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Swann's Way (Penguin Great Books of the 20th…

Swann's Way (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century) (original 1913; edition 1999)

by Marcel Proust (Author)

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8,772137612 (4.25)1 / 494
Presents the first book of Proust's monumental work "Remembrance of Things Past", introducing such themes as the destructive force of obsessive love, the allure and the consequences of transgressive sex, and the selective eye that shapes memories.
Title:Swann's Way (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century)
Authors:Marcel Proust (Author)
Info:Penguin Books (1999), 434 pages
Collections:Your library

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Swann's Way by Marcel Proust (1913)


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English (111)  French (7)  Dutch (5)  Spanish (4)  Italian (3)  Norwegian (1)  Portuguese (1)  German (1)  Swedish (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (135)
Showing 1-5 of 111 (next | show all)
I am starting over with this book, for the 3rd time over the past 8 years, and found the first 55 pages very rewarding. Knowing what to expect this time has helped me to appreciate the book in a new way. If you are the sort to go on a road trip via the quickest route simply to get to a destination, this is not the book for you. If you like detours through forests, mountains, across rivers and rich landscapes, and prefer this though it may take you twice as long—this is the book for you. It is so rich with insight, passion, and honesty. It is literature of the microcosm, that freezes a single moment of time and imbues it with all the vagaries of imagination, nostalgia, desire; stretches it out across multiple metaphors and analogies until you forget where it is you started, but are lulled into such a state of reverie and wonder that it doesn't really matter. It is a journey of self-discovery as much as any other. It is prose over narrative; journey over destination; thought over action. Given the right time of day—one in which you can grab a quiet hour without too much distraction—this book is like a salve for the brain, a pleasant distraction, a massage of words and ideas, a gentle escape.


(after finishing)

I loved this book although I constantly wrestled with it. Just when being about to throw it down in disgust after reading the same page over and over and having no idea what it’s about, a line, a statement, a thought, leaps from the page so brilliant, so perceptive, so intense, that it immediately renders the trudge leading up to it in a glorious light; much like the memory of going to gym and eating salad once a weight loss goal is reached, or the romanticism of a grandparent who reflects on the fortitude of walking 5 miles to school and rather glossing over the blistering feet and the freezing wind; or perhaps like a mother who forgets the pangs of childbirth immediately upon feeling the warmth of a newborn babe against her skin.

Overall, a great read in small doses. If you rush through it, you will quickly realise it doesn’t really go anywhere and you’ll be disappointed. But if you take your time, and read diligently, thinking and engaging with the ideas in the book, it is of much value, although not a little amount of work (keep a dictionary handy). The value of this book is in the microcosm, not the macrocosm; in enjoying the journey, in thinking and reflecting and making connections with your own life and the people in it. Centred on the themes of love, art and originality, conceptions of beauty, memory and reality; this is one of the most truly a thought-provoking and highly original works of art I’ve ever experienced. It points to beauty in simple things. There's a therapeutic aspect to it. A feeling that, if your life doesn't measure up in some way to preconceived expectations, Proust says, "of course it doesn't! But look at the beauty in it all!"

In terms of plot, the whole book could be summed up in a single sentence:

“Here’s a bunch of vague impressions from my childhood that tell you what a sensitive and perceptive soul I am (and which hint at my vocation as a writer); oh and let me tell you about the love affair of a family friend, in which I discovered a foreshadowing of the fledgling love pangs I later felt for his daughter.”

The title "Swann's Way" is a metaphor for the foreshadowing of Swann's courtship with Odette on the narrator's later experience with love: fraught with difficulties, contradictions, and infractions. In Part 1 of the novel, "Combray" the narrator recalls various memories of the town which he visited as a child, and much of his musings and recollections are centred around family walks referred to as either the "Meglise Way" or the "Geurmantes Way" — routes whose names are determined by eminent personages living on their path. One was a long way, good for fair-weather days, and accompanied by deeper musings, and one was a shorter way, for days of bad weather. On one of these paths he meets Gilberte, the daughter of family acquaintance the aristocratic Mr Swann, and the narrator immediately falls in with her. Then the narrator digresses into a novella (Part 2 "Swann in Love") describing the courtship of Swann and his wife Odette, in all its digressions and difficulties. I'm not sure how the narrator knows such details, or if he is simply imagining it. But then in Part 3 "Place-Names: The Name" where he describes his one-sided love for Gilberte which rather resembles that of Swann for her mother, thus the title "Swann's Way" or a more literal translation of the French, "By the way of Swann".

