Posts Tagged ‘Odette


In Search of Lost Time 4-21-2022

A theme so far in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time is remembering things once forgotten. Another in the second volume, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, is sex and a boy developing sexual urges. And another that is becoming apparent in the second volume is misperceptions, usually arriving from being judgmental (and so many characters are judgy), disillusioned, or time (I think). For instance, in Swann’s Way (volume 1), M. Swann was considered a sophisticated person, but in In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, which begins two years after the end of Swann’s Way, he is considered vulgar. It’s not clear how the perception of him changed. Maybe something happened in those two years, but it’s not clear. Likewise, M. de Norpois was held in high regard by the narrator’s nameless father in Swann’s Way becomes a full-blown and inconsiderate jerk in In Young Girls in Flower. This might happen because the reader sees more action from him, especially in the interactions with the narrator. Then there is the great actress Berma, whom the narrator has been wanting to see for a long time and has imagined as the greatest actress of all time, as many others believed, but it turns out, for the narrator, she is underwhelming. This is common for the narrator to build up in his imagination a fantasy of a person only to be let down by an actual encounter with the person, such as Bergotte the writer he idealizes. Then there is Madame Swann (formerly Odette de Crécy) who was known as a lady of the evening to both men and women, and despite her being one of the most fashionable people around, was looked down upon in Swann’s Way, but in In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, she is considered a prestigious person at the height and near the top of social circles.

And then there’s the narrator. The narrator, as has been clearly established by critics and biographers, is based on Proust himself. Proust has a Jewish background from his mother, and he was gay. According to Alison Flood in “Lost Stories of Homosexual Love Finally Published“:

Proust never publicly acknowledged his homosexuality, going so far as to fight a duel with a reviewer who had suggested, accurately, that he was gay. “At the same time that Proust was eager to make love to other young men, he was equally determined to avoid the label ‘homosexual’,” writes Edmund White in his biography of the French novelist.

In addition, he friends and family knew he was gay. In In Search of Lost Time, there is no mention of the narrator being Jewish or homosexual, at least explicitly. It is clear that the narrator has loved a girl, and in the second volume, he lusts for girls like a boy during puberty, which the narrator is experiencing. And so it seems he is a cis heterosexual dude. That is until he meets Robert Marquis de Saint-Loup.

Saint Loup

Robert Marquis de Saint-Loup

According to one critic, when the narrator meets Saint-Loup they become the best of friends, and “[u]nlike most of the relationships described in In Search of Lost Time, which prove to be illusory, corrupt, or sexually ambivalent, the relationship between Marcel [the name many critics give to the nameless narrator] and Robert is straightforward and pure, a platonic ideal.” I think the critic missed out, and maybe deliberately. It’s like the critic went out of his to make sure there was no homosexuality much like those who fail to see the homosexual intimacy between Queequeg and Ishmael in Moby Dick. The narrator for 10 pages writes and gushes on about Saint-Loup. He describes with the same affection for the girls he had crushes on. It reads like a diary entry about someone he loves, but it lacks amorousness. (On a side note, he doesn’t even describe his parents, including his mother who loves very much and almost on an Oedipal level.) It’s clear he has homosexual feelings for Saint-Loup.

Saint-Loup is also misperceived. He is known to have loved women. However, the narrator coyly notes, “some thought there was something effeminate about him,” (309) which I think reads as code for “gay.” This also seems true because Proust somewhere describes being gay as something like being a man with a woman trapped inside. (Unfortunately, I think people still think that today. 😢) So again another misperception.

Another misperception is with Saint-Loup’s uncle, Baron de Charlus (Palamède de Guermantes).


Baron de Charlus

He is also considered a ladies man who hated homosexuals. Saint-Loup even notes:

One day, a fellow . . . showed rather untoward tendencies, made an appointment with my uncle at the apartment. When he got there, the fellow made his intentions quite clear—but toward my uncle Palamède . . . . My uncle pretended not to understand, then on some pretext or other sent for his two friends. They turned up, took the miscreant, stripped the clothes off him, beat him till his blood ran red, then kicked him out—it was ten below zero, and when he was found he was lucky to be alive. (331)

Clearly, he’s a hetero “man” who hates homosexuals. But this is the same man who was cruising for young men when the narrator caught him staring and checking out the narrator, which was their first encounter. The narrator does not think this is what Charlus is doing, but it’s quite clear from reading. Later, when they meet, Charlus is clearly embarrassed by his previous actions, “the gentleman . . . without looking at me, mumbled vague ‘How d’you do?’ which he followed with ‘Hmmm, hmmm'” (334), and then he tries to avoid the narrator. Later, Charlus goes to the narrator’s room with a book by an author the narrator admires. It was clearly a pretense for getting into his room for sex, and it may have happened had someone else not entered the room, and Charlus shyly exits. This leads me to think he beat up the gay man, mentioned above, because of repressed homosexuality, which also mirrors Proust beating up the reporter.

