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Vinteuil Sonata: Mme De Saint-Euverte

Posted 2/18/2016 6:20am by Eugene Wyatt.

Marcel Proust says that Camille Saint-Saëns, the source of his little phrase at the Saint-Euverte soirée, is "a composer I dislike" and Charles Swann complains of Odette, whom he later marries, that she "was not my type". 

what's good for the goose is good for the gander—

From the author,

"... the little phrase from this Sonata, and I've never told anyone this before, is, at the Saint-Euverte soirée (to begin at the end), the charming but mediocre theme from a Violin and Piano Sonata by Saint-Saëns, a composer I dislike."

A letter from Marcel Proust to Jacques Lacretelle, April 20, 1918.

And Swann on Odette,

And with the intermittent coarseness that reappeared in him as soon as he was no longer unhappy and the level of his morality dropped accordingly, he 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!”

Swann's Way, Marcel Proust 1913; translated by Lydia Davis 2002, p. 433.

Mais le concert recommença et Swann comprit qu’il ne pourrait pas s’en aller avant la fin de ce nouveau numéro du programme. 

Il souffrait de rester enfermé au milieu de ces gens dont la bêtise et les ridicules le frappaient d’autant plus douloureusement qu’ignorant son amour, incapables, s’ils l’avaient connu, de s’y intéresser et de faire autre chose que d’en sourire comme d’un enfantillage ou de le déplorer comme une folie, ils le lui faisaient apparaître sous l’aspect d’un état subjectif qui n’existait que pour lui, dont rien d’extérieur ne lui affirmait la réalité ; il souffrait surtout, et au point que même le son des instruments lui donnait envie de crier, de prolonger son exil dans ce lieu où Odette ne viendrait jamais, où personne, où rien ne la connaissait, d’où elle était entièrement absente.

Mais tout à coup ce fut comme si elle était entrée, et cette apparition lui fut une si déchirante souffrance qu’il dut porter la main à son cœur. C’est que le violon était monté à des notes hautes où il restait comme pour une attente, une attente qui se prolongeait sans qu’il cessât de les tenir, dans l’exaltation où il était d’apercevoir déjà l’objet de son attente qui s’approchait, et avec un effort désespéré pour tâcher de durer jusqu’à son arrivée, de l’accueillir avant d’expirer, de lui maintenir encore un moment de toutes ses dernières forces le chemin ouvert pour qu’il pût passer, comme on soutient une porte qui sans cela retomberait. Et avant que Swann eût eu le temps de comprendre, et de se dire : « C’est la petite phrase de la sonate de Vinteuil, n’écoutons pas ! » ...

Du côté de chez Swann, Marcel Proust 1913, Humanis Edition, Loc 6396-6407.

But the concert was beginning again and Swann realized he would not be able to leave before the end of this new number.

He was suffering at having to remain shut up among these people whose stupidity and absurd habits struck him all the more painfully since, being unaware of his love, incapable, had they known about it, of taking any interest in it or doing more than smile at it as at some childish nonsense or deplore it as utter madness, they made it appear to him as a subjective state which existed only for him, whose reality was confirmed for him by nothing outside himself; he suffered most of all, to the point where even the sound of the instruments made him want to cry out, from prolonging his exile in this place to which Odette would never come, where no one, where nothing knew her, from which she was entirely absent.

But suddenly it was as though she had appeared in the room, and this apparition caused him such harrowing pain that he had to put his hand on his heart. What had happened was that the violin had risen to a series of high notes on which it lingered as though waiting for something, holding on to them in a prolonged expectancy, in the exaltation of already seeing the object of its expectation approaching, and with a desperate effort to try to endure until it arrived, to welcome it before expiring, to keep the way open for it another moment with a last bit of strength so that it could come through, as one holds up a trapdoor that would otherwise fall back. And before Swann had time to understand, and say to himself: “It’s the little phrase from the sonata by Vinteuil; don’t listen!” ...

Swann's Way, Marcel Proust 1913; translated by Lydia Davis 2002, p. 388.