Swann at Home


Swann is, of course, a character to judged on the terms presented in the novel. But I cannot help but think he’s another of Proust’s alter egos. He’s clever, knows  a huge amount about art, has exquisite taste and is a great conversationalist comfortable in high society. He’s also a cautionary figure, someone who seems destined to be an artist but squanders those abilities out of a kind of laziness.  So how’s married life for Swann and Odette? Marcel gets a look when visiting with their daughter Gilberte. Swann continues to collect art.

 He would show me his latest acquisitions and explain to me the interesting points about them, but my emotion, added to the unfamiliarity of being still unfed at this hour, stirred my mind while leaving it void, so that while I was capable of speech I was incapable of hearing. (II,137)

And he has found another aesthetic, but indolent, enjoyment, pairing the people in his and Odette’s circle for comic effect.

But Swann was not content with seeking in society and fastening on the names which the past has inscribed on its roll and which are still to be read there, a single artistic and literary pleasure, he indulged in the slightly vulgar diversion of arranging as it were social nosegays by grouping heterogenous elements, by bringing together people taken at random here, there and everywhere. These amusing (to Swann) sociological experiments did not always provoke an identical reaction from all his wife’s friends….She [Mme Bontemps] inwardly cursed the depraved taste which caused Swann, in order to gratify a wretched aesthetic whim, to destroy at one swoop the dazzling impression she had made on the Cottards when she told them about the Duchesse de Vendôme. (II,128)

Otherwise, he has simply resumed his pre-Odette life.

As for Swann himself, he still often called on some of his former acquaintances, who, of course, belonged to the very highest society. And yet when he spoke to us of the people whom he had just been to see I noticed that among those whom he had known in the old days, the choice that he made was dictated by the same kind of taste, partly artistic, partly historic, that inspired him as a collector. And remarking that is was often some Bohemian noblewoman who interested him because she had been the mistress of Liszt or because on of Balzac’s novels dedicated to her grandmother…(II,127)

 And he continues (like Odette) to sleep with whom he pleases.

For a long time now it had been a matter of indifference to him whether Odette had been, or was being, unfaithful to him….Swann was in love with another woman, a woman who gave him no grounds for jealousy but none the less made him jealous, because he was no longer capable of altering his mode of loving, and it was the mode he had employed with Odette that must serve him now for another. (II,132-133)

 And this was how a person of the highest potential lived out his life.

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