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Swan's Way


Rarely has anyone taken Swan's Way down a stranger path, and never with such intriguing results. What begins as a meditation on the fictional identity of the elegant "swan" of Proust's In Search of Lost Time becomes, through a series of turns and twists, an ingenious investigation of the character's real-life counterpart, Charles Haas. Part novel, part essay, part literary sleuthing, Swan's Way is a critical tour de force.

Through an inspired reading of Proust's text, Henri ...

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Rarely has anyone taken Swan's Way down a stranger path, and never with such intriguing results. What begins as a meditation on the fictional identity of the elegant "swan" of Proust's In Search of Lost Time becomes, through a series of turns and twists, an ingenious investigation of the character's real-life counterpart, Charles Haas. Part novel, part essay, part literary sleuthing, Swan's Way is a critical tour de force.

Through an inspired reading of Proust's text, Henri Raczymow gradually unravels the multiple contradictions of Charles Swann's personality, brought into focus by the fault lines in Proust's narrative method. The author traces Swann's evolution and the multiple ways in which his Jewish identity keeps peeping through the veneer of respectability of this sophisticated dandy. Through a parallel inquiry into the history of the Jockey Club--to which Haas, a Jew, was, like Swann, exceptionally admitted--and the transformation of the German-Jewish Haas into the fashionable British Swann, Swan's Way evolves into an examination of the question of personal identity and posthumous survival. Haas's Jewish identity is the invisible thread that guides Raczymow through the maze of Proust's work, which serves as a backdrop against which fin de siècle French society enacts the ugly drama of anti-Semitism. Blurring the boundaries between life and fiction, Swan's Way leads the reader ever deeper into the unresolved question of literary and personal character.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A splendid work of art . . . deftly touches on the very essence of In Search of Lost Time." --Le Nouvel Observateur

"Exciting, palpitating, pertinent, profound." --Le Figaro

"Devotees of Proust will welcome Henri Raczymow's delightful new book." --L'Express

Library Journal
What was it that Churchill said about Russia's being an enigma wrapped in a riddle inside a ? French writer Raczymow (Pauvre Bouilhet) does Churchill one better in this meditation on Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu: "It's true that Swann was saved by Proust. I mean Haas. That is, Proust means Haas. And Haas alone. Haas alone was saved. He became Swann." Even the most informed reader will have little idea of what the author is talking about unless he or she is almost obsessively familiar with Proust's great work. To clarify the example given, Charles Swann was one of the major characters in Proust's magnum opus, and Proust is said to have modeled Swann on Charles Haas, a dandy of the era. Ranging as far afield as Groucho Marx and Jeremy Irons, Raczymow investigates such issues as the meaning for Proust of Swann's name, the significance of his real-life counterpart's being a Jew in French high society, and the relation of Proust the author to Proust the narrator of the work. There are moments of humor here, as when Raczymow brings Proust the writer to task for his manner of "advancing a behavior, a type of speech, an ideology and attaching thirty-six thousand explanations to it without promoting one of them as most probable." Readers who thought they knew all there was to know about A la recherche may well gain further enlightenment from this slim volume, which should find a place in academic collections on Proust.-Edward Cone, New York Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The factual origins of an unforgettable fictional character are the subject of this engrossing semi-scholarly "meditation" by a veteran French novelist, biographer, and literary scholar. The work Raczymow (Writing the Book of Esther, not reviewed, etc.) thus explores is Proust’s multivolume 20th-century masterpiece In Search of Lost Time. And the character is that of Charles Swann, socialite and dilettante, lover of notorious demimondaine Odette de Crécy, and—this the source of his only conditional acceptance by the polite society through which Swann warily moves—a Jew. It has long been recognized that Proust based the figure of Swann on a real person named Charles Haas, whose personal history paralleled Swann’s at numerous crucial points. Raczymow therefore sets about "identifying the thread of fortuitous complicity between Proustian fiction and reality," interviewing fellow literary researchers, combing through the Paris city archives, speculating on possible links between Haas and such notables as painter Edgar Degas, thespian Sarah Bernhardt (who wrote Haas several fulsome letters), and persecuted (Jewish) French army officer Alfred Dreyfus. Raczymow also considers contemporary Proustian avatars like actors Alain Delon (who played the malevolent Baron Charlus in Volker Schlondorff’s 1984 film Swann in Love) and Jeremy Irons (whose performance as Swann in that film all but persuades Raczymow that Haas may have been an Englishman). Beneath the lucubrations, the reader grasps Raczymow’s reluctant inferences that "To Proust, by definition, everything that is Jewish is debased"; that Haas/Swann incarnated for Proust the vanity of a life devoted to the imperatives of society; and that the"anonymity" into which Haas has seemingly sunk signifies the far reach of anti-Semitism—in literature as in life. A thoughtful and unusual work, and a potentially dangerous one—in that it just might seduce one into neglecting other responsibilities and plunging once again into Proust’s intricate, seductive, and disturbing fictional world.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780810125933
  • Publisher: Northwestern University Press
  • Publication date: 3/13/2009
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 1,441,569
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Henri Raczymow was born in France in 1948 and lives in Paris. He is the author of a biography of Maurice Sachs and several works of fiction and non-fiction including Writing the Book of Esther (Holmes & Meier, 1995), Pauvre Bouilhet (Gallimard, 1998) and Quartier libre (Gallimard, 1995).

Robert Bononno is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant to translate Isabelle Eberhardt, Seven Years in the Life of a Woman: Letters and Journals. His many translations include Cyberculture, Kubrick, French New Wave, and Ghost Image.

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Table of Contents

1. First Impressions
2. Gestures
3. A Clubman
4. Rue Rabelais
5. Swann's Name
6. Sadism, Death
7. S/Z
8. Swan: To the Letter
9. Tissot, Painter
10. Madame Proust
11. Swan Song
12. The Frame and its Canvas
13. The Hares of the Judengasse in Frankfurt am Main
14. A Very Rarefied Elite
15. Music
16. Revelry
17. The Affair
18. A Grand Story
19. An Exercise in Futility
20. Seated, For Days at a Time
21. Haas in Love
22. Death Has Overtaken . . .
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