“Swann in Love” is novel filled with contradictions. Just like the other novels, this one doesn’t have a clear plot. It only has a sequence of events that are compared with certain works of art from different times. In order to follow up with the novel, the reader has to be somewhat familiar with different art genres.
The initiator of the plot is a small part of Vinteuil’s sonata heard by Swann while entering the clan of the chosen, the Verdurin’s clan with its believers, better said followers, who bowed down to Verdurin’s mood swings.
The sonata started waking up his love for Odette that was under the protection of Verdurin. Odette wasn’t an extraordinary beautiful woman and she wasn’t especially intelligent. Odette was a mediocre woman and not a woman presented to Swann as a form of entertainment. During his first encounter with her, he wasn’t too thrilled but his artistic soul equalized Odette with the character from Botticelli’s fresco. It was enough encouragement for him to get interested in someone. Swann was an intellectual who enjoyed beautiful, especially artistic things so his curiosity transformed into idealized love which he felt for Odette.
Odette was a girl from a mediocre family of low intellectual abilities that was ready to please itself and acquire material things through their fans, better said lovers.
Swann was in love with the ideal love he felt for Odette. He found an excuse for every one of her outbursts. He was happy in his little love bubble because, after a long time, he discovered powerful emotions within himself and he enjoyed being intoxicated by them.
He found the meaning of his life in Odette. She saw her as an interweaving of art and real life. His life came down to meetings with the object of his intoxication. He neglected his duties and acquaintances from the higher society when he started frequenting Verdurin’s meeting and fell in love with Odette.
As time passed by, Odette’s perfection started fading in his eyes but he still tried to find an excuse for every lie, adultery, and fraud she committed. Jealousy was eating him up, starting from his soul to his heart when he was banned from coming to Verdurin’s because of his superiority and opinions which weren’t the same as those of that mediocre group of people. His suffering was getting bigger when Odette started avoiding him. When he realized how superficial, artificial and low in emotions she was, compared to him, and when he saw that her intoxication with art was false his world crashed.
Even if he was destroyed in his misery, he still found a way to forgive her. He forgave her for her suspicious past and even more suspicious fidelity which was hard for him because he idealized the feeling of love. That feeling didn’t emerge from the sole admiration but from the pleasure which true love awoke in him. It was a feeling he wasn’t ready to let go off just yet. He felt alive through that love like he existed and like he had a reason to look forward.
Odette didn’t care about his idealized feelings, she started avoiding him so it was time for him to snap out of the idealized emptiness in which he lived.
His rich, artistic soul was painfully hurt and crumbled to the core. Odette abandoned him to go after her lovers and he was left to suffer reminiscing the times he had spent with her.
Anytime he would hear the sonata in his high-society events he would go back to those feelings which would be the fountain of hope for a better, more spiritual life which he craved.
Every time he would hear them, he would become aware of the time he lost and the lost memories which lingered inside of him. He started becoming aware that everything he’s been through was a waste of time and that he spent his days on a false love and the wrong woman.
He consoled himself with the fact that he learned something in his lost time. He learned that the feeling he idealized was the life fulfillment and the void to which people who live from one day to another get used to. He learned that the feelings implemented in our lives can give it meaning and that they are worth fighting for.
Time: the beginning of the 20th century
Theme: idealized love and its failure
Idea: big, idealized love isn’t mutual most of the time. We have to keep our eyes open wide instead of just listening to our hearts
The cheerful company of Miss Verdurin was very different. It was made out of people who didn’t care much for small talks and in everyday gatherings didn’t require an invitation. Every guest had his place at the table.
They didn’t welcome strangers. Miss Verdurin wanted that her elected society gathers every day even if some have obligations of if it was a holiday. She would always find appropriate excuses so that the people in question could come.
Anytime time someone from the group would have a courtier or a lover they would bring him or her to Verdurin so that she could test if the person was good enough to become part of their society.
Swann entered their society with the help of Miss de Crecy. He was an unusual person. He would always conform to the society he was in. Swann stopped at nothing when he liked a girl and he used all means at his disposal to contact her.