In sum, there is a lot misperception and deliberate misperception. There is also the avoidance to address homosexuality, bi-sexuality, and the author’s Jewish roots.

Thanks for reading. 😀



In Search of Lost Time 4-1-2022

Odette is Swann’s lover. Here are some pictures of what others think Odette looks like.

Swann in Love (film)

From the Swann in Love movie.

What these two pictures and other Goolge searches show is that Odette is a white woman. That’s what I thought when reading about France in the early 1900s. But I may have changed my mind, and I’m surprised that, as far as I can tell, I am the only person to notice what she looks like. Here is what I read on page 139 of In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (the second volume of In Search of Lost Time):

[B]etween Mme. Swann, who was dark, and the golden-skinned girl [Gilberte, who is Odette and Swan’s child] with fairish hair. . . . Gilberte resembled a portrait of her mother, verging on a good likeness, but done by a fanciful colorist who had made her pose in semi-disguise . . . It was not just the blond wig she was wearing, but the fact that every last atom of her [Gilberte’s] dark complexion had faded . . . . Her fair complexion was so clearly her father’s that Nature, in order to create Gilberte, seemed to have been faced with the problem of imitating Mme. Swann while being able to use as its sole material the skin of M. Swann. . . . a new variety of Mme. Swann had been achieved, like a white lilac growing beside a purple one.

In this description and what is left out, the narrator describes Gilberte by noticing certain features Gilberte inherited from her mother, Odette, and her father, Swann. What I want to point out is that from this description, it seems Odette is a person of color and not white. This adds a twist to when Odette is first mentioned in Swann’s Way where she is basically described as not being beautiful in the “traditional” conception of beauty. I read that as code for not “white” beauty.

It’s interesting because none of the characters indicate she is a person of color and nor does the narrator. What it does is to make the following seemingly innocuous scene from 29 pages earlier gain new meaning. In the following scene, Odette and Swann are talking about Mme Blatin and judging her (judging people behind their backs seems to be the main occupation of all the characters):

[Swann speaking:] “It’s too stupid. You see, Mme Blatin likes to address people in a way that she thinks is friendly, but which gives the impression that she’s talking down to them.” “What our neighbors across the Channel call patronizing,” Odette interrupted. “So recently she went to the Zoo, where there was this exhibition being given by black fellows, from Ceylon, I think, or so I’m told by my wife, who’s much better at ethnography than I am.” “Charles do stop being facetious.” “I’m not being facetious in the slightest. So there she is, saying to this black fellow, “Good morning, blackie! . . . Well, this form of speech was not to the black fellow’s liking—’Me blackie,” he bellowed at Mme Blatin, ‘you camel!'” (110)

You can see here how two characters reference the man as being black, and one in a most racist manner. I would think someone would say something similar about Odette if she is black, but they don’t . . . directly. In this passage, Swann says Odette is “better at ethnography” and Odette tells Swann to “stop being facetious.” I read this as Swann saying Odette is black so she would recognize where a black person hails from, and Odette is basically telling Swann in a most polite manner to shut up with his racist remark.

I’m not sure what to do with this new knowledge as of now, but I am concerned that I haven’t seen this mentioned elsewhere. But I think someone else needs to investigate this and verify what I am claiming or indicate how I am missing reading all of this.



In Search of Lost Time 3-15-2022

Swann’s Way is the first volume of In Search of Lost Time. Swann’s Way has three parts: Combray (which has sections 1 and 2); Swann in Love; and Place-Names: The Name. I recently finished Swann in Love. It could be a stand alone novel at 203 pages in length. This section focuses on Swann thinking or convincing himself that he is falling in love with Odette, who sleeps around with men, women, and in orgies, who is not attractive or intelligent, who lacks class, but is very well dressed. Swann in Love ends: “he [Swann] exclaimed to himself: ‘To think that I wasted years of my life, that I wanted to die, that I felt my deepest love, for a woman who did not appeal to me, who was not my type!” It’s a sad realization to have, but it’s good to have. As Swann’s Way ends, I feel relieved for him because he is finally over his delusion, jealousy, and obsessiveness. Good for you, Swann.