I have one unanswered question however: Why did Swann marry Odette? Indeed he seemed to have very much fallen out of love with her. Here is where my emotional engagement kicked up a notch, with the persistent belligerent thought, “Leave her man! You can do better!” Something I didn’t quite understand on the first read is what Proust’s view is of love, given that it is framed in rather negative and needy terms. But then again, this is only Volume 1, and there are 6 volumes to go, and hopefully by the end of it that question will be answered (no doubt with many circumlocutions and detours).

In terms of the new level of self-awareness gleaned from its insights, the journey is endless. Indeed, although I highlighted, dog-eared and scribbled on many pages, I only (probably) gleaned less than half of what the author had to offer, the rest unfortunately lost to lack of attention, a tiring mind, or a lack of intellect. This is no walk in the park—it’s for serious readers only. It’s the novel that caused Virginia Woolf to lapse into depression and almost give up her pursuit of writing, for want of being able to express such thoughts as Proust could.

The insights Proust offers have a way of shining a light on things in your own life, that perhaps you have felt but been unable to recognise or put into words. Through various analogies and digressions he chews away at a thing until no aspect of it has been left untouched. Or he simply describes in it so unique a fashion as to leave you astounded.

Here’s a few highlights, selected at random.

The following passage may strike a chord in any person who endlessly pursues a hobby or vocation while trying to hold down a ‘day job’:

“More lettered than many men of letters (we were not aware at this period that M. Legrandin had a distinct reputation as a writer, and were greatly astounded to find that a well-known composer had set some verses of his to music), endowed with greater facility than many painters, they imagine that the life they are obliged to lead is not that for which they are really fitted, and they bring to their regular occupations either an indifference tinged with fantasy, or a sustained and haughty application, scornful, bitter, and conscientious.” p 79.

Or this one, which reminded me of my University Lecturers:

“Until then I had supposed that this horror of having to give a serious opinion was something Parisian and refined in contrast to the provincial dogmatism of my grandmother’s sisters; and which I imagined also that it was characteristic of the mental attitude of the circle in which Swann moved, where, by a natural reaction from the lyrical enthusiasm of earlier generations, an excessive importance was now given to precise and petty facts, formerly regarded as vulgar, and anything in the nature of ‘phrase-talking’ was proscribed.”

Or you may relate to the annoyance of useless gifts:

“She tried to persuade them to confine their tributes to flowers and sweets, which had at least the merit of mortality; but she never succeeded, and the house was gradually filled with a collection of foot-warmers, cushions, clocks, screens, barometers and vases, a constant repetition and a boundless incongruity of useless but indestructible objects.” p 246.

Or the experience of thinking of a witty response in a conversation, and waiting for just the right moment to interject, anxious it may pass you by:

“ … said Cottard, who had for some time been waiting in vain for Forcheville to pause for breath so that he might get in this hoary old joke for which there might not be another cue if the conversation should take a different turn and which he now produced with that excessive spontaneity and confidence that seeks to cover up the coldness and the anxiety inseparable from a prepared recitation.” p 315.

Or a beautifully original and alluring description of the moon:

“Sometimes in the afternoon sky the moon would creep up, white as a cloud, furtive, lustreless, suggesting an actress who does not have to come on for a while, and watches the rest of the company for a moment from the auditorium in her ordinary clothes, keeping in the background, not wishing to attract attention to herself.” p 175.

