by Sheri Clyde
For anyone who has ever been betrayed by a kindly acquaintance or even a supposed friend, Swan’s rumination after receiving that “anonymous letter” with the poisonous assertions about Odette is instructive. He asks himself:
“What criterion ought one to adopt to judge one’s fellows? After all, there was not a single person he knew who might not, in certain circumstances, prove capable of a shameful action. Must he then cease to see them all?” (SW, 509)
Have we not all experienced this desire to exclude, to cease to see somebody or some group of people, after we have been wounded? Have we not wanted to say, I will have nothing to do with these kind of people ever again!
We talk of how long it takes to get over a slight or a betrayal or a wound. We are inclined to lecture ourselves and others on the importance of forgiveness. But really, how does one “get over it” and continue to move in the company of the suspect or the culprit?
Swan struggles for us. His mind clouds, he wipes his brow, he cleans his glasses and then remembers that he knows of men whom he considers as good as himself (even if they conceivably could be capable of infamy), men who nevertheless frequent the company of his list of suspects. He reasons then, that it must be a "necessity" in human life to frequent the society of people who are perhaps not incapable of such actions.
And with that matter settled, we are told, Swan continues to shake hands with all of the friends whom he had suspected, yet now with the “purely formal reservation that each one of them had possibly sought to drive him to despair” (SW, 510).
Is this the answer then? Must we necessarily resume our friendships? And does this necessity for resuming our social relations then require a new, “formal reservation” when frequenting company?
What exactly does Proust mean by this “formal reservation”? Does he mean that Swann is to be guarded and suspicious, or simply detached? Does a formal reservation mean that we engage with our friends whom we suspect, but give up on trusting them?