One of the earliest versions of "Swann"

   It was on the Méséglise way that I observed the golden rays of the setting sun that passed between myself and my father and that he ran through with his walking cane, that I observed the round shadow cast by the apple trees onto a field bathed in sunshine, it was on the Guermantes way that I saw in the woods where we were resting the sun turning slowly around the trees and the moon white as a cloud pass over in the mid afternoon. It was on the Méséglise way that I learned that it is enough for love to be born in our heart for a woman to fix her gaze upon us and to feel that she could be ours; but it was on the Guermantes way that I learned that sometimes it is enough for love to be born in our heart for a woman to turn her gaze away from us and to feel that she could never be ours. And from that day on a woman has always remained for me profiled against a natural landscape like in an old painting or against a town in which I had first desired her or even the one where I knew she lived. More than it being a memory of the past, it was an aspiration for the future where I thought of her as commanding the entrance to the country where she lived, the particular pleasures of the secret customs that could be tasted there and into which she would have initiated me. There is not a French province, not a foreign country that I would have wished for, not a feminine situation from the court life of an archduchess to the life in a couturier's studio or the farming life of a peasant into which I would have liked to be incorporated and in the midst of which I did not see rising up the woman who remained at the door of the barn or on the steps of the church. But more than anything, throughout them, each year of my life had been placed in a usually unknown and only wished for landscape that accompanied her still more in my memory than the one in which I lived. In this colouration that each year of my life took on so distinctly in this way in my memory, I would not have known how to discern whether it was my desire for the country that made me associate it with the woman or whether it was the love for the woman that made me desire the country. It was flux and reflux, reflections that then reflected themselves, constant harmony of atmosphere. Yet sometimes one was the more powerful, sometimes the other. Often the desire for the country swept it away. Without knowing too much about the country a woman came from, it was to Brittany that I wanted to take her. Other times it was the woman that opened up in me the desire for the country. A Hungarian woman made me want to see the vast course of the Dnieper, which I had hardly ever thought about up until then. Writers too contributed in composing this ideal country where I placed the woman I was in love with and that I wanted to rediscover like a sacred essence in the soil I walked on. How many times did I recite to myself (on the Méséglise way) lines from "The Night of October"

The dead sleep peacefully in the bosom of the earth
These relics of the heart too are their dust

that I identified I know not why, with the endless fields of Méséglise. These relics of the heart appeared to me to be of a rich colour and deep harmony that enchanted me. Since then, verses that at the time meant nothing in my eyes I have found ravishing, and the relics of the heart no longer speak to me so strongly. This is how I came to learn that artistic beauty is not perceived materially by us merely by opening our eyes and our ears, but it must coincide deep inside of us with a spirit attained from the same degree of development or decadence that is found in the soul of the one who has written them. Those that need to go farthest in that development cannot attain it however in a single bound. They must pass by degrees to the point where they love the works that correspond to the phase at which they find themselves. At one period of my life when I had a sort of passion for moonlight and made a collection of all the pages that spoke about it, certain phrases in Picciola enchanted me, a sentence in Colomba gave me pleasure from its very first words because it spoke of moonlight, but a pleasure that was combined with it immediately prevented me from seeing the brilliant star and combined with it something I was unable as yet to assimilate. The most exquisite of Baudelaire's verses, of Flaubert's sentences would have seemed awful to me. In painting I saw nothing beyond the shapes of Gleyre's precise contours, over which one uniform colour was vigorously and evenly spread, where nothing altered the poetry of the landscape in which the fine crescent moon stood out. On the other hand, certain novels that I read at that time. perhaps Le Lys dans la Vallée, although I could not be sure, gave me a great love for certain tall spiked flowers, thrusting vertically from their dark shaded clusters on a flowery path. Many times I looked for them on the Guermantes way, halting in front of some foxgloves, letting my parents overtake me, to disappear behind a bend in the Vivette so that nothing could disturb my thoughts, repeating to myself the beloved phrase, wondering whether it was precisely this that the novelist had described, trying to identify the landscape I had read about with the landscape in my contemplation so as to endow it with the dignity that literature had already conferred its reality for me by manifesting before me its essence and teaching me its beauty. I will never finish if I were to repeat everything I learned from the Méséglise way and the Guermantes way. There is no doubt that the various lessons that I received at that time did not all flow from the special and different characters of the two "ways". But as the minute some revelation appeared to me remains engraved in my memory, as I recall the tree under which I was standing, the flower that brushed against my feet, I could not prevent myself from locating it in whichever one of the two ways it had taken place. I remember my anguish as I walked through the fields on the Méséglise way because I had been told that for Théophile Gautier the most beautiful of Racine's lines was

The daughter of Minos and Pasiphaë.

