen Bleuler first used the term “ambivalence” in 1910 to describe having two opposing but equally strong feelings about something. The term is now occasionally used informally as a synonym for apathy. The initial ambivalence phenomenon, as described by Blueler, is what Proust describes: two opposing but equally powerful emotions. Proust specifically mentions only one emotion—sorrow—in this chapter about hearing his mother’s footsteps. The goodnight kiss, however, is usually a scene of both delight and unhappiness in the setting of Part 1.

I ought then to have been happy; I was not.

Marcel’s mother does not approach him to give him a good night kiss on the occasions when his family has dinner guests. The kiss provides Marcel with the only respite from his insomnia. One evening, Marcel tries to get around the rule that the family never kisses when guests are around. He uses Françoise, the maid, to deliver a letter to his mother. He worries that his daring will get him in trouble and that his parents will see his urge for a goodnight kiss to be juvenile. Marcel’s mother is told to proceed and spend the night in Marcel’s room on an extra bed after his father unexpectedly grants the desire and gives him even more.

Marcel feels his mother can no longer hold him in the same regard as she once did when his desire is granted, which makes him miserable at the time. While she has given him this concession, she has also “taken a first step down from the ideal she had built [of] me” in doing so. Therefore, Marcel believes he should decline the present. If he sends her away once more, he believes he might be able to maintain his mother’s ideal perception of him. But acknowledging the rarity of this evening, he accepts her presence with regret.

Judgment and Anxiety

nothing could be more unpleasant for a stranger coming in, who would be led to think that people were saying things about him which he was not meant to hear

Swann’s life decisions are not entirely in line with those of Marcel’s family. The family must therefore be aware of their whispers and ideas. They are terrified that they might be talking about Swann when he enters because of how erratic and unknown his visits to their home are. Although it appears that they are referring to Swann as a “stranger” in this sentence, Marcel was merely talking about the aggregate.

There is very seldom a time when I don’t feel faint.

The maid, Françoise, just asked Aunt Leonie if she needed her pepsin, a medication containing the stomach enzyme pepsin, and whether she was feeling dizzy. Although it is not time for Aunt Leonie to take her pepsin, she qualifies her response by stating that there is never a moment when she does not feel dizzy.

Both an invalid and a hypochondriac, Aunt Leonie exaggerates and dramatizes her condition even though it is real. She treats herself with a variety of remedies (medicines not prepared by a qualified physician). She makes certain assertions that are not entirely accurate, and this one concerning her ongoing dizziness may be one of them. The rest of the family indulges her in this irrational assertion, referring to her while she sleeps as “resting.” She also asserts that her sickness has completely robbed her of the ability to sleep. Even Aunt Leonie seems to think that she is both ill and not so bad after all. When many sadly concur that Aunt LĂ©onie sounds quite ill and may perhaps be close to death, she vehemently insists that she will soon recover.

Aunt Leonie makes an effort to emphasize how very ill she is when people minimize her condition. When she passes away, the argument may be resolved. Only her maid, Françoise, will be left to mourn her loss.

There are some similarities between Marcel Proust and Aunt Leonie. He had asthma since he was a little child, and it persisted throughout his life. He could also be dramatic and self-pitying about his sickness, which led some people to believe he was just a hypochondriac.

The Underlying Character of People

You have a soul in you of rare quality, an artist’s nature

This is what Legrandin tells a young Marcel. Legrandin is primarily remembered as the hypocrite snob who screams against snobbism in ‘Swann’s Way.’ Legrandin has various aspects, as these words demonstrate. He instills in Marcel a love for Balbec, a beach village, and Gothic architecture, both of which grow to be very significant to Marcel.

Regarding Marcel, Legrandin is correct. He does have an artistic soul, and a portion of ‘Swann’s Way’ centers on Marcel’s nascent writing career.

Any character may have spoken these words, but Marcel Proust chose to give them to Legrandin. This exemplifies Proust’s characters’ complexity because they are constantly evolving. Someone you once respected will turn out to be a snob, an anti-Semite, or have some other flaws, and then they’ll later show you their true colors. It’s possible that Proust was trying to convey that one should never pass judgment on others.

