Posts Tagged ‘Reading Journey


In Search of Lost Time 6-29-2022

I am about 20 pages from finishing The Guermantes Way, book three of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Sometimes I wonder if a novel, short story, or poem has a thesis. I think they do, but they are usually implicit, but in this long novel, I believe Proust explicitly tells us the thesis of In Search of Lost Time: “There is no need to travel to be able to see it again; we need to go deep into ourselves to find it” (85). In Search of Lost Time, as many critics have acknowledged, is based on Marcel Proust’s life, and Proust is not time travelling to see a something or someone again. He is digging deep into himself to re-experience past events in vivid detail, details that often last 5, 10, or even 133 pages.

Much of this book is also about experiencing time. Sometimes we experience time moving fast and sometimes slow. Proust on occasion will write about a detail, such as the inside of a church or person’s appearance or personality, for five to ten pages. When he does this, time slows for the narration. It’s like a lyrical moment in a narrative poem. Time stand stills. The Guermantes Way is 595 pages long and covers quite a few years from around 1895/1896 (based on referencing new evidence of the Dreyfus Affair but happening before the invention of the aspirin in 1897) to 1906/1907 (there is a reference to Richard Strauss’s Salome, which premiered December 9, 1905, but the characters wouldn’t have heard it until 1906 or 1907 (the year of the first recording of Salome)). So ten, eleven, or twelve years have passed in 595 pages. However, at least 133 pages of the book is devoted to a dinner party or 148 if count when the narrator finally leaves the party. That means one quarter of the book is devoted to a dinner party. So a couple of hours receives 148 pages. Time has crawled to a stall. Perhaps, he did that to mimic how boring the dinner party was. Much of the passage reads long and boring. Proust, at times, is clearly making fun of dinner parties and how people sometimes act at dinner parties. This isn’t a dinner like you or I would have with friends. This is a dinner party with aristocracy, wealthy people, and people who want to be wealthy and aristocrats or to know them or be acknowledge by them. So Proust shows how boring these type of people are. Proust even tells us so a little after the dinner party ended when he writes, “Dinner parties are boring because our imagination is absent, and reading interests us because it is keeping us company” (567). Oddly, there was very little description of the food. Nonetheless, if you want to read a a book with lots of detail including psychological detail, In Search of Lost Time is the book to read.


(Side note: while doing research to figure out the time line of this book, I discovered that on July 22, 1799, the metric system became the only legal standard for measuring length and mass in France. Also, many consider Garbiel Mouton as the inventor of the metric system as he “proposed a decimal system of measurement that French scientists would spend years further refining” ( I did not realize the metric system was so old. 


During this novel, we encounter racism and quite a bit of anti-Semitism. The racism is a bit different than what I was a aware of. The characters often describe a person from a country as a race, like the Greek race or Turkish race, which I found odd. I also found it odd that Bloch, a pretentious Jewish friend of the narrator, made anti-Semitic remarks. What I found odder was that the Guermantes family was considered a race and that servants were considered a race. It’s not clear from just reading In Search of Lost if Proust was racist or anti-Semitic or if he is just depicting the racism and anti-Semitism of the day. But there is a lot of anti-Semitism is this series. 😟


Words of the Day

anfractuous (p. 34) – sinuous or circuitous

madrepores (p. 52) – any true or stony coral of the order Madreporaria, forming reefs or islands in tropical seas. “Mother of pores.”

orrisroot (p. 77) – the root stock of orris, used in perfumery, medication, etc. (orris – an iris [an unexplained alteration of “iris”].)

nielloed (niello) (p. 90) – ornamental work. “A black mixture, usually of sulphur, copper, silver, and lead” (

Niello Exmaple

Niello example: Devotional Diptych with the Nativity and the Adoration. Other examples include rings, spoons, figurines, brooch, etc.

rubieund (p. 91) – red or reddish, ruddy

tu (multiple places) – a French word for “you,” but it is an informal, singular, subjective pronoun that indicates an intimate, amicable, and/or equal relationship between two people. This becomes an important pronoun between the narrator and Saint-Loup. When the narrator references Saint-Loup by “tu,” Saint-Loup acts as if the narrator had just said, “I love you.”

telephonist (p. 128) – an operator of a switchboard

Punchinello (p. 128) – a short, stout, comical looking person

tilbury (p. 132) – “is a light, open, two-wheeled carriage, with or without a top” (


agglutination (p. 166) – the act or process of uniting by glue or other tenacious substance. That which is used to unite.

