Fri 17 May 2013
Between occasional dalliances with The Sweet Cheat Gone after I found a first edition last year, I’ve returned to the new translation of Swann’s Way in honor of the 100th anniversary of its publication. Superb fun to fall into Proust’s ramblings on M. Swann and if you haven’t done so, highly recommended. A nugget from early on:
Their interest grew, however, when, the day before Swann was to dine with us, and when he had made them a special present of a case of Asti, my great-aunt, who had in her hand a copy of the Figaro in which to the name of a picture then on view in a Corot exhibition were added the words, “from the collection of M. Charles Swann,” asked: “Did you see that Swann is ‘mentioned’ in the Figaro?”
“But I have always told you,” said my grandmother, “that he had plenty of taste.”
“You would, of course,” retorted my great-aunt, “say anything just to seem different from us.” For, knowing that my grandmother never agreed with her, and not being quite confident that it was her own opinion which the rest of us invariably endorsed, she wished to extort from us a wholesale condemnation of my grandmother’s views, against which she hoped to force us into solidarity with her own.
But we sat silent. My grandmother’s sisters having expressed a desire to mention to Swann this reference to him in the Figaro, my great-aunt dissuaded them. Whenever she saw in others an advantage, however trivial, which she herself lacked, she would persuade herself that it was no advantage at all, but a drawback, and would pity so as not to have to envy them.
“I don’t think that would please him at all; I know very well, I should hate to see my name printed like that, as large as life, in the paper, and I shouldn’t feel at all flattered if anyone spoke to me about it.”
She did not, however, put any very great pressure upon my grandmother’s sisters, for they, in their horror of vulgarity, had brought to such a fine art the concealment of a personal allusion in a wealth of ingenious circumlocution, that it would often pass unnoticed even by the person to whom it was addressed. As for my mother, her only thought was of managing to induce my father to consent to speak to Swann, not of his wife, but of his daughter, whom he worshipped, and for whose sake it was understood that he had ultimately made his unfortunate marriage.
“You need only say a word; just ask him how she is. It must be so very hard for him.”
My father, however, was annoyed: “No, no; you have the most absurd ideas. It would be utterly ridiculous.”