The final part of Swann’s Way is Place-Names: The Name. This begins with the narrator writing about his nameless self again and his “nights of insomina” (399). It recalls the ten-page opening of the volume. When I read it, I think, “Oh, yeah. There was another story about the narrator.” At first, the transition does not make sense. It’s like the initial story was interrupted for 203 pages to learn about Swann and his idea of love and falling in love. Place-Names: The Name begins by exploring how the name of a thing is “absorbed forever [in] the image” (403) of the thing or place. It then briefly explores semiotics by showing connections between a word, a sound, and the imagination. And then I meet Gilberte, the daughter of M. Swann and his wife, Odette. Oh my. The reminder. Earlier in the volume, I knew this but forgot. Swann did not get over Odette. That’s even sadder than the end of Swann’s Way. Gilberte is also the girl whose name the narrator mispronounced when he met her in the Combray section and whose eyes he changed color via his imagination. And now this section begins to make sense. The narrator told us about Swann so a parallel could be seen with the narrator. The narrator has similar love delusions as Swann. The narrator, in fact, creates two Gilbertes. One is the Gilberte in the waking world, who does not love him just as Odette did not love Swann, and the other is the one in the narrator’s imagination. The one he created he expects to write him a letter when she is gone. The created one is not like the real one who is dismissive and who is mainly concerned with herself. I mean dig this scene:

On one of those sunny days that had not fulfilled my hopes, I did not have the courage to hide my disappointment from Gilberte.

“I had so many things to ask you,” I [the narrator] said to her. “I thought that today was going to mean such a lot to our friendship. And as soon as you get here, you have to leave again! Try to come early tomorrow, so I can finally talk to you.”

Her face shone and she was jumping with joy as she answered me:

“Tomorrow, you may depend upon it, my dear friend, I won’t be coming at all! I’ve got a big tea party; nor the day after tomorrow, either, I’m going to a friend’s house to watch the arrival of King Theodosius from her windows, it will be splendid, and then the day after we’re going to Michel Stogoff and then after that, Christmas will coming soon and the New Year’s holidays. Maybe they’ll take me to the Midi. How nice that would be! Though it will mean I won’t have a Christmas tree; anyway, if I stay in Paris, I won’t be coming here because I’ll be paying calls with Mama. Good-bye, there’s Papa, he’s calling me.” (424-5)

Whew. That’s devastating. Their relationship is clearly portrayed in this passage. He loves her, and she doesn’t really think much of him other than as a form of entertainment and as a person to play “prisoner’s base” with.

I thought, “Ok. He”ll learn from this and move on.” But no. He doesn’t learn. He imagines her writing him letters with remorse. He imagines a lot. He’ssimilar to Swann, and it’s sad. I hope he recovers. I have 15 more pages to read in Swann’s Way, and then I’ll be done with the volume. So I wait to see what happens. I may not find out until Thursday, because Wednesday is my 11-12 hour day of teaching, with a break towards the end where I can read or nap to rest up for my three-hour night course.


Exclamation Points:

As of page 429, I have encountered at least 67 exclamation points! That seems excessive, but Proust is excessive in describing and exploring except when it comes to food.


I was expecting there to be a lot of food and drink in this first volume of In Search of Lost Time, Swann’s Way. I circled every food and drink I encountered as I read. Below are the only food and drinks I noticed:

  • tea (p. 45). Without the tea, the following food may not have worked.
  • petites madeleines (p. 45). I like how this is the first food as it is the most important as it stimulates the narrator’s memory.
  • madeleine (p. 53)
  • chocolate custard (p. 73)
  • marzipan (p. 74)
  • tangerine (p. 74)
  • marzipan (p. 77)
  • tangerine (p. 77)
  • licorice water (p. 91)
  • vichy water (two times on p. 103)
  • vichy water (p. 109)
  • potatoes (p. 118)
  • béchamel sauce (p. 118)
  • mashed potatoes (p. 118)
  • casseroles (p. 123). I didn’t know they existed back then. I thought they were invented in the 1950s.
  • game (p. 123)
  • pastry (p. 123)
  • cream (p. 123)
  • peas (p. 123)
  • asparagus (p. 123)
  • vegetables (p. 123)
  • chickens (p. 124)
  • coffee (p. 124)
  • vichy water (p. 126)
  • orangeade (p. 220)
  • Japanese salad (p. 265). The narrator does not indicate what is in a Japanese salad, but it seem like a rare delicacy.
  • Japanese salad (p. 266)
  • orangeade (p. 310)
  • orangeade (p. 311)
  • fruit (p. 322)
  • orangeade (p. 391)
  • spice cake (p. 418). The translator’s note reads: The French pain d’éspices is define in dictionaries as “gingerbread.” But unlike gingerbread and our spice cake, it is a rather heavy and not very sweet breadlike cake made of rye flour, honey, sugar, and spices, including anise, and is mildly laxative. . . . Until the last parts, I was getting excited to make this on Tuesday bread-making day.
  • red barley sugar (p. 418)
  • plum (p. 418)

I still need some madeleines stat. I also want to try this recurring orangeade.