One night in the theater his friend introduced him to Odette which was already a part of Verdurin’s society. A few days after she wrote a letter to him asking if she could see his art collection.
Their first encounter wasn’t thrilling. When he was introduced to the Verdurin’s society he was happy because it enabled him to be with Odette every single day. Other members accepted him because, since he came from the higher society, he had good manners. He knew how to behave and what people expected of him in certain situations.
A young pianist, who was under Verdurin’s protection, agreed to play Vinteuil’s sonata. Odette sat on her regular spot by the piano and Swann joined her. Sonata left an impact on Swann as well as the young pianist and, considering he was a new member, his reaction to the music gave him extra points.
Dr. Cottard and his wife didn’t share the ruling opinion about the beauty of the sonata or the painting of Bichea. For them, he was just throwing paint around and the young pianist was banging on the piano.
Swann became a faithful follower of the clan. Shows, lunches, and walks became an important part of his everyday life. He never talked about his high society relationships until one time his lunch with police officers who granted him free access to plays and premieres slipped out. Swann became bigger in Cottard’s eyes because he valued people by their position in the society but he couldn’t quite figure out Swann’s position.
He didn’t have a high function but he was in the high circles. Odette often expressed her desire to join him on one of his encounters with the higher society but those encounters never happened.
The young pianist would play Vinteuil’s sonata which became a somewhat love hymn. The relationship between Odette and Swann became deeper, filled with many encounters and moments of affection. Every day before coming to Verdurin’s Swann didn’t give up his encounters with a certain worker and after dinner, he would walk Odette home. He never entered her house, except for two times when he had tea with her.
On one occasion Odette picked an oxeye for him. He pressed it to his lips and when the flower withered, he guarded it in a drawer.
Swann’s love for Odette was mysterious and timid. The only important thing for him was himself. After a long time, he felt the intoxication produced by love. He was thrilled with the wide range of emotions he felt. After a pleasant tea party with Odette, Swann forgot his cigarette case. Odette wrote him a letter then asking him why he hasn’t forgotten his heart because she wouldn’t give it back ever.
On his second tea party with Odette, Swann felt important. He saw her beauty and tried to idealize it which made him even sadder because it was proof that ideas are unreachable and that happiness was mediocre. That encounter made an impression on him. Odette waited for him a bit messy and ill-looking.
Since Odette entered his life, Swann’s feelings changed. He was going through various positive emotions, he saw human’s beauty, admired the thing around him. He lived through the beauty of art again.
He combined true human beauty and the one on paintings made by famous artists. The body and the spirit became one and he was happy to be able to notice and enjoy it.
One night, when Swann was looking forward to walking Odette home, he stayed a bit longer with his worker. Odette was already gone when he came.
When he was leaving a servant told him that Odette went to drink some hot chocolate in a nearby bar.
When he couldn’t find her in the bar he started roaming around, looking for her. he lost all hope when he crossed paths either.
They went home in one carriage and when it hit a bump in the road they came to a close physical contact which they mentioned in a language only the two of them understood. They started spending more and more time together at Verdurin’s Swann would often visit Odette after dinner and she opened up to him.
Moments spent with Odette became very important for Swann. He was completely overwhelmed with his thoughts about her when they weren’t together. His life stopped being empty and only related to body pleasures. He was living the real being of love and intoxication with Odette. He compared her to the perfect characters and he longed for her. She has awoken jealousy and yearning in him. He constructed an image of a perfect woman in his head and he believed that he has found that woman in Odette. Swann went to her only during the night and he knew nothing about her past and her whereabouts during the day.
Odette didn’t have a desire to be presented to Swann’s society because she just wanted to be classy. Swann was enchanted with all her flaws, and there were many of those.
When Swann got monocle because of his bad eyesight, Odette was thrilled because she thought it was classy. Swann’s fascination with the non-existent, perfect and ideal Odette was turning into an illness. All of his thoughts, ideals, and beliefs were neglected because of his love and everything revolved around her. Going to Verdurin’s became the sole purpose of his days and everything else was meaningless.
With time the Verdurin’s society’s fascination with Swann began to fade away. He didn’t share his secrets with them and he didn’t confess like all the others which were one of the conditions for being there. He didn’t laugh at lame jokes and they were unable to impose their beliefs on him and couldn’t change him.
