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Swann's Way (1913)

by Marcel Proust

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: In Search of Lost Time (1)

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10,838176607 (4.23)2 / 577
Both a psychological self-portrait and a profound meditation upon the artistic process, Proust's seven-part masterpiece "In Search of Lost Time" changed the course of 20th-century literature. "Swann's Way, " the first volume, introduces the novel's major themes and the narrator, a sensitive man drawn in his youth to fashionable society. Its focus then shifts to Charles Swann, a wealthy connoisseur who moves in high-society circles in nineteenth-century Paris and a victim of an agonizing romance. This masterly evocation of French society and its rendering of a search for a transcendental reality independent of time, ranks as a landmark of world literature. Unabridged reprint of the classic 1922 edition.… (more)

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English (149)  French (7)  Spanish (6)  Dutch (5)  Italian (3)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Danish (1)  Swedish (1)  German (1)  Portuguese (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (176)
Showing 1-5 of 149 (next | show all)
For a long time I would go to bed early.

With those words, one of the greatest achievements of Western literature begins. Despite being a lit major, classicist and language-lover, I have somehow lived 28 years without ever committing myself to read Proust. In retrospect, I'm not sad about that, as I feel my heart, soul, and mind are more open to understanding the Frenchman's great 20th century tome with every passing year of my life.

In the opening volume, Du côté de chez Swann (Swann's Way, perhaps better translated as The Way By Swann's), the Scott Moncrieff-twice-updated-by-Kilmartin-and-Enright translation depicts the narrator's youth at Combray, his first crushes, and his elderly reminiscences of a world now gone by. Meanwhile, piecing together a tale that occurred before his youth, the narrator tells us of Charles Swann and his love for Odette de Crecy, in the fractured world of Paris society. It's a portrait filled with endearing and frustrating characters, precise observations about all kinds of humanity, always painful or poignant, hilarious or sly, erudite and insightful. I am eager to read the second volume, and excited for the journey I will take with Proust for the rest of my life.

Oh, marvellous independence of the human gaze, tied to the human face by a cord so loose, so long, so elastic that it can stray alone as far as it may choose!

Of course, it's no surprise that most people of my generation would never dream of reading these books, and many who start won't finish. Proust (or, perhaps, his narrator) is absorbed by description and detail. Pick any 20 pages and it's unlikely that much will happen - although I believe that's partly because this is the opening book in the series, and there is still much setup. Yet, for me, I've rarely been so delighted by a novel in all my life. Even when little plot moves (for instance, the sequence in which Swann grows increasingly jealous of Odette takes a good 100 pages), there is so much dense character development, growth of the novel's world, and immense understanding of human nature. After all, unlike what today's soap operas would tell us - or, indeed, what the 19th century romances before Proust would either - the story of love and human connection is not told in big revelations. It is told in those tiny moments, those repetitions, those instances. And they are so ably captured here. I've been reading an intelligent (if tragically brief) blog as I go, "182 Days of Proust", and have thus learned that many of the characters and places here will go on to develop later in the seven-volume sequence. This was something that, of course, Proust's contemporaries could not have known, which explains why some found the novel meandering. Everything has a place in this great study of memory; it's just a case of waiting for when.

"I love Odette with all my heart, but to construct aesthetic theories for her benefit, you'd really have to be quite an imbecile."

The country idylls at Combray present comedies of manners, in which the narrator gradually develops his psyche while a part of larger situations, some of which he cannot comprehend, even though he is often frustratingly aware that there is something he cannot comprehend. This contrasts with the middle-class character portraits of the Verdurin couple and their house parties, and the somewhat off-putting, satirised lives of the aristocracy. At this point, as a reader, I'm not yet sure how Proust felt about the class system, or where this great story is heading, but I'm quite excited for the experience. Admittedly, many of the references and social mores are now challenging for someone of my age to understand. As with any book focused on relations between people, there are parts that will always ring true, and parts that fade quickly as eras change. Yet, a little background reading and open-mindedness will cure you of that problem. Proust's lengthy sentences - and I mean lengthy, these babies can go on for a page when he feels like it - are also fascinating to us, and not always in a good way. For me, I adore the untangling of his wit. They are as luxurious as any older person's memories can be. The actor Neville Jason, who recently recorded 153 hours of the unabridged complete "In Search of Lost Time" for Naxos, said that these sentences are like music: one must find the way to phrase them, the way to link up each scattered segment. When one does, joy awaits.

I asked nothing more from life in such moments than that it should consist always of a series of joyous afternoons.

All of which is to say, starting "In Search of Lost Time" is a big commitment. Like any great work of art from a previous generation, it requires some willingness on the part of the reader to be patient, to absorb themselves in the world. Yet it will reward in spades, and is often not as hard as one might think. So many of the social jests still ring true, and certainly all of the giddiness and confusion of the young narrator - and the complexities of Odette and Swann's relationship - haunt me so. Perhaps I will find the later novels harder, as I have not yet lived through some of the experiences, but when it comes to young love and development of artistic and social temperament, it's delightful (or, occasionally, sorrowful) to feel one's own past experiences so represented in print. Particularly when the book's entire discussion is on what we have lost, and whether or not we can ever regain it.

