Thursday, May 17, 2007

Proust: "Now who can that be?"

I've just begun reading Proust again, my second time through, and will be posting one excerpt a day (at least from Swann's Way), probably single sentences this time through. Here's the narrator's family, working hard to make things sound and look natural when company arrives. I love the final simile, a beautiful example of Proust's genius for accretion:

On those evenings when, as we sat in front of the house under the large chestnut tree, around the iron table, we heard at the far end of the garden, not the copious high-pitched bell that drenched, that deafened in passing with its ferruginous, icy, inexhaustible noise any person in the household who set it off by coming in "without ringing," but the shy, oval, golden double tinkling of the little visitors' bell, everyone would immediately wonder: "A visitor -- now who can that be?" but we knew very well it could only be M. Swann; my great-aunt speaking loudly, to set an example, in a tone of voice that she strained to make natural, said not to whisper that way; that nothing is more disagreeable for a visitor just coming in who is led to think that people are saying things he should not hear; and they would send as a scout my grandmother, who was always glad to have a pretext for taking one more walk around the garden and who would profit from it by surreptitiously pulling up a few rose stakes on the way so as to make the roses look a little more natural, like a mother who runs her hand through her son's hair to fluff it up after the barber has flattened it too much.

From Swann's Way, translated by Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002), 14

Previous Proust posts (via del.icio.us)

comments: 1

Lee said...

Thanks for doing this. I've also started reading/rereading (depending on the volume!) but have managed to get side-tracked. I hope this will encourage me, and lots of others.