bluestocking (p. 179, 189 (2x), and 443) – an intellectual or literary woman

praetorian (p. 236) – of or relating to praetor. (In the ancient Roman Republic, one of a number of elected magistrates chraged chiefly with the administration of civil justice and ranking next below a consul.)

pronunciamento (p. 236) – a proclamation, manifesto

demimindaine (p. 260) – a woman of demimonde. (demimonde – (especially during the last half of the 19th century) a class of women who have lost their standing in respectable society because of indiscreet behavior or sexual promiscuity.)

brigand (p. 292) – a bandit, especially one of a band or robbers, in mountain or forest regions


febrifuge (p. 293) – serving to dispel or reduce fever. A cooling drink.

ciborium (p. 320) – Any container designed to hold the consecrated bread or sacred wafers for Eucharist.

ignipuncture (p 321) – surgical closing of a break in the retina due to retinal separation by cauterizing the site of the break with a hot needle

jongleur (p. 366) – (in medieval France and Norman England) an itinerant minstrel or entertainer who sang songs, often of his own composition, and told stories


Happy Hour Food and Drinks

chocolate – 7 (“chocolate drop”), 75 (2x, once as “cup of chocolate”), 342 (“cup of chocolate”)

wine – 11, 20 (“white wine”), 20 (“red wine”), 74, 157, 158, 165

coffee – 11,228

grapes – 11

meat – 20, 406 (“butcher’s meat”), 500

cherries – 20

toast – 20, 21, 501 (“buttered toast”)

liqueurs – 25

orangeade – 25, 510 (2x), 511 (2x)

bonbons – 34, 36 (2x), 37 (2x, once as “cherry bonbon”)

fruit – 36

milk – 70 (3x)

egg – 70, 202 (2x as “eggs”), 500, 501 (4x, once as “ortolan eggs” and once as “rotten eggs)

cream – 70

champagne – 74

partridges – 74

tea – 89

chickens – 92 (2x), 398 (“cold chicken wing”), 404 (“chicken wing”)

pigs – 92

lobster – 92

fowl – 92

fish – 92, 112 (“a fish cooked in court bouillon”)

grouse – 92

woodcock – 92

pigeons – 92

desserts – 92

oyster – 112 (“scaly-surfaced stoup of the oyster”)

grapes – 112

bluish herbs – 112

shellfish – 112

satellite animalcules – 112

crab – 112

shrimps – 112

mussels – 112

water – 157

champagne – 158, 164 (2x), 404

brandy – 167

tea – 192

cakes – 192

cider – 202

petits fours – 237

beer – 398

hot toddy – 398

poultry – 406

cream–stuffed éclairs – 439

biscuits – 454

chestnut purée – 484

bouchées à la reine (“bites to the queen”) – 484 

bouchées à la reine

A puff pastry with a savory filling.

Gruyère – 486

asparagus – 496 (“asparagus sauce mousseline”), 3x (once as “green asparagus”)

poulet financière – 500

poulet financière

A classic French dish made with chicken, mushrooms, and chicken livers.

omelette – 501

brill poached in carbolic acid – 502

sublime potatoes – 506

Yquems (a white wine) – 510

ortolans (Eurasian bird) – 510

tilleul – 510, 511

stewed cherry – 511

pear juice – 511

juice – 511

fruit-juice concoction – 511

vanilla flavoring – 514

ice cream – 514

madeline – 549




In Search of Lost Time 5-8-2022

I finished Proust’s In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (the second volume of In Search of Lost Time) on Saturday, May 7. This seven-long volume continues to be enjoyable, and it might even be getting better despite the lack of relevant plot. There is much I want to write about/explore, especially how the unnamed narrator (M) views women and girls as things to possess and to choose from, as if being in a grocery store and deciding which tomatoes you want to have and use. Instead, I wish to focus on technology, which makes a bigger presence in this volume, because it’s interesting, surprising, and helps me identify the time period when this story is taking place. Too bad it doesn’t really help to identify how old the narrator and his new friends are.

