Swann Dive

Marcel’s parents are planning a dinner party for M. de Norpois and are considering the invitation list. Swann is quickly dismissed as a candidate.

Now this attitude on my father’s part may be felt to require a few words of explanation, inasmuch as some of us, no doubt, remember…a Swann of by whom modesty and discretion, in all his social relations, were carried to the utmost refinement of delicacy. (II,1)

Since marrying Odette Swann has become “a different man.” The narrator considers various explanations for this change for the worse. First, he allows Odette to set the standards.

…it would have been understandable if, in order to gauge the social importance of these new acquaintances and thereby the degree of self-esteem that might be derived from entertaining them, he had used, as a standard of comparison, not the brilliant society in which he himself had moved before his marriage, but former connections of Odette’s. But, even when one knew that it was with uncouth functionaries and tainted women, the ornaments of ministerial ball-rooms, that he now wished to associate, it was still astonishing to hear him…proclaim with quite unnecessary emphasis that the wife of some junior minister had returned Mme Swann’s call. (II,2)

Second, there is the “Bloch effect;” the rootless Jew who mirrors society for his own advantage.

…like certain other Jews, my parents’ old friend had contrived to illustrate in turn all the successive stages through which those of his race had passed, from the most naive snobbery and the crudest caddishness to the most exquisite good manners. (II,2)

Finally the narrator settles on a rather simpler explanation, the laziness of associating virtues with particular actions and environments rather than the application of principled standards.

But the chief reason–and one that is applicable to humanity as a whole–was that our virtues themselves are not free and floating qualities over which we retain a permanent control and power of disposal; they come to be so closely linked in our minds with the actions in conjuction with which we have made it our duty to exercise them that if we come to engage in an activity of a different kind, it catches us off guard and without the slightest awareness that it might involve the application of those same virtues. (II,2)

This latter might be another case of destructive habit: acting virtuously out of habit rather than out of conviction.


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