I’ll finish on a somewhat inaccessible description of someone trying to get their head around a moving piece of music with an elusive melody. It goes for a couple of pages but I’ll restrict it here to four formidable sentences:

“Doubtless the notes which we hear at such moments tend, according to their pitch and volume, to spread out before our eyes over surfaces of varying dimensions, to trace arabesques, to give us the sensation of breadth or tenuity, stability or caprice. But the notes themselves have vanished before these sensations have developed sufficiently to escape submersion under those which the succeeding or even simultaneous notes have already begun to awaken in us. And this impression would continue to envelop in its liquidity, its ceaseless over-lapping, the motifs which from time to time emerge, barely discernible, to plunge again and disappear and drown, recognised only by the particular kind of pleasure which they instil, impossible to describe, to recollect, to name, ineffable—did not our memory, like a labourer who toils at the laying down of firm foundations beneath the tumult of the waves, but fashioning for us facsimiles of those fugitive phrases, enable us to compare and to contrast them with those that follow. And so, scarcely had the exquisite sensation which Swann had experienced died away, before his memory had furnished him with an immediate transcript, sketchy, it is true, and provisional, which he had been able to glance at while the piece continued, so that, when the same impression suddenly returned, it was no longer impossible to grasp.” p 251...

If that was difficult, don’t despair. I also had to read that it at least three times. But there is much low hanging fruit in this novel as well as difficult passages, and if you have the time (a little bit often is what I recommend!), are a deep thinker, are interested in its themes, and can bear with (or even appreciate as I did by the end) prose that can be long, flowing, meandering and at times go nowhere—this book is for you! ( )
  NickCosta | Jun 17, 2020 |
It takes a big country to have the last word on a big author, as I discovered in Australia yesterday....


  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
It takes a big country to have the last word on a big author, as I discovered in Australia yesterday....


  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
It takes a big country to have the last word on a big author, as I discovered in Australia yesterday....


  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
I’ve never read anything like it. It’s unique. And I don’t know whether that’s my limited experience with classics or this kind of novel or what, but I wish someone had taken me aside in high school and showed this to me and said, here, this is a thing, and it’s the pinnacle of a thing, and you can write this way too. But at the same time, I don’t know that another author could write this way. Knausgaard always gets compared, but that’s only in the all-encompassing humanity of the project, covering all the folds and villi of the mind and memory and experience. But it’s definitely not in the language. And thank the gods for this translation.

The book is a kind of spell book for memory. It had me remembering things long past from my own childhood in the same lines of reverie in which the narrator spins and weaves his own. All of this is accessible to us; and even if the details are a lie, they contain a kind of truth of experience nonetheless. These are also the perfect books to fall asleep with. They really do send me right into a reverie in a paragraph or two, so I’m lost and forget about time and my body and my surroundings.

One of the most special things to me about this book is the way it captures childhood and its attentions. It feels so honest. I don’t know whether that is a lattice upon which we build a memory of childhood through lies, or if it is accurate and true in its tone, or both. But it feels right. It resonates with my soul. ( )
  jtth | May 4, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 111 (next | show all)
Als we nu vanuit het microniveau van deze ene zin extrapoleren naar het geheel van dit eerste deel van de Recherche, kan volgens mij de conclusie niet anders luiden dan dat deze vertaling van Martin de Haan en Rokus Hofstede – maar dat gold ook voor die van Thérèse Cornips – bijzonder overtuigend is. Het accent ligt bij hen op vernederlandsing, maar de getrouwheid, zeker ook aan Prousts subtiele humor en ‘dubbelzinnige glimlach’, blijft steeds optimaal. Daarbij bereiken ze in de dialogen, iets wat hier totaal onderbelicht is gebleven, een grote levendigheid die Proust volkomen recht doet.
added by Jozefus | editDe Reactor.org, Clemens Arts (Mar 7, 2016)
Maarten 't Hart bespreekt de nieuwe vertaling van Swanns kant van Marcel Proust. De NRC meldde dat het een slordige vertaling zou zijn. Maarten 't Hart is het daar niet mee eens. Zij is soepeler dan de vroegere vertaling en daardoor prettiger leesbaar.
Toch is Swanns kant op een aanwinst, want de lezer heeft nu meer te kiezen: het idioom van De Haan en Hofstede is eigentijdser dan dat van hun voorgangers. Ze schrijven ‘kletspraatjes’ waar Thérèse Cornips, met haar voorkeur voor het schilderachtige, ‘palavers’ schrijft. Proust lezen is al zo’n onalledaagse ervaring (door die lange zinnen, maar ook doordat het verhaal zich in hoge Parijse kringen rond 1900 afspeelt) dat zijn taalgebruik, althans op plaatsen waar het niet gemarkeerd is door een eigenzinnige woordkeus, beter niet te barok vertaald kan worden.
Dat gebeurt wel vaker, dat lezers die hartstochtelijk van Proust houden, zich over een vertaling opwinden; op zichzelf is daar niets mis mee. Maar formuleringen die me de wenkbrauwen deden fronsen werden me vervolgens door mijn ergernis voorgespiegeld als onzorgvuldigheden – en dat terwijl de vertalers nu juist uiterst accuraat, daarvan ben ik inmiddels wel overtuigd, te werk zijn gegaan. Verder komen kleine foutjes in elke tekst voor, het is kinderachtig voor een criticus om daar zelfs maar over te beginnen.
Ik ben klaar om me te laten bedwelmen door de rest van de cyclus. Ik ben klaar om meer tijd te nemen dit eerste deel te herlezen om Proust dieper te doorgronden, zelfs in zijn meest slaapverwekkende proza, slaap is per slot van rekening ook een vorm van bedwelming. Je suis un proustien.
added by Jozefus | editTzum, Johannes van der Sluis (Jun 15, 2015)

