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Swann's Way is divided into three major parts, Combray, Swann in Love, and Place Names: The Name. Proust introduces many of the major characters and the major themes of memory, love, art, and time. The story, with the exception of Swann in Love, is told in the first person by the Narrator (called Marcel by some commentators). Combray evokes his childhood memories of this village, his nervous condition that causes him to be overly dependent on his mother. We also meet the independently minded grandmother, the piano teacher Vinteuil, and Charles Swann, who has made a scandalous marriage.

Swann in Love recounts his love for Odette, an episode that takes place before the Narrator's birth. In Combray, the Narrator is smitten by Swann's daughter Gilberte, who appears to have a poor opinion of him. We learn of the great prestige of the duc and duchesse de Guermantes, who own a castle nearby and of the Narrator's ambition to become a writer, an ambition not achieved until the end of the novel. The madeleine scene, illustrating the phenomenon of involuntary memory, is a part of Combray. Place Names: The Names continues the story in Paris of the Narrator's infatuation with Gilberte and his fascination with her parents.

Lecture 1

Introduction and combray

The opening pages of the novel introduce some of the major characters and locales before concentrating on Marcel and his family and their relationship with Charles Swann. The grandmother is seen as a free spirit and will become the character most adored by the young Marcel. The drama of the goodnight kiss is a key scene in which Marcel is recognized as being too dependent on his mother due to a “nervous” condition. In terms of the story line it is the moment when he loses his willpower. This section closes with what is perhaps the most famous scene in the novel: the madeleine scene, a phenomenon that Proust calls involuntary memory.

Lecture 2

combray 2

We meet Aunt Léonie, a bedridden eccentric and her faithful servant Françoise. The latter represents the peasant or servant class of French history and tradition. She is among the most enduring of all those surrounding Marcel and his family. Léonie stands in contrast the grandmother who loves nature and being outdoors, even in the rain. Marcel, as he ages, will come to resemble Léonie, a hypochondriac, rather than his grandmother, until the conclusion of the novel. Marcel is passionately interested in the theater. At his Uncle Adolphe, he meets the courtesan at first identified only as “the lady in pink.” We meet Vinteuil and his daughter whose behavior scandalizes Combray. We follow Marcel on the two principal but separate walks outside Combray, Swann’s Way and the Guermantes Way, each of which represents a key portion of French society.

Lecture 3

swann in love

The scenes set in the Verdurin salon are among the most amusing in the novel. M. and Mme Verdurin are very wealthy members of the bourgeoisie who pride themselves on being anti-clerical, republican, and staunch members of the avant-garde, one proof of which is that they are fierce Wagnerites.

Lecture 4

the national anthem of our love

Sometimes it is Odette who plays for Swann the little phrase of Vinteuil's music: Odette played vilely, but often the most memorable impression of a piece of music is one that has arisen out of a jumble of wrong notes struck by unskillful fingers upon a tuneless piano.

Lecture 5

jealousy is an evil deity

Swann’s jealous interrogation of Odette. During Odette’s long absence on an ocean voyage, he hopes to become indifferent to Odette. Swann sees Odette again in a dream in which she appears to be the mistress of Napoléon III. Swann realizes that he has wasted his life, wanted to die, for a woman who is not his type. In Place Names: The Name, Marcel imagines what it would be like to visit the cities of his dreams: Balbec, Venice, and Florence. He falls ill and is not allowed to travel. He becomes infatuated with Swann’s daughter, Gilberte, with whom he plays in the garden along the Champs-Élysées. Her parents assume an immense prestige in hi eyes. Swann’s Way ends with Marcel admiring Mme Swann as she strolls through the Bois de Boulogne.

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