At that time I could not allow art - much less philosophy - any dignity other than on condition that it contained some great idea. That these lines of Racine, that certain lines of Leconte de Lisle might be more beautiful than the philosophical poetry of Sully Prudhomme, was something that troubled me much more profoundly than the beauty that I was unable to acknowledge that I experienced. I who today - for quite other reasons than Théophile Gautier - attach hardly any importance to the explicit intellectual content of a work of art. But the time had not yet come that I was to encounter the idea of art that I hold today and there were still many roads to travel before I reached it.
   For a long time it was a rule of the house that on the evenings when we had been on the Guermantes way, as I came home very tired I was sent straight up to bed as soon as I'd had my soup, and as dinner was hardly started when I went up, Mamma could not come up and say goodnight to me so that the Guermantes evenings were as unhappy as the evenings M. Swann came to dine with us. Throughout the afternoon I was thinking about the Comtesse de Guermantes, about water-lilies, about the pleasures of taking a small boat out on the Vivette. But on our way back, as night began to fall, all of a sudden my heart began to pound, the anguish of the night that I would be spending without Mamma coming to say goodnight to me had just struck me and would no longer leave me. The Comtesse de Guermantes was far away, I no longer saw anything on our walk, it had lost all its charm for me and I could no longer understand the possibility of taking any pleasure from it, my mind was fixed on the bed that I would have to get into, that Mamma would not be bending over; and so it was that on the Guermantes way I learned to distinguish those opposing states in myself that succeeded one another, alternating through my life - often at close intervals, sometimes in the course of a single day - the one comprised for example of unhappiness that returns to drive the other away every day at the same time, with the punctuality of a fever - and so completely separate albeit contiguous, and so incommunicable, that whatever I had desired or feared or accomplished through the duration of one, seemed totally incomprehensible during the course of the other. Curiously, if it was on the Méséglise way that I first learned the sweetness of a daily regulated life of returning to the house to read every evening before dinner at the hour when the sky above the timbers of the Calvary was a band of scarlet with which I associated the kitchen stove in which that evening's chicken was starting to roast, it was also on the Méséglise way many years later that I learned, one summer holiday, at the home of friends that I did not then know, the sweetness of an unregulated life, of going out to visit them at an hour that at during that period in Combray I would have already finished dinner.
   Long before this period, at the end of the days at Combray that I have just been recalling, when I was still a small child, my aunt Léonie died; the people who thought she should "shake herself up" saw in her death the proof that they were right and said that her debilitating lifestyle had ended up by killing her. They only admired the fact that she was able to resist it for so long. The people that on the contrary thought that her extraordinary lifestyle was necessary for her gave the occurrence of her death the exact opposite interpretation and declared that it was clear to see that the poor woman really was sick after all and not a hypochondriac and that the gravity of her illness was proved by the evidence now she had died from it, and that one could see, they said, that what people called her "strange ideas" was just the consciousness of a morbid state that the sceptics stubbornly denied and which would have taken her away sooner, not being recognized by anybody, had she not had the instinct to refuse a diet and so delayed the outcome. The two illustrious medical men summoned from Paris to pronounce on the nature of the quickly acting health problems that brought on her death found themselves moreover deciding in favour of the partisans of one or the other theory. Because for one there had had to have been an outbreak of an old source of tuberculosis of the brain and kidneys, for which in reality substantial nourishment and continuous ventilation would have been beneficial. But according to the other death had been caused primarily by sclerosis and blocking of the arteries of those two organs, a state that diet and absolute rest had certainly not been able to do anything but retard the fatal event for a while. That year, on account of the formalities to be completed over my aunt Léonie's inheritance, my parents stayed very late in Combray. Autumn had arrived; it was getting cold; while my parents were attending meetings with the solicitor, M. Goupil, I read