“What! all this agitation simply because he would not see Odette till tomorrow, exactly what he had been hoping, not an hour before, as he drove towards Mme Verdurin’s. He was obliged to acknowledge that now, as he sat in that same carriage and drove to Prevost’s, he was no longer the same man, was no longer alone even – that a new person was there beside him, adhering to him, amalgamated with him, a person whom he might, perhaps, be unable to shake off, whom he might have to treat with circumspection, like a master or an illness. And yet, from the moment he had begun to feel that another, a fresh personality was thus conjoined with his own, life had seemed somehow more interesting.”
I was looking at my page counts and realized that my average for Proust pages per week (or PPPW) is forty. But this week I read seventy-five pages. Just goes to show you that there’s nothing like dialogue and a plot to get a reader turning pages.
But this is page-turning in the Proustiverse. By more conventional narrative standards, things are still moving slowly. Swann meets Odette. She’s pretty, but not really his type. She’s not that bright either, but Swann’s been told that they might come to an “understanding”, so I guess brains aren’t that important. She introduces him to M and Mme Verdurin, and he goes to their house every night to see Odette. She reminds him of the biblical Zipporah, as depicted by Botticelli in the Sistine Chapel fresco. Maybe she is kind of beautiful after all. Every night he spends the first part of the evening with another woman, then goes to the Verdurin’s and at the end of the night drives Odette home. It’s a pleasant way to spend his time, comfortable with the assurance that she is happy to see him, but not so attached to her as to cause any kind of emotional distress. Just the sort of relationship that he’s used to. One night he goes to the Verdurin’s late and she isn’t there! He spends the rest of his evening searching for her in the restaurants and streets of Paris. Then, as he’s about to give up and go home, there she is! That night their affair begins in earnest.
Of course this glib synopsis doesn’t really tell you what happens. Because in Proust, as in life, it’s not what happens that’s important, it’s how people feel about what happens. The pleasure in reading Swann in Love (one of the pleasures – the supporting characters and dialogue rival Dickens) is in the description of how Swann falls in love. Or rather, how he drops into love, carefully placing his shoes beside his towel, dipping first one toe in, then a few steps forward and he’s swimming. It’s lovely, really, this summer day. Nothing could be finer than that feeling of mastery as your body knifes through the water. Until that huge wave hits you with a cold, green slap, and you’re sucked under, gasping for air.
“For then the die is cast, the person whose company we enjoy at that moment is the person we shall henceforward love. It is not even necessary for that person to have attracted us, up till then, more than or even as much as others. All that was needed was that our predilection should become exclusive. And that condition is fulfilled when – in this moment of deprivation – the quest for the pleasures we enjoyed in his or her company is suddenly replaced by an anxious, torturing need, whose object is the person alone, an absurd, irrational need which the laws of this world make it impossible to satisfy and difficult to assuage – the insensate, agonising need to possess exclusively.”