There are a few passages in "Madame Swann at Home" on the nature of love and happiness that I wanted to share with the group.
"...with every occurrence in life and its contrasting situations that relates to love, it is best to make no attempt to understand, since in so far as these are as inexorable as they are unlooked-for, they appear to be governed by magic rather than by rational laws" (WBG, 100).
"...it was she whom I loved and whom I could not therefore see without that anxiety, without that desire for something more, which destroys in us, in the presence of the person we love, the sensation of loving" (WBG, 139).
"Swann was one of those men who, having lived for long time amid the illusions of love, have seen the blessings they have brought to a number of women increase the happiness of those women without exciting in them any gratitude, any tenderness towards their benefactors; but who believe that in their children they can feel an affection which, being incarnate in their own name, will enable them to survive after their death" (WBG, 192).
"We are, when we love, in an abnormal state, capable of giving at once to the most apparently simple accident, an accident which may at any moment occur, a seriousness which in itself it would not entail. What makes us so happy is the presence in our hearts of an unstable element which we contrive perpetually to maintain and of which we cease almost to be aware so long as it is not displaced. In reality, there is in love a permanent strain of suffering which happiness neutralises, makes potential only, postpones, but which may at any moment become, what it would long since have been had we not obtained what we wanted, excruciating" (WBG, 214).
"...when we are not in love, if we resign ourselves philosophically to love's inconsistencies and contradictions, it is because we do not at that moment feel the love which we speak about so freely, and hence do not know it, knowledge in these matters being intermittent and not outlasting the actual presence of the sentiment" (WBG, 256).
"My words would have come to her only in a distorted form, as though they had had to pass through the moving curtain of a waterfall before they reached my beloved, unrecognisable, sounding false and absurd, having no longer any kind of meaning. The truth which one puts into one's words does not carve out a direct path for itself, is not irresistibly self-evident" (WBG, 257).
"For in this respect love is not like war; after each battle we renew the fight with keener ardour, which we never cease to intensify the more thoroughly we are defeated, provided always that we are still in a position to give battle" (WBG, 275).
"...we can never be certain that the happiness which comes to us too late, when we can no longer enjoy it, when we are no longer in love, is altogether the same as that same happiness the lack of which made us at one time so unhappy. There is only one person who could decide this -- our then self; it is no longer with us, and were it to reappear, no doubt our happiness -- identical or not -- would vanish" (WBG, 281).
It strikes me as significant that Proust never had the opportunity to experience a long-term committed love (and of course never married).
Perhaps he was able to grasp this experience imaginatively, and we will encounter it later in the novel. But to this point in our reading, Proust, the writer, seems to be limited to reflections on love affairs that are tormented and brief in duration. Certainly, long-term relationships sometimes fall, rightly, under the term "love" as well, yet they have very different dynamics and challenges, highs and lows. Sadly, much to our loss, Proust does not address these.
The only scene that comes to mind as illustrative of long-term love in "Madame Swann at Home" is the dialogue (it begins on page 146 of the Modern Library edition) between Swann and Odette, which begins after she plays the "little phrase" from Vinteuil's sonata one afternoon in their home:
"It's rather a charming thought, don't you think," Swann continued, "that sound can reflect, like water, like a mirror. And it's curious, too, that Vinteuil's phrase now shows me only the things to which I paid no attention then. Of my troubles, my loves of those days, it recalls nothing, it has swapped things around."
"Charles, I don't think that's very polite to me, what you're saying."
"Not polite? Really, you women are superb! I was simply trying to explain to this young man that what the music shows -- to me, at least -- is not 'the triumph of the Will' or 'In Tune with the Infinite,' but shall we say old Verdurin in his frock-coat in the palmhouse in the Zoological Gardens. Hundreds of times, without my leaving this room, the little phrase has carried me off to dine with it at Armenonville. Good God, it's less boring, anyhow, than having to go there with Mme de Cambremer."
"Madame Swann laughed. "That is a lady who's supposed to have been very much in love with Charles," she explained, in the same tone in which, shortly before, when we were speaking of Vermeer of Delft... she had replied to me: "I ought to explain that Monsieur Swann was very much taken with that painter at the time he was courting me. Isn't that so, dear?"
"You're not to start saying things about Mme de Cambremer," Swann checked her, secretly flattered.
"But I'm only repeating what I've been told. Besides, it seems that she's extremely clever; I don't know her myself. I belive she's very pushing, which surprises me rather in a clever woman. But everyone says that she was quite mad about you; there's nothing hurful in that."
Swann remained silent as a deaf-mute, which was sort of confirmation, and a proof of his self-complacency.
"Since what I'm playing reminds you of the Zoo," his wife went on, with a playful pretence of being offended, "we might drive this boy there this afternoon if it would amuse him. The weather's lovely now, and you can recapture your fond impressions!"
In the playfulness and specificity and things unsaid of this dialogue I see something, perhaps surprisingly given the history of Swann and Odette, of the gratifying nature of long-term, stable love. They can't help but get a kick out of each other, even as they are getting digs in and touching on resentments. The past is all mixed up with the present, it seems to me, in a way that creates more ground for love rather than less.