Much in Marcel Proust's Un amour de Swann—notably its position in the Recherche and the title itself—suggests that we might derive from the tale of Swann's love for Odette a general “law” about love, applicable throughout the Recherche. Yet far from conveying a clear account of Swann's passion, the story presents nine different falling-in-love scenes, which, it seems, contradict the prevailing view that Swann's tale is a relatively “easy” section of Proust's novel. Indeed, I argue here that the illusive transparency of Un amour de Swann is at the heart of a textual mechanism that elicits from us spontaneous and lasting reactions to the text. Proust in fact withholds a clear characterization of love and, instead, imparts to our subjective impressions about this emotion an illusion of objectivity. When the reader applies what he or she has “discovered” about love in Un amour de Swann to the rest of the Recherche, then, the reader unknowingly becomes inscribed into the novel, making it a reflection of the deepest, most essential parts of his or her being.

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