Swann's Way (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Swann's Way (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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Swann's Way, by Marcel Proust, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:
  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.


Swann’s Way is the first novel of Marcel Proust’s seven-volume magnum opus À la rechercheé du temps perdu, or Remembrance of Things Past. Following Charles Swann’s opening ruminations about the nature of sleep is one of twentieth-century literature’s most famous and influential scenes: the eating of the madeleine soaked in a “decoction of lime-flowers,” the associative act from which the remainder of the narrative unfurls. After elaborate reminiscences about Swann’s childhood in Paris and rural Combray, Proust describes his protagonist’s exploits in nineteenth-century privileged Parisian society and his obsessive love for young socialite Odette de Crécy.


Filled with searing, insightful, and humorous criticisms of French society, this novel showcases Proust’s innovative prose style, characterized by lengthy, intricate sentences that elongate, stop, and reverse time. With narration that alternates between first and third person, Swann’s Way unconventionally introduces Proust’s recurring themes of memory, love, art, and the human experience—and for nearly a century readers have deliciously savored each moment.


Elizabeth Dalton is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Barnard College. She has published fiction and criticism in the New Yorker, Partisan Review, Commentary, and the New York Times Book Review.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781411433229
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 06/01/2009
Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 415,337
File size: 2 MB
Age Range: 3 Months to 18 Years

About the Author

Date of Birth:

July 10, 1871

Date of Death:

November 18, 1922

Place of Birth:

Auteuil, near Paris, France

Place of Death:

Paris, France

Read an Excerpt

From Elizabeth Dalton’s Introduction to Swann’s Way


Swann’s Way is a novel of the rediscovery of experience through memory, of desire and disillusionment, and of the development of an artistic vocation. In its best-known scene, perhaps the most celebrated in modern literature, the narrator tastes the madeleine, the little cake dipped in tea that opens the magical gates of time and memory.

A beautiful and fascinating novel in itself, Swann’s Way is also the introduction to the great seven-part work Remembrance of Things Past, which is a kind of paradise of the novel, one of the greatest works of fiction of the twentieth century. The French title of the larger work, À la recherche du temps perdu, actually means “In Search of Lost Time,” suggesting, as the English title does not, the narrator’s mental and moral activity in search of the meaning of his experience in time.

As Swann’s Way begins, the narrator, a man apparently in early middle age, describes sleepless nights and fragmentary dreams in which bits of his past drift through his consciousness. Amid memories of illness, of lonely nights in strange rooms, of illusory loves, he wakes in darkness, no longer sure where or even who he is. Frightened and disoriented, he is rescued by another kind of memory, “like a rope let down from heaven to draw me up out of the abyss of not-being,” the “involuntary memory” lodged in the body that will eventually give him access to a forgotten past. In recalling the various scenes of his life, his thoughts return again and again to the village of Combray, where he spent childhood vacations with his family. In these memories, he finds the deepest layer of his “mental soil,” the very source of his being.

            As the seven novels are actually all parts of one longer novel, broken somewhat arbitrarily into volumes by the requirements of publication, so Swann’s Way is also made up of parts. The first two could stand alone, although juxtaposed in one volume they illuminate each other. The first section, “Combray,” is concerned with the narrator’s childhood world, whose characters and events are the source of everything to follow, and with the powerful experience of memory that revives this forgotten past. The second section, “Swann in Love,” set in Paris about ten years before “Combray,” is the account of a love affair of Charles Swann, an important figure in the narrator’s childhood, whose experience prefigures his own later life. In the third section, “Place-Names: The Name,” which moves forward in time to a point slightly later than the Combray years, the narrator reflects on the idealized and unreal essences contained in the names of places, develops an adolescent passion for Swann’s daughter, and says a premature good-bye to the world of his youth—premature because he will reenter that world in subsequent volumes.

            The structure of Swann’s Way is obviously not that of the classical nineteenth-century novel, which generally follows the chronological order of the events of a plot. In Proust’s novel, however, blocks of writing are juxtaposed, added on, loosely connected, forming a chain of episodes and reflections related in an intuitive and subjective rather than a logical or chronological mode. This structure emerged from Proust’s struggle to find a form for his work, a new and personal kind of novel that could combine fiction, autobiography, and reflections on art and society. The form of “Combray” in particular is based on Proust’s distinctive way of writing about different experiences in nearly self-contained sections linked by association rather than along a single line of narrative. The second section, “Swann innnnnnnnnnnnnn Love,” does follow a single narrative line, but the force that drives it is neither chronology nor plot, but the demonic energy of erotic obsession.