Technologies that I encountered in In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower include electricity, the telephone, photography, the automobile, the vacuum tube again (it also appears in Swann’s Way), elevators, and bathing machines. The bathing machines are technically not technology, and it’s probably not what you think it is. A bathing machine is a wooden cart on wheels with doors on two sides that “allowed bathers to change out of their clothes and into their bathing suits without having to be seen by the opposite sex” (

Bathing Machines

Bathing Machines

On page 182, the narrator first introduces and electricity and the telephone. I’ll look at electricity first. On page 182, the Mme Bontemps says:

Speaking of eyesight, have you heard the house that Mme Verdurin has just bought is going to have the electric light in it? . . . And even the bedrooms will have electric lamps, with shades to soften the light. Very nice. Very luxurious! We belong to a generation of ladies for whom everything must be up-to-the-minute, the very latest thing.

In 1878, the first electric lights were installed in Paris as streetlamps, which is two years before they first appeared in the United States in Wabash, Indiana, which claims to be the first electrically lighted city in the world. This electric lighting gives way to “nocturnalization,” “a term coined in 2011 by American Historian Craig Koslofsky, [which] refers to ‘the expansion of social and economic activity into the night and the subsequent spread of illumination” (



Then in 1881, the first International Exhibition of Electricity is held in Paris from August 15 to November 15. After this, electricity spread through France. At first, it was for communications, like the electric telegraph, and then lighting and motors. This hints that this part of Proust’s story is taking place in the 1880s and probably the middle- to late-1880s. What else is interesting is that they are referring to technology as we do today where “everything must be up-to-the-minute.” She’s say’s “minute” and not “up-to-the-times” or “days.” There’s already an urgency to technological developments. In addition, the occupation of an electrician arrives, and the are quickly considered worthy people: “nowadays, electricians, for example, have a rightful place in the ranks of true nobility” (362).

One the same page, appears for the first time the telephone. Continuing from the above speech from Mme Bontemps: “The sister-in-law of a friend of mine has actually got a telephone installed in her house! She can order something from a shopkeeper without stepping out of her own front door!” The first landlines in appear in 1876. It’s not until 1883 when the first telephone arrives to Paris, and by 1884, the telephone becomes more common. So again, the time setting appears to be the late 1880s. What’s interesting is that the first response to the phone is of economic and leisure concern, instead of a communication concern. Already, they are using the phone to go shopping just as many of us today use the phone to shop on Amazon, Ebay, Etsy, or wherever. Mme Bontemps continues:

I must admit I’ve been shamelessly currying favor, so that I’ll be allowed to go and speak into the machine one day. The idea fascinates me–but only in someone else’s hour not my own. I’d don’t think I’d like having a telephone about the house. Once the novelty of it wears off, it must be a definite nuisance. (182-3)

As is often the case with new technological devices, people think it will be a passing fad. But she also says it will be “a definite nuisance.” When people were first thinking about expanding the phone to be in people’s houses, they were also concerned about it being a nuisance. For instance, the considered how telephone polls and lines would disrupt the appearance of nature and how a phone call might interrupt family dinner. Ha ha. They anticipated telemarketers. 😂 Later on, there is the description of how the telephone works: “human speech, having been converted into electricity by the telephone, turns back into speech for the purpose of being understood” (506).

On page 479, the words “car” and “motoring” are used. In 1889, the first car appears in Paris. By the 1890s, France is the biggest producer of cars in Europe, and the United States does not outproduce France until 1907. Already, the term “car” is in vogue. The time setting now seems to be in the 1890s and maybe the early 1900s.

On page 193 is the word “daguerreotype,” which is “the first publicly available photographic process; it was widely in use during the 1840s and 1850s” ( On page 329 the word “stereoscope” appears two times, and of those occurrences, one is in this sentence: “These stereoscope sessions conferred upon those who attended them a sort of distinction, a feeling of being singled out and privileged.” The stereoscope was first created in the 1830s, but Oliver Wendell Holmes made a more economical version in the 1860s. Even those stereoscope is still old at the time of the story, it is still a technological device of the “privileged.”

Holmes Stereoscope

Holmes Stereoscope

Those are precursors to the more common photography we are familiar with. The words “photograph,” “photographs,” photographed,” “photography,” “photo,” and “photos” appear at least 17 times between pages 193 and 469, and 14 of those occurrences appear between pages 404 to 469. On page 365, the word “Kodak” is used: “They’re just snaps I took myself with my Kodak.” The speaker uses “Kodak” as a common word like we use “Kleenex” to “Google” something. According to Independent Photo:

In 1888, Eastman trademarked the name “Kodak”, a meaningless word which would soon develop a definition on its own and rapidly become one of the most recognisable brands in the world. . . . By 1897, the company had patented a pocketable camera. By 1900, they had released the Brownie, a basic cardboard box camera . . . – The Brownie functioned so quickly and easily that the word “snapshot’” was born.

