Thursday, December 05, 2013

Proust on Love: A Footnote

I suppose somebody has made this point somewhere but I haven't seen it so I'll give it a try.

The subject is Proust and love  Or lust, or passion, whatever.  There's certainly a lot of it in Proust.  Indeed sometimes you forget there is anything else.

But as many have observed, if love it's a bleakly self-absorbed sort of love.  It's hard to think of any lover in Proust who shows any real tenderness for the "beloved," any concern for their well-being.  Think Swann and Odette, where the very title "Un Amour de Swann," "Swann in Love" is  a kind of acid irony.  I'd sign on to this view, and add that it is one of the things, perhaps the main thing, that hangs a cloud over so insightful a narrative.

But here's what I never noticed before: the married couples.  The Verdurins. The Cottards, Heck, Marcel's own parents. Even--though I am a bit more tentative here--the Duke and Duchess de Guermantes.  Perhaps there are others.

I'm not suggesting there is any real passion here--there just might be, but we don't see it. But neither is there any of the isolated obsession. Instead, what we have is couples that just seem to rub along, that wear each other like an old shoe.  

I'm not exactly how this works in practice but that also is part of my point: for the most part, Proust doesn't tell us.  For such a great student of the human soul, he seems oddly uninterested in these relationships.  It's almost as if they aren't there.  For your weekend homework, discuss where "just rubbing along" and "private obsession" rank in the hierarchy of loving relationships.

Undocumented Extra: I do love this little tidbit which suggests what challenges Swan and Odette face as they try to rub along together:
 As for Vermeer of Delft, she asked if he had ever suffered because of a woman, if it was a woman who had inspired him, and when Swann admitted to her that no one knew anything about that, she lost interest in the painter. 

Proust, Marcel (2004-11-30). Swann's Way: In Search of Lost Time, Volume 1 (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) (p. 250). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

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