Friday, September 15, 2006

SW, Chapter 7: A woman never tells, but can't the narrator?

No, really: How old is anyone in this (literally) mother-lovin’ book?

I swear, it. is. driving. me. maaaaaaaaaad. I’m a simple girl, from simple stock, and I don’t ask much out of the world or its literature, but… some sort of timeline? That makes sense? At least sorta? Kinda sorta? Would that kill a man?

Well, obviously, no; pneumonia killed him. But I’d have been next in line, had I been around at the time, because this is making me one eye-twitch shy of homicidal.

Okay, begin at the beginning (which is more than Proust ever manages to do, but I don’t begrudge him that, I really don’t, I just… well, let’s get on with it): Le Petit Marcel. He’s, how old? When he’s crying for his moms to kiss him? We don’t know. But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that he’s… five. Okay?

Okay. Now, Swann is there at the party where Young Marcel has his crying jag. Which means he hasn’t taken up with Odette yet. Not seriously. Because once he becomes Odette’s running joke, Marcel’s parents stop speaking to him, much less inviting him over for glâces and repartée. (In fact, you’d imagine it was before he even met Odette, because Marcel’s folks have yet to even suspect their simple friend lives a crazed society-page life when they’re not around, but let’s try to give Proust a little benefit of the doubt, because, well: He’s Proust, and I’m not, and I should probably show a little respect for that fact at some point.)

So. With me so far? Now, fast-forward to the end of the book, where Marcel is hanging out in the Champs-Elysées hoping Gilberte will show up so he can imagine macking on her. (Okay, I take a certain amount of liberties there; Marcel never actually uses the word “kissing,” much less “macking,” that I recall, but it’s definitely implied. Boy has a serious crush on her, is what I’m saying.) So. Let’s say that dinner that made him cry was right before Swann got banned from the Combray table. Now, it’s clear Swann goes out with Odette for a couple years more, minimum, after society shuns him. And it’s also made clear that the only reason he sticks with Odette “Spread’em” de Crecy after he falls out of love with her is because they have a daughter together. So. Math is not my strong point, understand? But still, I’m thinking that Gilberte had to have been born, bare minimum, a year after that dinner. Which makes her six years younger than Marcel, if we believe he’s five at the time of his big dinner hissy.

Now. Again, fast-forward to Champs-Elysées. He’s all first-crush on this girl, which means he can’t be too old. Let’s say… fourteen. He’s a late bloomer, our Marcel. Which means the impetuous Gilberte is… eight.

Dude. I know you’re French and all, but that is sick. For real.

And even this timeline is extremely generous, because the background to Gilberte’s conception is… poorly thought out, is maybe the kindest way to put it. According to “Swann in Love,” Swann falls out of love with Odette after she goes off on a year-long sailboat cruise through the Mediterranean. As far as I can figure out, he never sees her after that… until they get married. Which he does because she’s borne his daughter, and he wants the girl to grow up as a respectable little lady, not the bastard child of a failed affair. Which, hey, more power to Swann. Would that more baby-daddies stepped up to the plate like that. But. When does Odette get pregnant? I mean—damn, I was going to say, “I know Parisian women are supposed to be special, but I didn’t think it was because of their gestation periods,” but I already used that same basic joke in the graf above. Still. She’s gone for a year. Babies take nine months. Tell me how this happens!

And it’s not a fake-me-out—or at least, I don’t think it is. Proust is very careful to point out Gilberte’s red hair, so similar to Swann’s. I don’t think we’re getting to some dramatic (except for those of us who can actually stomp out basic math problems on the ground, and have therefore already figured it out) revelation about how she’s not really his kid. Does the affair start up again after the cruise? That doesn’t make sense. It’s not mentioned at all, and anyway, isn’t Swann supposed to be over her by the end of the chapter? I do not understand. And I want to. I really do. I’m trying, M. Proust. I am bending my little pea brain to the task of understanding your wacky notions of biology and age-inappropriate romance and whatnot, and I am at a loss. Je suis desolée, m’sieur. Mais je ne comprends pas.

Le Sigh.


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