Kodak Brownie

Kodak Brownie

We see the speaker uses the word “snaps,” and on page 454 is the word “snapshot.” Photographic terms have entered the lexicon, and we can also assume that maybe the time setting is now the early 1900s. Also of interest is how photography becomes an artistic topic by comparing paintings to photographs. For instance, according to the narrator, for Elistir (an artist/painter), paintings are uncanny recreations and interpretations, but photographs are uncanny representations. Already the similarities and differences are noted and made. Also, what must be one of the first similes using photography appears on page 451:

Pleasures are like photographs: in the presence of the person we love, we take only negatives, which we develop later, at home, when we have at our disposal once more our inner darkroom, the door of which it is strictly forbidden to open while others are present.

Wow. That’s a devastating simile.

There it is. New technology that enters the story and the narrator’s life, and we get to experience what it was like to be introduced to those technologies in what I assume is the late 1890s or early 1900s.


Words of the Day:

senza rigore (p. 170) – without a strong pulse. Without rigor. A musical term.

habitués (p. 177) – accustomed

jehu (p. 177) – a king of Israel not for his chariot attacks. A fast driver. The driver of a cab or coach.

ne plus ultra (p. 179) – the perfect or most extreme example of its kind, the ultimate.

vexillum (p 211) – a military standard or flag carried by ancient Roman troops. In botany, a large, upper petal of a papilionaceous (Latin – butterfly) flower.



Monésgasque (p. 244) – a resident of Monaco. Relating to Monaco or its residents. The variety of Ligurian spoken in Monaco, where it is considered the national language.

introit (p. 248) – any type of entrance or opening. However, the term often refers to the opening of the vagina, which leads to the vaginal canal.

contretemps (p. 259) – an inopportune occurrence; and embarrassing mischance.

sedulously (p 262) – diligent in application or attention preserving. Persistently or carefully maintained.

obstruberant (p. 285) – “by which he meant they got in everybody’s way and served no useful purpose” (285).

valerianate (p. 363) – a salt of valeric acid; some forms are used as medicine.

titivate (p. 368) – to make smart or spruce.

velodrome (p. 374) – a sports arena equipped with a banked track for cycling.

ataxia (p. 396) – loss of coordination of the muscles, especially in the extremities.

terraqueous (p. 424) – consisting of land and water, as the earth.

zoophytic (p. 435) – any of the various invertebrate animals resembling a plant, as a coral or sea anemone.

Various Examples of Sea Anemone

Various Examples of Sea Anemone.

ne varietur (p. 440) – never varied

poltroonery (p. 501) – a wretched coward, craven.




Happy Hour Food and Drinks

coffee – p. 114, p. 271, p. 390, p. 395

sugar – p. 114

tea – p. 119, p. 189, p. 392 (“Afternoon tea”), p. 395 (“afternoon tea”), p. 530

caviar – p. 124

beer – p. 230 2x, p. 321, p. 391

brandy – p. 230

alcohol – p. 230, p. 396

liqueur – p. 230

lemons – p. 232

trout – p. 269

fish – p. 269

soup – p. 270

tisane – p. 271. An herbal tea, but technically it is not a tea. It’s an infusion “made from leaves, bark, roots, berries, seeds, and/or spices. Common tisanes include mint, chamomile, verbena, and rooibos.” (

fruit – p 275 3x (once as “fine fruit”), p. 276 4x (once as “bad fruit”), p. 277, p. 281, p. 291

oysters – p. 275, p. 449 (“lustral water left in oyster shells”)

plums – p. 277, p. 278 2x

grapes – p. 277 (“translucent grapes), p. 278 (“golden grapes”), p. 291, p. 489

pears – p. 277, p. 278 2x

“rarebits” – p. 278. “Welsh rarebit is a British dish consisting of a hot cheese-based sauce served over slices of toasted bread.[2] The original 18th-century name of the dish was the jocular “Welsh rabbit”, which was later reinterpreted as “rarebit”, as the dish contains no rabbit.” (

