Swann in Love: Epilogue


Odette’s life has appeared to me a trajectory from forced childhood prostitution to more and more upscale liasons, culminating in her marriage to Swann, who does his best to get her accepted in society and to populate her salon with the best people. That is all true enough, though there are indications that she remains a courtesan at heart. Foremost of these is the “lady in pink” episode, preceded by the false lead at Combray, where she is seen at Tansonville with a mysterious man (Charlus). And there is the suggestion by Norpois that her home is a popular destination for men. Bloch claims to have had her three times on a train ride. But the bulk of the narrative shows Odette demurely hosting her salon and walking in the Bois.

In Time Regained, the narrator resolves all ambiguity. She’s a tramp all the way down. Odette is now the mistress of the Duc de Guermantes. The narrator misses no opportunity to call her the lady in pink.

…Gilberte might have had the morals of Odette herself but people would have gone there…(VI,52)

…Mme Swann in a pink dress in my great-uncles study.. (VI,413)

…just as, beginning with the lady in pink, there had existed several Mme Swanns, separated by the colorless ether of the years…(VI,442)

…and the other with the lady in pink because a well-informed man within me assured me that this was so…(VI,443)

…she was tending under pressure of new circumstances to become once more, the lady in pink (VI,481)

…this Second Empire courtesan swathed in one of the wraps which he liked, the lady in pink would interrupt him with a sprightly sally… So for a moment the Duke glared at the audacious lady in pink. (VI,486)

The morals of Swann while married to Odette, by the way, were apparently no better.

…Swann, when he was no longer in love with Mme Swann but with a waitress at the same Colombin’s where at one time Mme Swann had though it smart to go and drink tea…(VI,403)

The narrator finally has had enough of her:

It must be added that Odette was unfaithful to M. de Guermantes in the same fashion that she looked after him, that to say without charm and without dignity. She was commonplace in this role as she had been in all her others. Not that life had not frequently given her good parts; it had, but she not known how to play them. (VI,488) 

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