August Thierry's Norman Conquest of England in the "hall" in the corner by the fire; then when I was tired of the book, which sometimes happened, I went out: my body, long immobile through these hours of reading in which the movement of my ideas agitated it on the spot so to speak, was like a spinning top that suddenly released needs to expend its accumulated energy in all directions. Those walks I took alone, and always on the Méséglise way. I was intoxicated, the grasses growing out of the walls of the Image of Our Lady, the plum tree that had lost its plums and its fisherman beneath, the syringas in old M. Swann's hedge, apple trees in the fields receiving joyous blows from my umbrella that were nothing but confused ideas that had never known any rest during the day, preferring the immediate pleasure of an active diversion. I mention blows of my umbrella because it rained a lot that year and chapters of The Norman Conquest of England had such mysterious affinities with the weather, so that as the weather usually seemed to be undecided whilst I was reading, the rain did not start to fall until the moment I decided to go out. The first drops apprehended me on the rue l'Oiseau or as I was crossing the Old Bridge and a light rain would hardly stop falling until the moment I was on the point of of going back into Combray. Then a feeble ray of sunlight shone over Swann's park, the waters of the Vivette that had been so dark during the rain as I passed over the little bridge became once more a luminous substance, reflective and blue. And I went on my way damp, weary and cheerful at the harmony of everything. Through the streets of Combray the doorsteps and the roof tiles responded with a smile to the smiling sky, just a light breeze blew, the grasses in the walls let themselves be swirled by the wind with the abandon of inert and flimsy things that would have been carried off had they not been held fast at the base by the old stones, and the good people I met would say to me: "Lovely day for a walk." Later on in Paris I got to know the benefits of a more civilized and comfortable life where there was no risk of getting wet, the advantages of the club that at one ring of the telephone would send you an excellent brougham in ten minutes. But if I repeated along with everybody else how very agreeable and convenient this was, in the window glass of the brougham I had the same bored face as all the other people that took a carriage, that availed themselves of the telephone and who joined a club, whereas my walks in Combray "in all weathers" made me so happy and did me so much good that when the details of my aunt's inheritance were finalized and my parents were ready to leave Combray, they were sorry to take me away. Nobody would dream of leaving our house in Combray open just for me on my own, but in the neighbourhood... "Would you like me to go over to Pinsonville", my mother asked, "Françoise knows a nice lady's where you would be very welcome, and you could go for your walks in the fields from there."
   I went back to Paris with Mamma however, but I retained the intoxication of those walks on the Méséglise way, the memory of a beneficial life and an inexhaustible energy that all too quickly came to be contrasted with the dry life of society, with no place for contemplation, with no sense of rapture, where instead of feeling myself overflowing in my solitude, I felt that I was falsely accepting as delights the boring pleasures of society, which left me so unhappy that in the evening I was obliged to convince myself that I had not been wasting my time, to look back over my balance-sheet and tell myself: I met such and such an eminent gentleman today, such and such a charming lady, two reasons to be happy. Back on my walks on the Méséglise way I probably would not have found a single reason that could have proved to me that I hadn't wasted my day, that I was happy. But I had no reason to persuade myself that I was, I just was. I will never finish if I try to enumerate everything that I learned on the Méséglise way and the Guermantes way. No doubt some such discovery that I made within myself on one of the "ways" could quite often just as easily have been made on the other and did not adhere absolutely to the particular character of the way upon which it was made. But that was no obstacle for me when I recalled the moment one of those little truths was revealed to me, I know that I was sitting under a particular tree on the Guermantes way, that I was rounding a particular hedge on the Méséglise way. Even if we place it in a purely narrative point of view, why since we can describe the places we first saw the person that was to have an influence on our lives, can we not similarly describe the places where we became acquainted with a particular truth that would also have an influence on our lives. In any case sometimes there was a sort of harmony between the landscape and the idea.