Welsh Rarebit

Welsh Rarebit

creamed eggs – p. 278

sweets – p. 279

cakes – p. 279, p. 314 (“wedding cakes), p. 437, p. 482 3x (once as “chocolate cake” and one with a “cloying creaminess”)

bread – p. 279 (“loaf of rye bread”), p. 352

rolled wafers – p. 279

babas – p. 279. A small, rich sponge cake, typically soaked in rum-flavored syrup.

barley sugars – p. 279

peaches – p. 291

apricots – p. 291

sherbert – p. 320

butter – p. 352

wine – p. 357 (“red wine”), p. 392, p. 358 (“sparkling wine”), p. 401, p. 449

champagne – p. 357, p. 358, p. 391

port – p. 391, p. 393

soufflés – p. 391 (“chocolate soufflés”), p. 478

potatoes – p. 391 (“potatoes à l’anlaise”)

lamb – p. 391 (“Pauillac lamb.” Pauillac Lamb is a lamb whose raising methods have been protected by law in Europe under its PGI status, which was received in 2003. The lambs are supposed to be both born and raised in the Gironde area (“Agneau né et élevé en Gironde”) according to the EU PGI certification. Pauillac is a small village in the Haut-Médoc region in the Gironde département. The lambs are born and raised beside their mothers on the same farm. They are kept with their mothers for 60 days, and consume only their mother’s milk, making them part of the category of lamb called “Suckling Lamb” (or “agneau de lait” in French.),to%20the%20EU%20PGI%20certification.)

Agneau de Pauillac

Agneau de Pauillac

hors d’œuvres – p. 392

tarts – p. 450 (“strawberry tarts”), p. 474, p. 482 2x (once as “apricot tart” and one with “refreshing fruitiness”)

éclair – p. 451 (“coffee éclair”), p. 453 (“coffee éclair”), p. 454

sandwiches – p. 475 (“sandwiches of Cheshire cheese and lettuce”), p. 482 (“sandwiches of Cheshire cheese and lettuce”)

icing – (p. 482)

Périgourdine – p. 488. A dish either whose ingredients include, or that is garnished with, black truffles.



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 3-31-2022

So far I am enjoying the In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (the second volume of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time) more than Swann’s Way (the first volume). In reflection, the first volume seems more like exposition. There are two main stories. The one about Swann and Odette had conflicts and concerns, and in the other not much happens. But it seems like it was necessary to write Swann’s Way for the second volume, which is much more interesting with more conflicts between characters and the narrator falling in love with Gilberte, the young girl of his fantasy. Thinking of which, there is what should have been considered a scandalous scene in literary history, but I don’t think it was perceived that way. When the narrator and Gilberte are playfully wrestling and flirting, the narrator got over excited and “shed my pleasure, before I even had time to be aware of the nature of it” (67). He prematurely ejaculated (as many young boys do), and Gilberte realized it. When Leopold Bloom, from Ulysses, ejaculated in his pants, it led to a court case about pornography in Ulysses, but as far as I’m aware, Proust suffered no such response. Nonetheless, it was a sweet scene as both he and Gilberte tried to pretend neither noticed. Gilberte then asked him if wanted to wrestle again, and he “agreed to wrestle with her again, in case she might think my only purpose, now achieved, had been the pleasure that left me feeling no desire other than to sit quietly beside her” (67).

I’ve gone off track, and there is so much to write about, such as the narrator’s ideas on space, time, and writing, as well as writing and love. Maybe I’ll do that in another post, but I must share the following.

Norpois is a respected diplomat and the narrator looks up to Norpois because he is smart and well read. The narrator gave Norpois something he wrote, and the great diplomat responded to the narrator:

But in the piece you showed me, one can detect Bergotte’s [a factious writer (based on Anatole France) the narrator admires] pernicious influence. Now, clearly, it come as no surprise to you to learn that it contained none of his better qualities, he being a past master in the art of a certain phase-making—though one should add, mind you, that it’s a shallow art—and you being a boy who cannot be expected to have grasped even the rudiments of that. Still, young as you are, it’s exactly the same defect, the aberration of stringing together a few fine-sounding words, and not finding any substance to put into them until afterward. (46-7)

Narpois then goes on to put down the narrator’s favorite writer even more. As a result, the narrator “was devastated by what M. de Norpois had said about the piece I had given him to read. . . . I became once more acutely aware of my own intellectual poverty and of the fact that I had no gift for writing.” (47). What Narpois did was crush the writing spirit and hopes in the young narrator. It’s very mean. I don’t think he was trying to be mean. Instead, I think he was showing off about how smart he is. But he’s one of those people who make themselves look smart by putting others down. In addition, I think he puts down Bergotte’s writing because he doesn’t like Bergotte the person, which, I think, is how literary criticism was often performed . . . and maybe it still is. 😁 However, he’s a diplomat, so you think he’d be better equipped to respond to a child. So if you ever want to ensure your kid never writes again, be sure to follow Norpois’s response. . . . Luckily, the narrator later on still wants to write.


