Madame Swann

   In reality from the point of view of society Swann was not such a self-made man as I appear to be saying, and Madame Swann his mother, a most distinguished woman, had enjoyed several brilliant female friendships in her lifetime. Madame Swann had certainly not sought out these friendships. She simply yielded to the solicitations of elegant women who, seduced by her intelligence and charm, used everything in their powers to attract her. But this initial ascent - that her son came to perfect so brilliantly - into a different world, even if Madame Swann did not premeditate it, perhaps, it must be repeated, she would have  been incapable of accomplishing had she not been Jewish, that is to say more recently middle-class than the wives of her husband's colleagues, not yet weighed down by the dead weight of prejudice and secular routine, that would no longer have allowed her the elasticity, the mobility that a change of social sphere demands. She rose, like a light and glistening bubble that silently ascends in the midst of the molecules of a liquid whose cohesion at most grants only motionlessness. Recently arrived from the Orient (her family had only lived in France for five or six generations) she still had that restlessness, that taste for the new, that suppleness of the organism that can give itself up to what it wants, thanks to which a traveller only just arrived in a new country, undertakes an excursion such as he would not have had the strength, the taste for nor even the very idea of undertaking in the place he lived and during the course of his usual habits. These several brilliant friendships that elevated her position and the decoy signals to which the other women of the same social class would no doubt have opposed (just as much as if she had addressed them from the far reaches of the planet Mars) by an articular stiffness, a physiological, statistical, astronomical non possumus, drawn from their submission to the laws of gravity that did not allow them to feel an attraction other than in the inverse ratio to the square of their distance and on condition that they had been successful in their "world", Madame Swann, who had no vanity whatsoever, naively concealed these brilliant friendships from her whole circle of solicitors' and brokers' wives, by grace of the innocent and natural performance of her distinction and her delicacy. If on a visit to Madame Swann's my great-aunt encountered a woman unknown to the world of finance, Madame Swann out of friendship for my aunt left the other lady a little to one side who could not take this neglect for disdain and occupied herself exclusively with my aunt who, interpreting Madame Swann's attitude with her less noble nature and her less refined notions of politeness told herself that from the moment Madame Swann deserted that lady for her, it was because she must have been some obscure Semite small-fry. And if one were to see several carriages blazoned with imperial crowns stationed in front of the Swann's mansion, one would have told oneself that Monsieur Swann's professional position put him in connection with a lot of people whose wives would certainly not want to rub shoulders with his, but who might find it more convenient to come and speak to him at his own home rather than in the "office". If my great-aunt's eye-glasses had not been able to take note of the nimble alteration that had been produced in Madame Swann's situation in the world, for an even more powerful reason she had suspected nothing in the complete revolution carried out by her son whom she saw only rarely, and always with a politeness and an earnestness that she judged in general to be sufficiently characteristic of a mediocre social position not to find them a trifle naive amongst the sons of people so well "placed". Moreover, as for Madame Swann, if she was in all sincerity much happier at her son's success in archaeology and botany than in his social successes, she also politically, in the role of their son's plenipotentiary among the different foreign powers that all mothers play at any given moment, sought rather when, on her "day" she spoke of him to the wives of attorneys and brokers, to exaggerate his genuine taste for solitude and study, his unsociableness, to forestall the susceptibilities of the people with whom he did not keep company.
   And if now several years after the deaths of Monsieur and Madame Swann, my great-aunt had been told that their son, who she considered rather as imperceptibly fallen from his lofty position on account of his strange tastes and excessive moral simplicity, the so-called "noble middle-class" which was that of his parents, that this Swann who as the "young Swann" was perfectly qualified to "rub along" with the most esteemed solicitors and attorneys in Paris [...]


Manuscript fragment from Cahier 9, NAF 16649. Reproduced in Littérature No 70, 1988, p110-128, Brouillons et brouillages, Proust et l'antisémitisme, Bernard Brun.

Created 23.11.15

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