3. "An Opuscule" (1909-1913)
A year before Swann’s Way was finally published, Proust gives Hahn a preliminary title for the volume, Time Lost, and asks him to arrange a meeting with the editor of a literary magazine, hoping to publish an excerpt before the book appears.
The excerpt, from the middle section of the novel, describes Swann’s unhappy love for the courtesan Odette and the crucial role of music in that love. The society dinners where the two meet are largely inspired by Madeleine Lemaire’s salon in the 1890s, while the narrator’s elaborate reflections on Swann’s jealousy owe much to Proust’s experience with Hahn.
Wistful yet facetious, Proust ends the letter with a citation from La Fontaine’s Fables.
“… It consists of dinners at the Verdurins’ that you thought were comical (melded into one), after which Swann hears the phrase of the sonata that will become the national anthem of their love. Two lines of ellipses. Swann abandoned by Odette attends an evening reception […] suddenly he hears the little phrase again, and it makes him realize what he’s lost as it sings to him ‘the forgotten refrains of happiness.’ […]
I’m up, you know. Yes it would be niscer if you gave your conferences next to your Buncht’s bed.
Absence is the greatest of pains
Not for you, cruel one, but for he who remains!”
Marcel Proust, Letter to “Genstil” [Reynaldo Hahn], [mid-Nov. 1912]. b 94M-48 (95), Houghton Library, Harvard University. Gift, Mrs. Bradley Martin, 1994.