            The novel’s structure has been compared to that of a musical composition, held together by recurring motifs of theme and imagery. Another analogy, to some form of vegetation, is suggested by the gardens and flowers that bloom profusely throughout “Combray” and find their way into the other sections as well. The lush, tangled narrative lines, with their buried horizontal connections that disappear for a time and then reappear, are like the roots of plants running underground.

            In the classical Aristotelian structure of Western drama and fiction, incidents are organized in a plot that accumulates tension, leading to a climactic resolution. But in Proust’s novel, episodes are added on without adding up, without ever achieving a totalizing structure of meaning, what the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, in his semiotic study Proust and Signs, calls “the pseudo-unity of the Logos” (p.111; see “For Further Reading”). If the classical structure is envisioned as pyramidal, building up to a final revelation of meaning, Proust’s structure looks more like a web, with incidents all on the same plane. Or perhaps the structure is like that of a labyrinth, the maze of experience in a world without final meaning. Indeed, the topography of Combray and its surroundings forms a kind of labyrinth, with its two meandering paths, Swann’s way and the Guermantes’ way, that lead the narrator along the paths of experience—nature, sex, snobbery, hypocrisy, and so on—without ever connecting with each other or reaching their mysterious end points.

            The structure of the novel also evokes an image of the labyrinth of consciousness, which is explored in a style almost as complex and ramified as the mind itself. In Swann’s Way there is a passage describing the phrases of Chopin, “those long-necked, sinuous creatures, . . . so free, so flexible, so tactile, which begin by seeking their ultimate resting-place somewhere beyond and far wide of the direction in which they started, the point which one might have expected them to reach, phrases which divert themselves in . . . fantastic bypaths,” but which always find their way back to their appointed conclusions. In an essay on Proust in Études de style, the critic Leo Spitzer has pointed out that this passage could apply as well to Proust’s own sentences, those extraordinarily strong and flexible instruments for the representation of mental life in all its layered complexity.

            Although it goes further than its predecessors, Proust’s rigorous and nuanced dissection of the psyche is rooted in a rich strain of psychological analysis in French literature—the self-examination of Montaigne’s essays, Racine’s probing of the passions, the painful self-revelations of Baudelaire—as well as in a French tradition of revealing autobiography, including Rousseau’s Confessions and Chateaubriand’s Mémoires d’outre-tombe (Memoirs from Beyond the Tomb). The dark and obsessional quality of sexual passion and the strange juxtaposition of elements in the souls of Proust’s characters—the mixture of timidity and sadism in Mlle Vinteuil, for instance—suggests his affinity for Dostoevsky. But his main source was his understanding of himself. Like Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams, Proust analyzes above all his own psychic life.

