“But if someone had told my grandmother that Swann, as a son of Swann, was perfectly “qualified” to be received by all the “beautiful bourgeoisie” had, in secret, a completely different life. One day he came to see us in Paris after dinner apologizing for being in formal attire, Françoise, after he left, claimed to have learned from the coachman that he had dined “at a princess’s””. Marcel Proust, From Swann’s Side
Charles Swann is one of the central characters in Marcel Proust’s 7-volume novel In Search of Lost Time. A figure of the cultured and worldly bourgeoisie, he travels throughout the work, from the mother’s kiss to the last pages of Time Regained. Swann is also the only character to whom a biographical chapter is dedicated, beginning even before the narrator’s birth. Swann is a synthesis of multiple figures from Marcel Proust’s surroundings, the dandies of the Belle Époque who revolved around the writer.
Charles Haas is the main source of inspiration for the character of Swann. He is easily identifiable through Marcel Proust’s final tribute, where he presents him as appearing in James Tissot Circle of the Rue Royale. Charles Haas stands out for his elegance: he is the only one wearing color. The painter depicts him in this painting dressed in a tailcoat, a brown waistcoat, gray striped trousers, a carved cane handle, caramel chevreau gloves. A man of the world, member of the Jockey Club, seductive and cultured, Charles Haas is the starting point for the character of Swann.
The figure of Willie Heath, the dedicatee of the Collection of Poems and Stories The Pleasures and Days written by Proust a few years before the search, would haveserved as a source of inspiration for the character of Swann. On June 28, 1893, Paul Nadar photographed Willie Heath in a jacket and waistcoat, with a carnation in his lapel, near a table where three books are placed. There are two versions :
– in the first, the right hand holds a cane and gloves; the left hand disappears in the pocket of a striped pants and a top hat is abandoned on the table
– in the second, the right hand holds the hat; the left hand, the cane, and the gloves. This is the one that Heath offers to Proust.
Jacques-Émile Blanche is the only artist who painted Marcel Proust while he was alive. They frequented together the literary, artistic and worldly salons of the Belle Époque, within which Blanche was recognized as the most elegant of all painters. André Gide recounts in his Journal : « every time I meet Blanche, I immediately feel that I don’t have the right tie, that my hat is not brushed and that my cufflinks are dirty. That worries me a lot more than I’ll say. ».
Swann is finally he self-portrait of the worldly and dandy that Proust himself was. he character frequents the same suppliers as the author of “In Search of Lost Time”. Their shirts, cut from Swiss cotton muslin, come from Charvet, their raglans come from Bond Street in London, their raincoats from Old England, Place de l’Opéra. Jacques-Émile Blanche writes : « Marcel, with his randomly tied water-green silk ties, his crumpled pants, his flowing frock coat, holding in his hand a reed cane, gray pearl gloves with black sticks, wrinkled, soiled, an incredibly bristled top hat at his lapel, a few orchids fading ». Portrait of Marcel Proust as a Young Man.
Charles Hass, detail of the Cercle de la rue Royale by James Tissot
Willie Heath by Paul Nadar, Paris, 1893
Marcel Proust, 1892
André Gide, 1891
Charles Ephrussi by Léon Bonnat, 1906
Jean Cocteau by Jacques-Émile Blanche, 1913
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