Words of the Day:

sesquipedalianism (p. 30) — given to using long words. Containing many syllables. The word is its definition. 😀

fustian (p. 47) — (as it is used on this page): inflated or turgid language in writing or speaking. Pompous or bombastic, as language.

orbiter dicta (p. 57) — (Latin) passing remark, opinion.

lavabo (p. 65) — a French word that means “wash basin” or “water closet.” The note in the Notes section on page 537 reads: “The OED does not confirm that it has ever been used in English in the modern sense of ‘lavatory’.”

hypogean (p. 66) — underground, subterranean

toque (p. 66) — (pronounced tohk) a brimless and close fitting hat for woman in any of several shapes. Compare with the Canadian “tuque” (pronounced “took” rhymes with “fluke”), which is a knitted hat, traditionally made of wool and worn in the winter. And now I’m thinking about Strange Brew. Take off to the great white north.

porte cochére (p. 70) — a covered carriage entrance leading to a courtyard.

per viam rectam (pp. 73, 78) — by a straight/direct road. “By the right way.” I think this term will become important.

cosa mentale (p. 74) — mental occupation. DaVinci said, “pittura è una cosa mentale,” which translated is  “painting is a mental occupation.”

Reuters news agency (p. 92) — I’m sure we all know what this is, but did you know it was founded in Great Britain in 1851, which is 43 years before this volume is published.


Happy Hour Food and Drinks

This is a list of foods and drinks I have encountered so far in In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, the second volume of In Search of Lost Time. I have noticed that foods and drinks occur in clumps, and there are more foods and drinks than in volume I, Swann’s Way.

beef in aspic (p. 17)

finest slabs of rump steak (p. 17)

the best shin of of beef and calf’s foot (p. 17)

a New York ham (p. 17)

York ham (p. 17)

ham (p. 17)

cheap wine (p. 23)

cold beef with carrots (p. 30)

aspic (p. 30, three times)

a dish of braised beef (p. 30)

carrots (p. 30)

beef Stroganoff (p. 30)

pineapple-and-truffle salad (p. 31)

Nesselrode pudding (p. 38). It’s “a Victorian ice-cream-style dessert packed full of chestnuts and fruit.” A recipe is here:

cold beef (p. 57)

soufflés (p. 57 and 58)

beef jelly (p. 58)

jellies (p. 58)

custard (p. 58)

beef (p. 58)

gravy (p. 58)

jelly (p. 58)

cream (p. 58)

marrons glacés (p. 58) — a confection of chestnuts candied in sugar and glazed. Candied chestnuts. Here’s a recipe:

marrons déguisés (p. 58) — (marrons in disguise) sweet chestnuts coated in dark chocolate. Soft bites. Here’s a recipe:

spice cake (p. 59)

appetizing chop (p. 69)

caffeine (p. 69): “the caffeine already prescribed as an aid to my breathing.”

beer (p. 69)

champagne (p. 69)

brandy (p. 69): “I should have a drink of beer, champagne, or brandy each time I feel an attack coming on.” Man, I love this Doctor Cottard’s prescriptions. 😀

milk (p. 71 four times, p. 72 four times)

meat (p. 71)

alcohol (p. 71)

clear soup (p. 72)

broth (p. 72)

olé! au lait! (p. 72) — a delicious pun. 😀

tea (pp. 77, 80 five times, 81 three times, 119

chocolate cake (p. 79)

cake(s) (pp. 80 two times, 81 two times)

chocolate (p. 80)

Ninevite cake-castle (p. 80) — I’m not sure what it is, but someone decided to invent what it is here:

scarlet fruit (p. 80)

toast (p. 81 two times)

eggs Béchamel (p. 100)

icy pink glaze (p. 100)

le pudding de Christmas (p. 101) — Christmas pudding

lobster à l’américaine (p. 112) — here’s a recipe:

orangeade (p. 113)


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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February 2023


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