This list makes it seems like there is more food and drink than there is.


Words of the Day:

lorgnon (p. 330) — Eyeglasses with a handle. They were fashionable for the day. They are more for jewelry than for vision.

anfractuosity (p. 337) — Characterized by wingdings and turnings.

arcature (p. 337) — An arcade of small dimensions.

fabliau (p. 404) — The translator’s note reads: A short, usually comic, frankly coarse, and often cynical tale in verse popular in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

Prophet’s constipation (p. 418) — I’m not sure what this is, but it is a reference to something Jewish, and Swann who is Jewish is suffering from this ailment.



In Search of Lost Time 3-8-2022

Love stinks, yeah yeah

— from “Love Stinks” by The J. Geils Band

Surely, Swann must feel this way. Or at least he pretends to. Swann has fallen in love with Odette, a person who is not intelligent, is not good looking, and lacks class. She borders on being, and may be, a prostitute. In the least, she’s an escort. The intelligent Swann, however, has fallen in love with her because of how he palimpsests (I just made a verb) her via art, as mentioned in the previous post. As the story progresses, he experiences what I am calling “love paranoia,” “love jealousy,” “love obsessiveness,” “love anger,” and “love dumb.” That means he doesn’t trust her with another man and that he doesn’t even really know what love is. In other words, he suffers from what Proust calls “a paroxysm love” (311). In other, other words, he is going crazy because he thinks he is in love, and it is creating emotions for self-dramatic effect.

Here is what I mean: Odette has started hanging out with another man named Forcheville, who is a recent convert to the Verdurin’s cult and who has the hots for Odette. The Verdurins even prefer him to Swann, and they probably prefer him because Swann won’t convert. Swann becomes “love jealous,” which leads to “love paranoia” and “love obsessiveness.” Not only can he not stop imagining implausible actions between Odette and Forcheville, but he has to spy on them, and he does so in a most “love dumb” manner. After Odette made Swann leave her place before he wanted to, Swann went home. Then his “love dumb” and “love jealous” mind started creating fictive certainties about what the two were doing. He imagined Odette made Swann leave earlier so she could be with Forcheville. Swann’s “love obsessiveness” dwelled on this until he decided to go spy on her apartment. He saw the light on and heard voices, so he knocked on the window until someone answered. If Odette answered, he was going to use the lame excuse that he was in the neighborhood at midnight and was just checking in on her to see if she was feeling better. It’s the lame excuse of a teenager. Then someone answered, and it turned out he was at the wrong apartment. Later, he asked a friend spy on her.

What Swann thinks is love is a creation of his imagination, which leads me to realize Swann does not love Odette. It does not seem plausible that Swann could love her since she is not attractive, not intelligent, and lacks class. In fact, I think Swann does all of this out of self-indulgence. It’s like she’s an experiment to occupy his time and generate feign emotions. Swann is clearly lonely and not capable of love. He’s a lady’s man but incapable of love.

I’m writing about this because I identify with Swann. It helped me understand a previous version of myself, who has experienced many of the above described emotions. However, mine were not as extreme, and I did not stalk someone or hire a spy, but I was in love. Proust’s ability to get inside a character so deeply and detailed creates a character that is real and translates over into the real world beyond the page. Reading Proust is becoming therapy, at times. Oh, my old, stupid self. I was so love naive. Swann and I experienced a love “embellished by . . . ignorance” (319).


Exclamation Points:

As of page 155, there was only one exclamation point. That has changed. I am currently on page 324, and there have been 33 more exclamation points. On page 297, there was even a triple exclamation point!!! and between pages 312 and 313, there were ten, count them ten, exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!

I don’t know why I am tracking this, but I am!


Word of the day:

pneumatic machine (318) — a tool or instrument that utilizes compressed air. I’m sure you knew that, as I did. What I didn’t know is that this device existed before the publication date of Swann’s Way on November 14, 1913. According to

In the 17th century, the German Otto von Guericke experimented on and significantly improved compressors. In 1829 a stage, or compound, compressor, which involved compressing air in successive cylinders, was patented. Cooling by jets of water sprayed into the cylinder during compression was introduced about 1872; later, a better system of cooling by the use of water-jacketed cylinders was developed. In the United States the first compressor used in large-scale work was a four-cylinder unit for the Hoosac Tunnel, at North Adams, Massachusetts, in 1866.