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Swann's Way (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 48 reviews.
Solitary_Lobos More than 1 year ago
Proust was a master architect of sentences and characters. He rips down the veneer of French civilization and offers a revelation in insight on human behavior. When Virginia Woolf first read this novel, she nearly gave up the profession of writing because she felt no author could ever produce a better work than Proust had achieved in Swann's Way. Upon reading this book, my passion for literature was revivified and made anew--though it is challenging at parts, it offers great rewards. To anyone that loves reading, this is an imperative literary journey.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm in gratuate school for history, 95% of the reading I do is non-fiction, most people would find my reading boring, dull and/or very dry. I take a break by reading fiction, mostly the classics. When I want to relax I read Proust, I find his prose mesmerizing. If he wrote ten pages on flipping and egg I would read it. To me the story is secondary. If you enjoy the pleasure of reading the written word this is it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Proust's work is now available in a translation that is not dull or coy. This translation is better than the Moncrieff -Kilmartin translation. Read this book and find out why Nabokov called Proust wisdom in literature.
JimmyChanga on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read 300 pages of this before giving up the first time. Only recently did I pick it up and resolve to finish it... but starting again at page 1, as I had forgotten anything about it.This book is great for many reasons. I'll just list random thoughts as I have just finished the novel and cannot gather my thoughts coherently.The structure of the sentences, while it could be seen as unnecessarily serpentine, fits perfectly with the serpentine nature of memories that Proust is so interested in conveying.Proust cares almost EXCLUSIVELY about human perception rather than any kind of objective reality. He's fascinated by how the mind inflates and deflates reality based on perceptions, preconceptions, expectations, and a whole slew of other things that have nothing to do with what is ACTUAL. or maybe he'd say the states of the mind is more real than reality. I was struck by how plain funny a lot of this is. Especially his descriptions of people and their odd, often transparent behavior.I feel really close to Proust because I constantly feel left out of things. I think this book is very much about that feeling of being left out. I mean, the three main stories here have that as a main factor. SPOILERS FOLLOW: The narrator trying to get the attention of the mother, and feeling so desperate when he knows she is in the other room entertaining guests. Then the middle story, of Swann, especially when his relationship with Odette slips, is all about the scenarios (often hilarious) he convinces himself of when she is off doing something else without him. Then the last part about Gilbert was also very much in the same vein. I thought it was very wise that these three relationships that form the bulk of the book all seem to ricochet and reflect off of each other making each one more resonant and powerful, even though they are superficially unconnected.As a note, the first 50 pages are amazing. This is the part about the mother. Then the next 50 or so about Combray are really good too, but then it starts to get kinda unfocused and I was kinda bored towards the end of Part one, well at least until the lesbians woke me up. Part Two was mostly good the whole way through, I was surprised how many ways Proust can describe this relationship and still not seem repetitive, for his descriptions are always so much about internal states and always ring so true. Part Three was also really good. I thought it was wise of him to have gone back in time for Part Two and then to go forward in Part Three and we get to see that Mme Swann is Odette. And we get no explanation as to how they ended up together, but this gap is really effective, I think, because it let's the reader do most of the work in his mind.
Pummzie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There are books which do need to be reviewed. No, that's not it. There are books about which I feel like an idiot proffering an opinion because they are so astonishing that I lack the vocabulary to convey my feelings. The first volume of Proust is such a book. So, all I will say is that it made me laugh, cry, read slowly as possible so as to lodge passages, sensations, aphorisms, ponderings, universal truths, fallacies, Proust's voyeuristic musings, into my brain. I didn't want to forget it. Almost every page offered up little gems. The consistently high quality of the writing is astonishing; his reflections don't simply have you nodding along but make you pause for thought to consider the point. To reread, scratch your head, reread again, marvel at his genuis and then carry on. After a while I realised that there was too much of it that i loved to annotate and I simply promised myself that I would get to the end and start again. I buy books obsessively. I love reading and I try to read widely. Proust is the first writer that has impressed me so much that I have thought about giving up my other books and spending my time instead reading and rereading proust (but I haven't parted with my stash just yet!).The only reason I am offering a review of such an obvious masterpiece is because i feel compelled to share such a life changing book. If you love literature or delving into the fluctuations of a human mind - READ IT. If you are a budding writer - READ IT.If you want the best manual on love - READ IT.Honest. Roll on volume 2.
Myhi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very special age in my life - when I discovered Proust; tasteful enough, I could anytime read again the Swann series.. This one gave me the feeling, for the first time - that I wasn't reading to recall anything when I grew old - but to FEEL it all, then - while reading. A unique flavor of 'time going by'...
pmtracy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Swann¿s Way (Volume 1 of Proust¿s In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past) is not a novel in today¿s traditional sense of the word. Instead, it¿s a collection of vignettes and observations of one young man¿s life. This first volume includes three works: Combray, Swann in Love and Place-Names: The Name.In Combray, Proust¿s protagonist rambles on detailed descriptions of his family structure, the social hierarchy of turn-of-the-century France and a number of pastoral settings. It may be trite, but it can easily be said that modern authors simply ¿don¿t write like that anymore.¿ In Combray, Proust takes a number of pages to describe one garden and several paragraphs to detail the illumination of one leaf. The beauty of the language and the level of detail ensures the readers can develop a complete image of the setting.Swann in Love is a detailed account of Charles Swann¿s courting of his beloved Odette. The personal pain he experiences during his love affair will be familiar to many. Swann is hopelessly in love with Odette who manipulates him and generally treats him poorly. The social constructs of the time play a great deal of importance in his ability to win and keep her. Ultimately, social pressures force Odette to detach herself from Swann- even though it is our understanding that Swann is of a superior social class to Odette and her friends.Places-names allows our narrator to tell of his first love, which ironically parallels Swann¿s. We learn that his playmate, Gilberte, is actually Swann¿s daughter. Her mother is briefly identified as Odette which tells us that the relationship that ended must have been later renewed.My initial impression of Proust is that he isn¿t an author you read for plot but for the shear enjoyment of his use of language and the development of his characters. I¿m looking forward to starting the second volume, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower.