What we suppose to be our love our our jealousy is never a single, continuous and indivisible passion. It is composed of an infinity of successive loves, of different jealousies, each of which is ephemeral...

(A note on translations - the new Viking editions, each by a different translator, are apparently quite good in bringing a more modern taste to the works. For me, I'm very happy thus far with the current Modern Library/Vintage edition. The original English translation, by Charles Scott Moncrieff, has been regarded as a classic for more than 90 years. However, it had notable Victorian traces that obscured some of the greatness of Proust, and has now been updated twice, first by Terence Kilmartin in the 1980s, and more recently by DJ Enright. One day, I will certainly read the Vikings, however I am currently enjoying the connection to the past. Scott Moncrieff lived in Proust's era; to have his works complete with expert emendations seems fitting, particularly for someone like myself interested just as much in the academic conversation around the books which, for many years in the Western world, used Scott Moncrieff as the foundation stone.)

A.E. Housman said, "This is the land of lost content". Over the course of this first volume, the narrator - and, as I'm sure will be confirmed once I read my first Proust biography - the author himself desperately attempts to return to this land, taking us all with him, reminding us all of how much we have lost with each passing year. The question becomes whether we let ourselves drift back, desperately, to that land, or whether we attempt to fashion a life out of what remains. I trust Marcel Proust to take me further on this journey, aided by the skilful English translators, and I have no doubt that the "Search" will prove to be the masterpiece of the Western canon that as so many great minds before me have discovered.

The memory of a particular image is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years. ( )
  therebelprince | Oct 24, 2023 |
I really, really, really did not like this book. ( )
  nogomu | Oct 19, 2023 |
Like many, I've had Proust's "In Search of Lost Time" on my to-read list forever. I've been enchanted over the years by the thought of enveloping myself into whatever story follows that wonderful, famous opening. The actual content isn't exactly difficult; the memories, stories and their connections are actually quite easy to follow, even entertaining when in the dining rooms and parlors of French society of the late 1800s. The difficulty lies in the reading experience. Proust uses long sentences with clauses inside clauses; some sentences contain so many thoughts, you need to back up and review to figure out what is referring to what. I suppose this is meant to reflect the internal thinking process, which is also one of the subjects of the book.

"Swann's Way," the first volume of seven, begins with the narrator's earliest memories of his family's country house. They live near Charles Swann, a well-connected, high society man, who has fallen out of favor with the narrator's family due to his marriage to Odette, a fairly notorious former courtesan. It ends with the narrator perhaps in his pre-teens at their home in Paris (also near Swann's Paris house) head-over-heels in love with one of his park playmates, Swann's daughter, Gilberte. In between is a long chapter, "Swann In Love" that takes place before the narrator was born and details Swann's obsessive, destructive love affair with Odette. It ends with their affair seemingly over, and one assumes their story will continue in later volumes.

Curious as I am about how the stories introduced in "Swann's Way" turn out, I don't think I'll read on. I enjoyed visiting Belle Epoque France, especially the sly satires of both high and bourgeois society. I did appreciate the skill in which Proust makes us inhabit the mind of our narrator and Swann as they obsess over art, nature, architecture, and, especially, desire. It's an impressive achievement but despite how beautiful and sometimes self-deceiving those internal dialogues are, they often tediously go on and on (and on) for much too long. Not everything needs to be plot-driven but for me, Proust's balance between story and description is off.

A note on the translation: Lydia Davis's award-winning translation is more direct and modern than the traditional Moncrieff/Kilmartin. Many people love the Moncrieff version but I found it flowery, archaic, and heavily imposed with the translator's own voice. I actually compared the translations a bit and to me, the Davis translation got the meaning across much better. I don't read French, so can't compare to the original. ( )
  RobertOK | Sep 29, 2023 |
Proust is an important writer, which I may read more of some day. Until then I know I've found someone worth reading. ( )
  mykl-s | Aug 12, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 149 (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 (221 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Proust, Marcelprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bongiovanni Bertini, MariolinaEditorsecondary authorsome 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
Macchia, GiovanniPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Raboni, GiovanniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Salinas, PedroTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Scott Moncrieff, C. K.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tuomikoski, InkeriTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vallquist, GunnelTranslatorsecondary 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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Both a psychological self-portrait and a profound meditation upon the artistic process, Proust's seven-part masterpiece "In Search of Lost Time" changed the course of 20th-century literature. "Swann's Way, " the first volume, introduces the novel's major themes and the narrator, a sensitive man drawn in his youth to fashionable society. Its focus then shifts to Charles Swann, a wealthy connoisseur who moves in high-society circles in nineteenth-century Paris and a victim of an agonizing romance. This masterly evocation of French society and its rendering of a search for a transcendental reality independent of time, ranks as a landmark of world literature. Unabridged reprint of the classic 1922 edition.

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