I am halfway through A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, and here Proust meanders onward, ever onward…except when he goes left, or right, or back for a while, or decides to sit on that bench over there and try to feel up Gilberte, or spends what feels like several thousand pages fawning over the aristocratic diplomat M. de Norpois, who mercilessly disses not only M’s favorite author, Bergotte, but M’s own adolescent writings…but eventually, he does forge ahead.
…And ahead ends up being a long exegesis of his efforts to evoke some sort of reciprocal sentiment in Gilberte Swann, which, despite his mooning ineptness, he somehow manages to do…. The implication is that it’s the result of sheer force of yearning. This does not speak well of Gilberte’s character, but let’s leave that by the wayside, perhaps in a pile of fallen hawthorn petals, and stride ahead to his next campaign: to be invited to the Swann household for dinner. At first M. Swann himself responds with slighting remarks to his daughter about the sixteen page letter M writes him. But, by great good fortune, the “brilliant clinician” (who is nevertheless hopeless at diagnosing social realities), Dr. Cottard, who treats M for asthma, overhears M speak of the Swanns, convinces himself that M is an intimate of theirs, and so brags to the Swanns of his own friendship with M’s family, thereby convincing the Swanns (especially the social climber Odette) that they should in fact invite the wheezing bundle of pretention and insecurity that is M to their dinners after all.
Whereupon M, writing now in retrospect, proceeds to dismantle all of Odette’s ignorance and pretention, her almost-clever machinations in the social realm, and the hopelessness of her ever expecting to be accepted into the aristocratic circles in which M. de Norpois circulates, when he isn’t slumming with the likes of M’s family. Proust then veers into a discussion of antisemitism among the French upper class, and how it isn’t really antisemitism but just fad-following–although the end result for Jews is pretty much the same. (Don’t forget that Swann, like Proust, is part-Jewish, and probably represents another side of Proust himself from what M reveals.)
And that’s where we stand, halfway through Tome II….
At least the sentences are shorter, and Proust’s addiction to subordinate clauses and the past subjunctive seems to have moderated somewhat.
And there’s more dialogue, at which Proust is brilliant! He gives M’s mother in particular some devastating quips, such as even Raymond Chandler couldn’t match. Great fun, those!