Swann was at their mercy because of his education and superiority. A new member joined the clan. Verdurin met him in a spa. Mister Forchewille became her new pet because he was from the higher society. Swann was there during his first dinner. In late night debated he mentioned thatSwann “hung out” in other houses and Verdurin wasn’t pleased to hear that because she wanted to keep her people for herself.
When Swann gave her opinion about a certain family which was contradictory to Verdurin’s she was even more outraged. Swann destroyed the unity of the clan. During their chitchats, Forcheville showed fascination, with Odette’s charm. It was enough for Verdurin to try and set them up without Swann finding out about it. Swann didn’t even think he was at their mercy and he still perceived his staying with them as a gift from God because he was able to be with Odette.
He would often give her little presents and dream about her thinking about him while she’s opening the presents. Swann wasn’t aware of the fact that Odette was taking advantage of him despite helping her financially on numerous occasions. The financial support he gave her increased monthly and he enjoyed it because he believed that Odette’s love and addiction grew with the financial increase. Spring was coming and the encounters took place outdoors. Swann tried to be present but he started socializing with some of his acquaintances from the higher society who he had neglected. Jealousy was also starting to burn inside of him.
One rainy night he came to Odette’s doors but she sent him away saying she had a headache. Two hours later, moved by his jealousy, he came back to see if there was someone else in her house and he saw that the light was on in her room.
After going through many things in his head he decided to knock on the window and get rid of his doubts. Relief flooded his face and his doubts disappeared when he realized he was looking and knocking at the wrong window. During the following evening, he was present at the expulsion of a member of the Verdurin’s clan. It wasn’t a pleasant event at all. In the afternoon he stopped by Odette’s but she didn’t answer the door. She told him that she was asleep but Swann knew she was telling a lie.
When he came in the afternoon appointment to Verdurin’s he testified Odette’s false excuses. He already knew the range of her lies and deceits. He let everything go because he was still intoxicated with her.
When he was about to leave, Odette asked him to drop off a letter at the post office. He decided to keep the letter which was for Forcheville and read it because he suspected that Odette was cheating on him with Forcheville. His jealousy reached its peak when he wasn’t invited to the gathering the next day and when he was waiting for Odette only to see her with Forcheville in Verdurin’s carriage. Disappointed with all the evidence pointing out that Odette was making fun of him with Verdurin, made him feel rage while he was walking home.
His opinion about Odette started to change. The company he used to enjoy started to look like the last circle of Dante’s hell. Swann realized that the real Odette is wildly different from the Odette he built up in his head and his heart. All of the lies, deceits, and frauds started coming to the surface. The more disappointed he was with Verdurin’s company, the more disappointed he was with Odette. Soon the place that made Odette and Swann come together made them fall apart. Sometimes he wouldn’t see her for a few days.
She would always be with Verdurin’s company which wanted to break all ties between the two of them. More lies came in between them. Odette went on a vacation with Verdurin. Swann decided to visit a friend which lived nearby the place they were at so that he could be close to her. It gave him an opportunity to observe her from the distance. All of the lies and hypocrisy hiding in Odette were irrelevant for him because he cared about love, admiring something inexistent, something that fulfills his life and gives it meaning.
When they would meet at parties Odette would act like a stranger. She gave him a little taste of hope when she allowed him to walk her home. Swann’s feelings for Odette became contradictory. Feelings of love and hate came on after another depending on how much attention Odette gave him. Swann wanted to get an opportunity to let his rage out on her.
Swann was going to deprive her of the monthly financial support which she was about to use to entertain her guests and possible lovers which were tearing their relationship apart. Swann’s love for Odette started to lose its charm due to being apart from several days.
Swann started to lose his contact with the higher society just so he could be near her and enjoy her presence.
Odette traveled a lot and used other excuses just so Swann could come over. He tried to get her attention through her uncle but he failed.
Swann used every moment without her to find out where she was and who she was with. He was getting crumbs off of the table. Swann decided to make an appearance amongst his forgotten friends at a concert. He encountered a lot of emptiness that dictated the life of a society without a life goal. Princess des Laumes was also at the concert and Swann felt a special affection for her.
