Friday, 13 January 2012

Fellini's Swann

Swann in Love La Dolce Vita

As I read the following description I was forcibly reminded of Marcello in La Dolce Vita. His intelligence, his social mobility and his moral and spiritual decrepitude mirror those of Swann.
When Marcello sees the young waitress who appears as a chink of light in the turgidity of his life he describes her as like an angel in a painting. I must watch the film again to see how the parallels play off each other.

"He had so long since ceased to direct his course towards any ideal goal, and had confined himself to the pursuit of ephemeral satisfactions, that he had come to believe, though without ever formally stating his belief even to himself, that he would remain all his life in that condition, which death alone could alter. More than this, since his mind no longer entertained any lofty ideals, he had ceased to believe in (although he could not have expressly denied) their reality. He had grown also into the habit of taking refuge in trivial considerations, which allowed him to set on one side matters of fundamental importance." ....
"in his conversation he took care never to express with any warmth a personal opinion about a thing, but instead would supply facts and details which had a sort of value in themselves, and excused him from hsowing how much he really knew. He would be extremely precise about the recipe for a dish, the dates of a painter's birth and death, and the titles of his works. Sometimes, in spite of himself, he would let himself go so far as to utter a criticism of a work of art, or of someone's interpretation of life, but then he would cloak his words in a tone of irony, as though he did not altogether associate himself with what he was saying. But now, like a confirmed invalid whom, all of a sudden, a change of air and surroundings, or a new course of traetment, or, as sometimes happens, an organic change in himself, spontaneous and unaccountable, seems to have so far recovered from his malady that he begins to envisage the possility, hitherto beyond all hope, of starting to lead - and better late than never - a wholly different life, Swann found in himself, in the memory of the phrase that he had heard, in certain other sonatas which he had made people play over to him, to see whether he might not, perhaps, discover his phrase among them, the presence of one of those invisible realities in which he had ceased to believe, but to which, as though the music had had upon the moral barrenness from which he was suffering a sort of recreative influence, he was conscious once again of a desire, almost, indeed, of the power to consecrate his life."

Ruskin's Zipporah (after Botticelli)
It is also worth noting that Odette, who becomes the focus of Swann's affections, is described by Proust as like Zipporah in the fresco by Botticelli. In fact it is this likeness that fascinates Swann. The noted Victorian aesthete, John Ruskin, painted a watercolour of Zipporah* and wrote ecstatically (and a little creepily) about her.
"nearly driven myself quite wild today with drawing little Zipporah’s chemisette—you never did see such a dear little wimply-dimply, crinkly edge as it’s got just across four inches under her chin—and it looks as if the least breeze would blow it loose—and di ma, me do so want to see what’s inside it—me don’t know fot to do. . . . I wish I could dream of seeing her with her clothes off" **
Ageing intellectuals seeking to fill their spiritual vacuums with the love of women who they don't actually see because they are in love with what they represent rather than what they are.  Hmmmm...

Still enjoying the book, by the way, and almost through Swann's Way. (Two volumes in my edition.)




  1. What an interesting comparison. It didn't occur to me when I read the book but I might not have seen La Dolce Vita at that point. I'm hoping to reread Swann's Way at some point this year, so I'll keep it in mind.

  2. As Proust would say (at some length) the recollections we are inspired to make by things are deeply individual. I'd be very interested to hear your opinion on the similarities. It must be fifteen/twenty years since I saw La Dolce Vita but what I saw as it's essence came back to me while reading these passages.