» Add other authors (81 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Proust, Marcelprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Compagnon, AntoineEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Conte, RafaelForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cornips, ThérèseTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davis, LydiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Enright, D. J.Translation revisionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fernandez, RamonForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Galantière, LewisIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ginzburg, NataliaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guidall, GeorgeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Howard, RichardIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kilmartin, TerenceTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lijsen, C.N.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Raboni, GiovanniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Salinas, PedroTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Scott Moncrieff, C. K.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tuomikoski, InkeriTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Veenis-Pieters, M.E.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Longtemps je me suis couché de bonne heure (Du côté de chez Swann)
Ma mère, quand il fut question d’avoir pour la première fois M. de Norpois à dîner, ayant exprimé le regret que le Professeur Cottard fût en voyage et qu’elle-même eût entièrement cessé de fréquenter Swann, car l’un et l’autre eussent sans doute intéressé l’ancien Ambassadeur, mon père répondit qu’un convive éminent, un savant illustre, comme Cottard, ne pouvait jamais mal faire dans un dîner, mais que Swann, avec son ostentation, avec sa manière de crier sur les toits ses moindres relations, était un vulgaire esbrouffeur que le Marquis de Norpois eût sans doute trouvé selon son expression, «puant». (A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleur)

Le pépiement matinal des oiseaux semblait insipide à Françoise. (Le côté de Guermantes)
On sait que bien avant d’aller ce jour-là (le jour où avait lieu la soirée de la princesse de Guermantes) rendre au duc et à la duchesse la visite que je viens de raconter, j’avais épié leur retour et fait, pendant la durée de mon guet, une découverte, concernant particulièrement M. de Charlus, mais si importante en elle-même que j’ai jusqu’ici, jusqu’au moment de pouvoir lui donner la place et l’étendue voulues, différé de la rapporter. (Sodome et Gomorrhe)
Dès le matin, la tête encore tournée contre le mur, et avant d’avoir vu, au-dessus des grands rideaux de la fenêtre, de quelle nuance était la raie du jour, je savais déjà le temps qu’il faisait. (La prisonnière)
"I do feel that it's really absurd that a man of his intelligence should let himself be made to suffer by a creature of that kind, who isn't even interesting, for they tell me she's an absolute idiot!" she concluded with the wisdom invariably shewn by people who, not being in love themselves, feel that a clever man ought to be unhappy only about such persons as are worth his while; which is rather like being astonished that anyone should condescend to die of cholera at the bidding of so insignificant a creature as the common bacillus.
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Disambiguation notice
Swann's Way is the first volume of Proust's monumental Remembrance of Things Past. However, at least one publisher issued Swann's Way itself (and other volumes of Remembrance of Things Past) as multivolume works. Thus, you can have Swann's Way, Part One which is part 1 of part 1 of Remembrance of Things Past. Thus if you use "Part 1" as part of your book title make sure you distinguish between Part 1 of Remembrance of Things Past and Part 1 of Swann's Way.
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