Swann's Way

From Swann to Marcel: Proust on the Self-Serving Aspects of Affection and Interpretation College

Proust famously claimed that, because of books’ interpretive nature, readers subconsciously mold the characters in the literature they consume. In turn, one can construct a portrait of the reader’s own personality, offering insight into her needs or her experiences. This practice couldn’t be replicated in real life, Proust wrote, because people can’t shape actual humans.* In Swann’s way, however, Proust contradicts himself: people constantly shape the characters in their life story to reflect their own needs; and the artisan’s greatest motive, love, is heavily manifested in Swann’s and Marcel’s lives.

As a child, Marcel’s perception of love is shaped mainly by two things: his relationship with his parents and the expectations he’s built up with books. His parents and his family are the first connections to love he has; their behavior largely influences his desire and need for attention. He’s subjected to cold punishments, like being ignored for days. His nervous disposition is largely treated as an annoyance; his mother and grandmother tried to build up his willpower in attempts to eradicate his neediness. When treated with rare tenderness by his mother, he responds by feeling guilty. “It seemed to me that this should not have...

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