   It was on one of my solitary autumn walks on the Méséglise way that dated one of the truly unalterable laws of my spiritual life. Suddenly as an image passed before my eyes or in my thoughts, I sensed a particular pleasure, a sort of profundity, that something lay beneath it, a more profound reality. I did not know what. I carefully held onto the image in my thoughts, I walked carefully for fear of it escaping. Sometimes I persuaded myself that it was only in the house, in front of my papers, that I could safely open it and discover its intellectual content. It may have been a steeple that I saw extending up in the distance, a sage flower, a young girl's face. I sensed that there was an impression underneath it, and I returned to the house bringing back my living impression hidden beneath the image that had informed it just as we might bring back the carp we have just caught covered by some grass to keep it fresh. On arrival at the house, I opened the basket, tried to lift away the grass and take hold of the fish, if it had not escaped en route. It is never the magnitude, the rational value of an idea that has provided me with the sensation of its beauty, that says to me: here is beauty, here is truth, here is something to dig deeply into. It is some image that a priori is of no intellectual value, some steeple extending up into the perspective, some sage flower, some young girl's face, some shape that has imposed itself upon me. For some of them I was able to discover the beauty or the thought that they contained and that in their passage had made me open my interior eyes. For others in my idleness I told myself: it is enough to remember the image, one day I will pick it up and try to open it; and in this way the attics of my past are cluttered with steeples, young girls' faces, withered flowers, a thousand other shapes from which all life is gone and no longer mean anything to me, from which I could perhaps have drawn, had I that firmness of will that my grandmother tried to instill in me, thoughts that could have provided a different nourishment.
   And to conclude with the two ways I should like to mention a quite different discovery that in appearance resembles one that I made on the Guermantes way. It had already been quite a long time since we had arrived in Combray that year. In the train that brought us on an extremely hot day, we stopped for quite a while in open countryside while the workmen hammered on the rails for some job I did not know what. While we were stopped I looked out the carriage-door, there were flowers of every kind along the tracks; someone near me said it was a ravishing spot just as described by the poets. I tried to describe it, I tried to find an epithet for each flower in my mind. What I came up with, however brilliant or ingenious it might be, gave me no pleasure at all and gave me a strong impression of dullness and mediocrity. I told myself: yes this spot is ravishing, literary, but what a poor thing is literature, is nature, is life. Or else it is me that has no imagination. How wrong I was to think I was a poet, I was mediocre. And I thought about a page of philosophy my grandmother had read me, saying that the joys of the intellect are more ardent than all others, that all others count for nothing to the artist, and that he is only happy if he devotes his life to the joys of the intellect. How false that is, I told myself, the pleasures of the intellect are boring. What helped me tolerate life was the expectation of other pleasures in which art counts for nothing and that everybody enjoys in the same way, good food, people, love etc. And I continued dully to try and observe, to fathom, to express that afternoon and that landscape. Some time afterwards I had gone to have lunch and to work in Combray woods where my tutor was teaching me my geometry primer. I remember saying to him: I can see very well, by demonstration after demonstration, and referring to different theorems that have no relation that two equal triangles are equal, I can see how you demonstrate it, but why are they? Why? I had spent so long vainly trying to make my idea understood that in any case I have never thought about again, not being so occupied with the sciences, that both exhausted we ended the lesson. I looked at the light bathing the tree trunks half way up, I tried to explain it and felt the same boredom and felt as deep a feeling of my own mediocrity and the dullness of literature as I had had in the train bringing me to Combray when I was unable to bring the faintest bit of poetry to the beautiful flower-covered track. It was time for lunch, my tutor had brought plates for us to eat some tart, we got them out, I took a fork, I was trying to cut the tart but I had positioned my fork badly so that it clattered noisily against the plate. My tutor began to tell me off, but I no longer heard him.The noise of cutlery striking the plate had suddenly given me an impression of heat, of thirst, of summer, of rivers where evening fell without cooling the air, of travel, and I was intoxicated by it. Because my unconscious memory of the present, unaware down to my innermost depths of the circumstances in which I found myself, having found the noise exactly the same as the one made by the hammers of the railway workers striking the rails during our halt, sent floods of memories sympathetic with that one to rejoin it and rejoice beside it. Landscape observed through the intellect, that is to say falsely, had seemed insipid to me. Viewed later through the intellect, that is to say always inaccurately, it still seemed insipid to me. Nature, the past, seemed dull and ugly to me because it was neither nature, nor the past. Suddenly and precisely recreated with the help of one of those sensations where I had left all its virtue intact by not applying my attention to it, the sound of the workers' hammers, nature appeared to me something animated, alive, impelling, intoxicating and beautiful. Not only did I find nature beautiful and that life was worth the trouble of trying to disentangle its beauty, but I felt within myself a kind of genius. I asked my tutor if we could go back so that I could try to describe what had suddenly overcome me. And I was chilled by an apprehension, the fear of an accident, the fear that I might die before being able to set it down. This landscape by the train that had seemed so insipid to me and had deprived my life of any value, had now given it such great value that I walked with trepidation, as though carrying something precious, entrusted with a commission far more important than myself and that it was essential I carry out. Then I could die.
