Diary of a Grad student: Swann’s Way

Thing are just too hectic now. I feel this last leg of the semester’s course work. I have a ton to write about but barely any time to write them. Aside from my numerous and heavy academic writings and readings, I have something to relax and enjoy. Surprisingly, it’s Marcel Proust‘s Swann’s Way. It is the first part of a six-volume series. I initially started reading the free Kindle book, but I am very apprehensive about it. I still prefer reading books in print. Slowly though, I am starting to get used to it, as Kindle books are much cheaper and classics costs nothing at all. Some of my new references are books that I bought through Kindle, I don’t have to wait for the long delivery process. I am actually considering getting a Kindle or an iPad for this purpose.

Marcel Proust has a bad reputation of being brilliant but difficult. Personally, I don’t find him difficult to read, despite the really long sentences. The trick to reading Proust is to not rush. I am learning that I lot lately, first with Braid, now with Proust. Living the moment and experiencing it as it unfolds is the best part. The last part I read this morning is his description of the church in Combray. It is as if I can see it with my very own eyes. Also of his aunt and her Francoise. This is not a book to rush but it is something that will take you through a journey.

I wish I had a better copy, like a hard bound one. But there aren’t a lot of this. Fully Booked had only 3 copies left when I asked them to locate it for me. It was spread intro 3 mall branches in the south. Fortunately, they do branch transfers, this service helps me out a lot. I don’t like going to Bonifacio High Street, I just get the Trinoma Branch to do all the branch transfers for me. I even saved “Mark of Fully Booked Trinoma” for inquiries. Their prices might be a bit higher but their service is the best, they even reply to texts if I am looking for a specific book.

On the photo of the book, I can’t find the edition that I have. I will post it one of these days. I’m just overwhelmed with I have to read, write and even teach. This is one of the biggest challenges, ever. I will leave this post with the first paragraph of the first chapter, Combray. 

For a long time I would go to bed early. Sometimes, the candle barely out, my eyes closed so quickly that I did not have time to tell myself: “I’m falling asleep.” And half an hour later the thought that it was time to look for sleep would awaken me; I would make as if to put away the book which I imagined was still in my hands, and to blow out the light; I had gone on thinking, while I was asleep, about what I had just been reading, but these thoughts had taken a rather peculiar turn; it seemed to me that I myself was the immediate subject of my book: a church, a quartet, the rivalry between Francois I and Charles V. This impression would persist for some moments before I awoke; it did not offend my reason, but lay like scales upon my eyes and prevented them from registering the fact that the candle was no longer burning. The it would begin to seem unintelligible, as thoughts of a previous existence must be after reincarnation; the subject of my book would separate itself from me, leaving me free to apply myself to it or not; and at the same time my sight would return and I would be astonished to find myself in a state of darkness, pleasant and restful enough for my eyes, but even more, perhaps, for my mind, to which it appeared incomprehensible, without a cause, something dark indeed.

I was relaxing and putting myself to sleep when I first read this passage. It was amazing. This book is not about the plot, it is about the experience of moments. In Search of Lost Pastpreviously translated as Remembrance of Things Past is a journey that all of us should take.



  1. cantueso Avatar

    That’s nice. Until recently I was a full-time Proust reader, and I fall back into the habit each time it gets a little cold here… I can read him in French (I had French mademoiselles as a kid) and in French his long sentences are a ride on cloud nine, but even so I tried to see what he sounds like in English and Spanish.

    I think Swann’s Way is free at Gutenberg. Sodoma and Gomorrha is also there, at least one part of it. Take it easy. The last volumes are no good. His bitchiness shows through……

    1. Portia Placino Avatar
      Portia Placino

      I think it will take me forever to read all of it, but no rush. It’s amazing that you can read him in French, I wish I could. I took up French in college but it just didn’t stick. I think the original Moncrieff translation of Swann’s Way is free in Kindle and Gutenberg but a bunch of publishers revised it since. I still prefer the print though. It’s so nice to meet a fellow Proust reader here. It’s really cold and rainy now here in the Philippines, a perfect Proust reading setting 🙂

      1. cantueso Avatar

        Yes, when later I remembered this post and what I had written, I realized what a bluff this sounds in USA where people do not (have to) learn foreign languages, though even while writing I was already aware of the risky “French mademoiselle”…. so I could or should have added that my mother was dying of cancer, but as a (future) Proust reader you see what that sounds like in an anonymous place, a blog, a train station, a waiting room. — So, conscious of the complications, I also omitted that the surprise was to find that the German version was the best I had seen.

        I have part of the Moncrieff translation, and yes, it is bad. It makes Proust sound the way bad readers imagine him to be, wordy, a waste of time.

        His first readers thought he was looking at things through a microscope. He answered back he was looking at things through a ……………(what is the name of the instrument used by star gazers and astronomers?!!!! See? Questionable advantage in learning more than your own language.)

        1. Portia Placino Avatar
          Portia Placino

          Telescope? There are advantages to learning other languages. English is already a second language for me. We have a Filipino language here in the Philippines. I don’t know if I could still learn other languages though. I would learn French and German, if I could. I would love to read Kant in German.

          Translations are always a pain, but what can we do? We can’t learn every language there is. I guess we make do…

          If I read Proust in the morning, I feel like I want to write about my day the way he does. Or at least, I feel like I’m spending the day through Proust’s lenses. Maybe “lenses” is the more appropriate word? Proust experience the world in his own way, he seem to have his own lenses for looking at things. As readers, we are merely borrowing it…

          And I’m sorry about your mother. I lost my father when I was six. These things are never easy.

          1. cantueso Avatar

            How far did you get with your Proust? It is not necessary to read all 7 or 8 volumes, because the last ones are not so very good. Even in the first volumes there are long passages where he is depressed and seems not to know where to go next.

            At the end of Swann’s Way there is a chapter of place names which does not make sense, but later there are pages where he keeps saying “by the way” to add one more observation or one more example of what had just been explained.

            That is, if somehow you get tired, simply skip ahead. You can skip all you want and you will immediately get back into the basic “plot” which (as you said) is anyway unimportant.

  2. Diary of a Grad Student: Library and Kindle Books « Portia Placino Avatar
    Diary of a Grad Student: Library and Kindle Books « Portia Placino

    […] Diary of a Grad student: Swann’s Way (portiaplacino.com) […]

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