rdebo13 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There are already many reviews of this book, and I don't want to repeat what has already been written quite well by others. What I would like to add is what a pleasure it is to read this particular translation of Swann's Way by Lydia Davis. Davis and Proust are an odd pair. He is best known for labyrinthine sentences that meander through time and space, while fusing similes and metaphors and myth. The description of the scent of a particular flower or the taste of a particular food could stretch for pages. One party scene is hundreds of pages long. Davis, on the other hand, is known for whole stories that are only a page long, sometimes only a few sentences. She would seem a poor choice to translate Proust, but the tension that arises from their very different writing styles makes for an excellent read. The text is lively and well-paced--I can't believe I'm writing this either, but it's true--once you allow yourself to sink into Proust's world. It is infinitely more readable than the Moncrieff translation.
zenomax on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Walter Benjamin, writing on Proust¿s In Search of Lost Time series, mentions in passing that it is partly a work resulting from `the absorption of a mystic¿.Proust is not a mystic, in my view, but a realist - a realist of a certain, unusual type. For Proust understands certain arcane facts about the functioning of our universe. He believes that the universe is too complex to be fully understood or mastered, but at the same time, by concentrating on what we can know, the ways of human-kind, and the animate and inanimate kingdoms*, we can delve in some degree of detail into the idiosyncracies and half-known truths of our world. It is a path related to the ancient wisdoms that is being followed here I believe, followed implicitly in all but name.As such, Proust contributes a certain fecundity to the undergrowth at the far limits of our understanding. In this he joins certain other authors and thinkers, amongst these ranks I include Balzac, Burns (1), Tolstoy (2), Kafka (3), Camus (4), Atget and Schwitters.Ultimately, these (amongst others who share the same implicit understanding) have in common the view that everything is subjective, a projection by each individual of the world, which can neither be proven nor disproven by any outside, objective agency. The default position, once one understands that one cannot master the world, nor share a common platform with others to achieve such mastery, is to dig deeper into the richness, the complexity, the contradictions of the world. It is like looking at a shattered mirror, with only a few shards of reflective glass left intact, attempting to reconstruct the reflection - an ultimately futile task - but being distracted by the colours, textures and patterns which you can see in the shards, and drawing solace and a certain richness of understanding from this part-world.The best passage to illustrate P¿s view, that meaning can be attached to all things, and that this allows a rich, idiosyncratic understanding of the world around us, if we do but look, is not the famous madeleines, but a short extract on the beginning of the route when taking the Guermantes way. When taking this route the family would exit through the garden and into the Rue des Perchamps, ¿¿narrow and bent at a sharp angle, dotted with clumps of grass among which two or three wasps would spend the day botanising, a street as quaint as its name, from which, I felt, its odd characteristics and cantankerous personality derived¿¿ The street had long since been demolished (echoes here of Atget¿s photographs of condemned Parisian buildings with the demolishers already evident working on the surrounding buildings), and Proust rebuilds the street through memory, preserving its existence, through the remembered image - ¿¿perhaps the last surviving in the world today, and soon to follow the rest into oblivion¿¿ This illustrates `lesser¿ animates, wasps, equally participating in everyday existence, and the inanimate, the street itself, deriving a personality from its name and individual, slightly eccentric shape. Furthermore, the whole excerpt, an evocation of time and place, relates to a time long gone, and furthermore, of things that no longer exist in place (although they do in time, at least as long as someone is there to remember them. Although what happens to them once that person dies?)Ultimately, this view of the world equates all 'things' as having equal importance, but infinite depth. This is what makes life worth living, an infinite web of relationships, meanings and obscure connections and reasons that cannot be explained, just understood for what they are.Notes:* We know that P. considered the inanimate world, from some early writings on the artist Chardin. Proust noted in this context how the artist was able to show ¿¿the hidden life of the inanimate¿¿(1) I remember the phrase used in a review of at least 20 years ago, of Burns poem `To a mouse¿, that stated that he understood `the inherent dignity of all living thin
hellbent on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Delicious exposition on falling asleep. Author very econimcal with periods.
aubreyfs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The writing in this book is absolutely exquisite. Proust's narrator inspects each nuance of consciousness and the opening scene in which he discusses waking is fabulous. There is more in one page of this book to ponder than I'm sure I even caught! Time stands still in this book - or moves so swiftly that it gives the impression that time is something completely independent of reality. The author/narrator/Swann is obsessive and parnoid, "And from then on, I forced myself to turn my thoughts away from the words I would have liked her to write to me, for fear that by articulating them, I would exclude precisely those - the dearest, the most desired - from the field of all possible compositions."
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always a pleasure
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The formatting is distracting. I will be dumping this for one that is easier to read.
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Adam Pierce More than 1 year ago
Full of enchantment and beauty.
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