Points of View in Swann’s Way


The narrative point of view of Search is complex and I always am aware when it shifts. For the most part the POV is that of Marcel, the protagonist. The Narrator, the older Marcel who is writing this account, occassionally speaks in his own voice, most famously in the opening passages leading to the madeline scene. But for the most part the Narrator lets the young Marcel speak in the voice appropriate to his age and understanding.

I just finished re-reading Swann’s Way and was struck by the closing passage, which mirrors the volume’s opening. The narrative POV slides from Marcel to the Narrator. Marcel had been describing walks in the Bois where he sought out Odette Swann. With no other transition, we read:

The complexity of the Bois de Boulogne which makes it an artificial place and, in the zoological or mythological sense of the word, a Garden, came to me again this year as I crossed it on my way to Trianon… (I,598).

We know from Time Regained that the Narrator begins writing his autobiography–for that is the form of this novel–after the final dinner party scene where he has his aesthetic epiphanies. So the Narrator’s walk in the Bois must be after the dinner party scene, on the reasonable assumption that it has taken at least a year to write Swann’s Way.  This is, chronologically, the last scene in the entire novel! A narrative written on a moebius strip.

The form of this closing passage is closely related to that of the opening passage, although much shorter. While experiencing the beauty of the park, he has a sort of “madeline” moment:

One sensed that the Bois was not only a wood, that it existed for a purpose alien to the life of its trees; the exhilaration that I felt was due not only to admiration of the autumn tints but to an obscure desire–wellsping of a joy which the heart feels at first without being conscious of its cause, without understanding that it results from no external impulse. (I,601)

He then begins to understand that the source of this exhilaration is the memory of the beauty of the women and their carriages as he saw them as a young man. He contrasts these memories to his present view:

Alas! there was nothing now but motor-cars driven each by a moustached mechanic, with a tall footman towering by his side. (I,603)

I believe that Proust is in a sense justifying the story he is about to tell in the middle volumes of the novel. He wants us to anticipate the beauty and wonder of these years and encourage us to read on.

 

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