They spent some time talking. Swann was about to say goodbye and go but he was invited in with some people so he couldn’t decline.
In that moment the pianist played Vinteuil’s sonata which reminded him of his first encounter with Odette. It made an impact on his wounded soul. Sonata reminded him of all the nice feelings he had for Odette. He lived through each moment with her while the music was playing. In the deafening silence of his heart, he listened to the sonata and he completely turned out of the society. He became aware that everything he had with Odette won’t be renewed and that his expectations won’t become reality.
After the concert, Swann received a letter which stated that Odette was the lover of some men and some women. He tried to figure out who sent the letter but he couldn’t do it.
Jealousy tore him apart and he went to talk to Odette which in a way confirmed most of the rumors.
Verdurin’s spent a year on a cruise so Swann found some peace while he was talking to Cottard’s wife. He found out that many talked about him and Odette and he became skeptical. He didn’t care much when he found out Forcheville was Odette’s lover.
The more he questioned his love for Odette, the more he became aware of not loving her. He thought about spending years and years and wishing death because of a woman which he didn’t love and which wasn’t his type.
Characters: Swann, Odette de Crecy, Miss Verdurin, Miss and Mister Cottard
Swann had an empty, meaningless life in search of pretty women that will satisfy the need of his body. He was a descendant of an old aristocratic family and he was average looking. Swann was a part of the high society and had many acquaintances which he used to get what he wanted. He was a smart and educated young man and had his own opinions. After joining the Verdruin’s clan his life changed because he met Odette. He felt love with her and it intoxicated him and made him feel better. He didn’t see the flaws in his loved one because he idealized everything about her. After discovering all the lies he was eaten up by jealousy and despair which faded away with time when he discovered that he never really loved her.
Odette de Crecy was Miss Verdurin’s pet. She didn’t have anything special. She was average looking, picky, her skin was very sensitive and her eyes were beautiful but too big. She was one of the best-dressed women in Paris. She wasn’t very intelligent. Odette was a liar and a selfish person, unfaithful and she had a suspicious past. She had many lovers she manipulated very well, including Swann. She lived off of financial support her lovers provided for her. When Swann was of no use for her she found another one. She used the Verdurin’s to manipulate people. Swann didn’t even know how far her unfaithfulness reached.
Princess de Lumes is a side character and she was often in Swann’s company because they were good friends. They spoke in the same way but thought differently about everything.
Miss Verdurin was the head of the clan and everyone obeyed her and bowed down to her. If someone wasn’t at her mercy they would get kicked out. She was a descendant of a rich but completely unknown family.
Dr. Cottard was a liar and had a fake smile on. He was very insecure in other people’s honesty so he never expressed his opinion. He was curious but his curiosity was superficial.
Miss Cottard was a superficial woman living in her husband’s shadow and she bowed down to everything he said. She helped Swann deal with his unhealthy feelings for Odette.
Mister Verdurin lived in his wife’s shadow and he pleased her in any way possible. He didn’t have his own opinion or attitude. His wife’s happiness was enough for him to be happy.
Marcel Proust Biography
Marcel Proust was a French novelist from a bourgeois family. He was born in Paris in 1871 and as a child, he suffered from asthma and he spend his childhood was filled with love and attention, especially from his mother.
After graduating he went to serve the military in Orleans. When he came back he went to study political sciences in Paris. During his studies, Bergson makes a big influence on him. He was interested literature and he published his first work in magazine “Le Banquet”.
He was often seen on banquets and in aristocratic circles. His high-class lifestyle takes a turn when in 2 years he loses his parents – his father died in 1903 and his mother in 1905.
In 1906 he lived all alone and then his consistent literary work begins. He was in a race with time and he began his life work “In Search of Lost Time” which is divided into seven parts: “Swann’s Way”, “In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower”, “The Guermantes Way”, “Sodom and Gomorrah”, “The Prisoner”, “The Fugitive” and “Time Regained”.
He received The Prix Goncourt for his novel “In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower” in 1918.