So it’s much older than I thought.


Thanks for reading.


And now for your listening pleasure:



In Search of Lost Time 2-27-2022

Marcel Proust’s first volume of In Search of Lost Time is Swann’s Way, which is divided into three parts: “Combray,” “Swann in Love,” and “Place Names.” Since my last post, I have entered the second part, “Swann in Love, and there is quite a difference from the first part. In the first part, the narrator (who, despite being unnamed, is referenced by critics and readers as Marcel) presents his young life along side his adult life. The transitions between the two are seamless, and sometimes, it takes me a while to figure out which one I am reading about. The first part, “Combray,” presents an idealistic view/understanding of the author’s community and experiences in such a small environment. He has ideals about art, how to view art, writing, how to read, and falling in love for the first times. He’s biggest concerns, if I remember correctly, are receiving a kiss from his mother before going to bed (and there is Freudian undertones to his relationship with his mother) and writer’s block. Marcel is young and his experiences are limited to his town and two paths to two other towns. In brief, that is the gist of Swann’s Way.

The second part of Swann’s Way, “Swann in Love,” right away moves into the community of Verdurin’s house, which appears to be a cross between a brothel and a cult that has even married two women, which must have been scandalous for the time. It is here that Swann meets his love, Odette, who is a member of the brothel and cult. She is not very “beautiful,” but she is the “best-dressed person in Paris” (205). Or is she beautiful?

Part of this answer rests with art. In “Combray,” Marcel’s imagination used art to make a person’s black eyes blue. He didn’t paint her. He chose to decide to see color her eyes that way. He imposed a reality, an art, on her to make her beautiful, a beauty which he had previously imagined her to be. In “Swann in Love,” art acts similarly but has more nuance. For instance, art has capitalistic aspects in its “expressive value” (217) and as something Swann can possess and have in his house (219-20) with the “sensuality of a collector” (233). At the same time, art challenges Swann, and art is used to make Odette beautiful to him. For Swann, art is the challenge that enables him to confront the “the frivolity of the society of people” (231) he interacts with and the generalizations he interacts with. This maybe why or how he uses art to challenge Odette’s non-pleasant appearance. If it were not for Botticelli’s art, and another artist whose name I can’t currently locate, and the associations their artworks create in Odette, she would not beautiful. As the narrator says of Swann and his perception of Odette:

He no longer appraised,” (note the capitalism in “appraised”) “Odette’s face according to the finer or poorer quality of her cheeks and the purely flesh-colored softness he supposed he must find when he touched them with his lips if he ever dared to kiss her, but as a skein of of subtle and beautiful lines that his eyes reeled off, following their winding curve, joining the cadence of her nape to the effusion of her hair and the flexion of her eyelids, as in a portrait of her in which her type became intelligible and clear. (232)

Swann has used art, particularly Realism, to create a beauty. Swann would not be able to love her and this newly created beauty without having a knowledge of and experience with art. If it wasn’t for art and the associations to and from art he creates for Odette, she would be ordinary. In fact, Odette is a a palimpsest on which Swann layers art and associative beauty to which she will become “precious” (232) and he will own. In fact he thinks, “How nice it would be to have a little woman like that in whose home one could always find that rare thing” (230). He views her like some collectors view art — something that has an aura of authenticity and as something to own.

The world of In Search of Time has become complicated and exciting.


Fun observations.

Fauvism was new at the time of Proust’s writing, but he makes mention of it when he shows people reacting to the modern art of the time: “women do not have lavender hair” (221).

The first, and so far only, exclamation point appears on page 155!


Words of the days to make up for missed posts.

Demimondaine (198) — a woman considered to belong to the demimonde. Demimonde — a class of women who have lost their standing in respectable society because of indiscreet behavior or sexual promiscuity. — Think Odette.

Neuralgia (214) — sharp and paroxysmal pain along the course of a nerve.

Orangeade (220) — a beverage consisting of orange juice , sweetener, and water, and sometimes carbonated. This word makes the list because I didn’t realize it had been around for so long.


The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

Material Matters

Poems for an Empty Church

Poems for an Empty Church

The Oldest Stone in the World

The Oldest Stone in the Wolrd

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Pre-Dew Poems

Pre-Dew Poems

Negative Time

Negative Time

After Malagueña

After Malagueña

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March 2023


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