   Residing outside of my being, in a poetical truth born of the concurrence of a present moment and a past moment, it existed in some way outside of time and the individual, whatever could reach me through time, to me it mattered little, provided that the extra-temporal truth of which I was for a moment the intoxicated recipient was set down in a safe place in pages that would endure. At that moment the beauty of life and the certainty of my talent appeared to me as incontestable as the insignificance of life and my own mediocrity had appeared to me in the train. Since then I have unfortunately spent more hours in a train than hours in which the landscape seen from the railway line was brought back to life in the noise of a hammer, in the middle of the woods at Combray, which themselves were reborn from a cup of tea. And as the frequent hours spent on the train are so morose, and those that I experienced that day on the Combray way were so intoxicating, it is perhaps in that sense that those words are true that up until then had seemed to me so false, that for the artist the joys of the intellect are the greatest of all and that his life is happy to the extent that he can procure the continuity of those joys.

   When on the first morning of my arrival at Querqueville, having been warned that the bell for breakfast would be ringing in half an hour, I got up after a long lie in, having to get ready for breakfast, making my way twenty times over to my trunk, where all my things were, to the wash-stand where a new bar of soap had just been left, I was following this route when all of a sudden in the scent of the soap, in the odour that the sun was releasing from the unfamiliar furniture, from the trunk full of elegant clothes, and from the bed where the thin sheets into which our warmth is permeated have been thrown aside, we are breathing in not just that first morning in Querqueville, not other similar mornings after a first night spent at a château by the sea, but a sort of existence common to these different mornings, permanent, more real than they are, extra-temporal like those odours that are at one and the same time from the past and from the present or rather outside and above the past and the present and that reveal within us a being to be revelled in, escaping from time, existing on a plane above the present and the past, a poet. On this route that we take twenty times over to the wash-stand where we complete our toilet to the window where we watch the flags flapping and the sun bathed sea that an immense trembling line divides into a field of peacock blue and a field of peacock green, passing the open trunk in which we compare our pairs of trousers and hesitate over our ties, at every moment the odour of soap, the odour of the recently vacated bed, of others whose provenance we do not know, but which give us back lost dominions, make us stop, breathe in, relish, sing, like the odours from a flower covered track. Each one brings us a thought, reunites us with some happy and forgotten year; we cannot imagine that this present summer holiday with its present imperfections can bring us a great deal of joy. But we feel close beside us a small paradise that traces in the air the floating contours of the odour of new soap, of fresh towels, of the unmade bed, of the warm sun and the trunk, a little ideal existence made of idleness and elegance, where we only have to be ready for breakfast, to go down looking smart, proper and well turned out and after that to go for a stroll, an existence that remains there outside of us, outside of time, real, which is bestowed upon us to comply with to a certain extent, which is bestowed upon us to taste imperfectly, but of which all of a sudden we have felt reality, ideality in those odours. There we have immediately perceived, true and aroused within us our real self. And we have been happy too, and as we are singing - just as every time the world reveals itself to us as real, extra-temporal, poetic, be it in the odour of a new bar of soap or an unmade bed, every time that we have the feeling that there are types of possible existences that perhaps we are not living, but that exist outside of us, that are happy, be it a simple existence of idleness, of luxury and being on holiday - twenty times over we have retraced our steps from the window to the wash-stand and from the bed to the wardrobe on a path that meanders like the different currents that can be seen in estuaries, so many quite new odours strike us, familiar enough to move us, odours that are so many thoughts, that awake in us so many notions as to the permanence of pleasures that we had thought fugitive and that even in their fugitive appearance seem lost for ever to us.
   And in those hours when some physical illness or some grief is oppressing us for which we know there is no immediate remedy, if by chance we perceive one of those odours around us at that very moment, if for example during a spasm of pain we rest our face close to the pillow so as to find in it a forgotten odour of nights gone by, only those odours have the power that in olden times the faith of martyrs had, to protect us to a certain extent against actual suffering. They have even more effect than a faith that gives us the hope of an eternal soul; and from the relativity of time they bring us feeling, immediate certainty; permanent essences they arouse in us a lasting soul that can savour them, and that is deliciously nourished by them. And these moments in which our soul is superior to time and to the appearance of events are the only ones in which we can be happy.

From Cahier XXVI.


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