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NA305612 - PROUST, M.: Remembrance of Things Past, Vol. 1: Swann's Way: Parts II and III (Abridged)

Marcel Proust

Marcel Proust

Swann in Love


In Part One - Overture and Combray - the narrator (who, if not literally Proust himself is, in all significant respects, a fictionalized version of him) introduces the listener to his beloved mother and his loving but unsympathetic father; to the relations, friends and servants who people his childhood; to the little village of Combray, where Marcel’s family spend their holidays at his great-aunt’s house, and to the beauties of the springtime countryside, which evoke in him feelings of ecstasy to which he longs to give expression.


Part Two - Swann in Love and Place Names: the Name - brings into focus the figure of Charles Swann, whom we have already met in Combray but only as a minor figure, whose significance in the child Marcel’s life centers around his evening visits. These are the cause of Marcel being sent early to bed, thus depriving him of his mother’s goodnight kiss, so precious to him, and so necessary to enable him to sleep peacefully through the night. Swann is already somewhat estranged from Marcel’s family due to his unfortunate marriage to Odette de Crécy, a demi-mondaine, whose dubious past prevents her from being received by ‘respectable’ people such as Marcel’s family.

In Swann in Love, Marcel relates the story of Swann’s love affair with Odette (which, chronologically, took place before his birth). We are introduced to the raffish Bohemian circle of M. and Mme. Verdurin, an unlikely social milieu for Swann, the highly sought after man of fashion whose presence normally graces the most aristocratic and select drawing rooms, but into which he is now drawn by the powerful sexual appetite which rules his life.


To begin with it is Odette who sets out to conquer Swann’s heart. At first he is unresponsive to her style of beauty, until his aesthetic sensibilities are satisfied by the discovery of her likeness to a painting by Botticelli. Once he has succumbed to her charms he finds himself at the mercy of a passion for a woman neither of his social class nor his intellectual equal.


When Odette meets the Baron de Forcheville, and the baron appears to be replacing him in Odette’s affections, Swann falls prey to a consuming jealousy, which, together with his discoveries relating to Odette’s past, ends by poisoning his love for her.


In Place Names: the Name we find ourselves chronologically back in a time, which follows that of Combray. Once again the child Marcel is central to the narrative. Cheated by illness of his anticipated visit to either the wild Breton shores of Balbec or the golden streets of Florence, he is obliged to substitute for these delights daily visits to the gardens of the Champs-Elysées in the company of the family’s servant, Françoise. The tedium of these visits is suddenly and miraculously lifted when he once again meets Gilberte, the daughter of Swann and Odette, whom he first saw through the hawthorn hedge at Combray and with whom he fell instantly in love.


Having rediscovered Gilberte in Paris, Marcel now becomes obsessed with her, and his childish passion parallels Swann’s love for Odette, in that Marcel too is obliged to suffer the indifference towards him of the one he loves. Like Swann, (and perhaps like all lovers), Marcel is in love not with a real person, but with the creation of his fantasy.


Proust constantly reminds us that, as Shakespeare put it, “nothing is, but thinking makes it so”, and this is a theme which runs right through Remembrance of Things Past. It suggests the author’s awareness of the dawning era of psychology, for Proust, like Freud, understood that each person’s perception is dictated by his or her personal experience. Thus the Swann Marcel knows in Combray is quite different from the Swann he sees as Gilberte’s father; and his grandparent’s Swann is not the same as the Swann familiar to the occupants of fashionable Paris drawing rooms.


The book ends with the adult Marcel, many years later, wandering through the Bois de Boulogne seeking the shade of Odette. In attempting to experience again what he found so beautiful in the past, he realizes the impossibility of his quest, and comes to accept that the past is not to be found in places or things, but only inside our self.


When Swann first hears the Andante from Vinteuil’s Sonata, he is stirred to the depths of his soul, because through it, he senses the possibility of reclaiming his ‘lost’ life, of renouncing his superficial existence and finding once again the faith and idealism of his youth. This sense of renewal, of being offered a second chance, is identified in Swann’s mind with his love for Odette, and for this reason the musical theme becomes for him the ‘national anthem’ of their love.


Just as Marcel, the narrator, is a fictional version of Proust himself, so too Swann embodies many of the author’s characteristics, and Proust, like Swann, was conscious of the time he had lost and of the brevity of life in the face of his failing health.


The precise translation of the French title, A la Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time) - contains within it a clue as to what this great biographical work meant for Proust. Having wasted time living a dilettante existence in the fashionable world, Proust, in embarking on this monumentally ambitious work was rededicating his life to art. Here was his chance to justify his life, and to cheat death through an act of artistic creation. Remembrance of Things Past was Proust’s attempt to conquer time through reliving in the mind his lost years. Memory was the material he used to weave the magic cord he launched into infinity; that cord which now binds us to him, and stretches forward into the future, linking his genius to unborn generations across the echoing void of time.



Marcel Proust


Marcel Proust was born on July 10, 1871. His father, a distinguished professor of medicine, was from a Catholic family, while his mother was Jewish.

Although intent on becoming a writer from an early age, Proust was riddled with self-doubt. During his twenties he co-founded a short-lived review, Le Banquet, contributed to La Revue Blanche and had his first book published, a collection of articles and essays entitled Les Plaisirs et les Jours.

He became an enthusiastic admirer of the work of Ruskin and translated his Bible of Amiens and Sesame and Lilies into French. A novel, Jean Santeuil, which was the precursor of Remembrance of Things Past, was eventually abandoned and only published long after his death, in 1954.

For much of his youth he led the life of a man of fashion, frequenting fashionable Paris drawing rooms and literary salons, and these formed the background for a number of his stories and sketches, and subsequently of Remembrance of Things Past.

The death of his adored mother in 1905 resulted in a nervous collapse and aggravated his chronic asthma and insomnia. But despite his grief and the sense of loss from which he never recovered, his mother’s death freed him with regard to his homosexual emotional life and allowed him to address homosexuality in his writing, albeit in a manner which treated such experiences as happenings to others rather than to himself.


In 1907 he moved into an apartment in the Boulevard Haussmann where, in the bedroom which he had lined with cork to keep out noise, he embarked upon his great work A la Recherche du Temps Perdu (Remembrance of Things Past).


This long cycle of autobiographical novels was published in eight sections: Du Côté de Chez Swann  (Swann’s Way) in 1913; A L’Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleur (Within A Budding Grove) in 1918; Le Côté de Guermantes I (The Guermantes Way I) in 1920; Le Côté de Guermantes II and Sodome et Gomorrhe (Cities of the Plain I) in 1921; Sodome et Gomorrhe II in 1922; La Prisonnière (The Captive) in 1923; Albertine Disparue (The Sweet Cheat Gone) in 1925; Le Temps Retrouvé (Time Regained) in 1927.


Proust was obliged to publish Swann’s Way at his own expense, and even after it had appeared, he had trouble finding a publisher for the next volume, A L’ Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleur. However, when it appeared in 1918 it received considerable acclaim, and was awarded the Prix Goncourt the following year.


By the time Proust died on November 18, 1922, the first four parts of the cycle had been published, leaving the others to appear posthumously. The English translations by C.K. Scott Moncrieff, from which this abridged audiobook version has been prepared, were published between 1922 and 1930.


In Remembrance of Things Past, the minuteness of Proust’s observation, the depth of his psychological understanding and the vividness of his descriptive powers have combined to create one of the most poetic and magical works in all literature.


Notes by Neville Jason

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