Sadists’ of Mlle. Vinteuil’s sort are … virtuous by nature

Outside Mlle’s home, Marcel nods off. When Vinteuil wakes up, she places her father’s portrait on the piano in anticipation of her lover, the “boyish” woman. Marcel continues to observe as the lover, Mlle, arrives. Vinteuil mocks Mlle’s reputation. The lover suggests that Mlle spit on the picture. Vinteuil chuckles in agreement. Her disrespect for her late father’s memory is the “sadism” Marcel alludes to in the quotation.

Infatuation and Unrequited Love

Such moments as these, in which she forgot Swann’s very existence, were of more value to Odette, did more to attach him to her, than all her infidelities

Odette forgets to inform Swann that she is back in Paris after she returns from a holiday with the Verdurin family. Swann finally comprehends that she is uninterested in him when he discovers she has returned without informing him. Far from it, this does not release Swann from Odette. This disregard, however, “does more to bond him to her.” Swann falls in love with Odette when he can’t find her, and her coldness recreates that moment; it keeps Swann in “that state of intense agitation which had [made] his interest blossom into love.”

The narrator, Marcel, continues by equating Swann’s anxiousness with the agony he experienced as a child in Combray while anticipating his mother’s goodnight kiss. The fact that Marcel was at least content during the day allowed him to “forget the sufferings that would return with the night,” Day and night, Swann struggles with his love for Odette. The structure of ‘Swann’s Way’ is also highlighted by this connection; it is an examination of love, and Swann’s journey is similar to Marcels’.

Certainly, of the extent of this love Swann had no direct knowledge

The narrator, Marcel, compares Swann’s infatuation with Odette to his intense, almost unconscious love for her. Swann becomes conscious of the decline in his physical desire for Odette as their relationship ends. Additionally, he has an apparent lack of interest in her. Swann doesn’t realize the true scope of his affection, though. Attraction and pleasant sentiments aren’t even close to the real issue; Swann grew in love while Odette was gone and was driven to find her. Swann’s love grows stronger as their relationship deteriorates, and she withdraws since it is becoming increasingly crucial for him to find out the truth about her.

The manner that a person’s truth is frequently only evident to other people piqued the interest of author Marcel Proust. Legrandin, for instance, claims to abhor snobbism in Part 2, but Marcel can see through his pretense regarding Legrandin’s snobbism. Similar to Swann, Odette is unaware of the depth of Swann’s love for her. He only knows some of the more obvious aspects of it. For these reasons, readers occasionally look into Proust’s relationship with Austrian psychologist and unconscious theorist Sigmund Freud, who lived in the 20th century. According to Freud, people may harbor unconscious urges and aspirations that they are unaware of. However, Proust claimed that he had not read Freud in 1921 in response to criticism of Volume 4 of ‘In Search of Lost Time.’ Nevertheless, academics have found this to be a fruitful field of study.


What role does music play in ‘Swann’s Way’?

Proust was devoted to the idea that music may express meaning and emotion more effectively than words can. When Swann first hears Vinteuil’s sonata, it stays with him and eventually comes to express the characteristics that make him who he is. The violin’s crescendos’ peaks and valleys cause him to experience feelings of depression and awe in that order. The music takes on the role of the theme for his romance with Odette, making sure that every time he hears it, he would think of her.

 What impact did ‘Swann’s Way’ have on modern literature?

Many academics and critics agree that ‘In Search of Lost Time’ is the preeminent modern novel, with ‘Swann’s Way’ being, arguably, the best of the seven-volume series. It had a significant impact on later authors, like the British authors that made up the Bloomsbury Group. “If only I could write like that” Virginia Woolf lamented in 1922. Vladimir Nabokov also got inspiration from the book.

 What is the central message of ‘Swann’s Way’?

The narrator’s reflections on his own life inevitably bring him to Charles Swann’s history, a family friend he met when he was younger. The narrator learns more about his life and the nature of love by recalling and imagining Swann’s love affair with the coquette Odette. Marcel Proust explores the concept of involuntary memory and nostalgia for things past.

Charles Asoluka
About Charles Asoluka
Charles is an experienced content creator, writer, and literary critic. He has written professionally for multiple reputable media organizations. He loves reading Western classics and reviewing them.
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