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Swann's Way, paragraph 31

I knew the situation I’d put myself in could lead my parents to impose the most serious consequences—much more serious, in fact, than outsiders could have supposed, consequences of the sort they’d have thought must follow only truly shameful deeds. But in my upbringing, the system of offenses was not ordered the same as for other children; I was trained to place above all other faults (no doubt because there was nothing I needed to be more carefully guarded against) the ones I now know had this in common: they all fell into the category of “giving in to nervous impulses.” No one said those actual words, no one named this nervous origin, as if doing so would have made me believe I could be excused for succumbing to my impulses or perhaps even incapable of resisting them. Yet I recognized them easily, both in the anguish that preceded them and in the severity of the discipline that followed them; and I knew the infraction I’d just committed, though infinitely more serious, was in the same family as the others for which I’d been harshly punished. And once I’d put myself in my mother’s path on her way up to bed, and she’d seen how I’d stayed up to tell her good night again in the hallway, my parents would no longer let me live in this house, they’d ship me off to school the very next day, that was certain. Oh, well! If I had to throw myself out the window five minutes after my crime, so be it. What I wanted was Maman, was to tell her good night, and I’d come too far down the road toward realizing my desire to change course now.

Je savais que le cas dans lequel je me mettais était de tous celui qui pouvait avoir pour moi, de la part de mes parents, les conséquences les plus graves, bien plus graves en vérité qu’un étranger n’aurait pu le supposer, de celles qu’il aurait cru que pouvaient produire seules des fautes vraiment honteuses. Mais dans l’éducation qu’on me donnait, l’ordre des fautes n’était pas le même que dans l’éducation des autres enfants et on m’avait habitué à placer avant toutes les autres (parce que sans doute il n’y en avait pas contre lesquelles j’eusse besoin d’être plus soigneusement gardé) celles dont je comprends maintenant que leur caractère commun est qu’on y tombe en cédant à une impulsion nerveuse. Mais alors on ne prononçait pas ce mot, on ne déclarait pas cette origine qui aurait pu me faire croire que j’étais excusable d’y succomber ou même peut-être incapable d’y résister. Mais je les reconnaissais bien à l’angoisse qui les précédait comme à la rigueur du châtiment qui les suivait; et je savais que celle que je venais de commettre était de la même famille que d’autres pour lesquelles j’avais été sévèrement puni, quoique infiniment plus grave. Quand j’irais me mettre sur le chemin de ma mère au moment où elle monterait se coucher, et qu’elle verrait que j’étais resté levé pour lui redire bonsoir dans le couloir, on ne me laisserait plus rester à la maison, on me mettrait au collège le lendemain, c’était certain. Eh bien! dusse-je me jeter par la fenêtre cinq minutes après, j’aimais encore mieux cela. Ce que je voulais maintenant c’était maman, c’était lui dire bonsoir, j’étais allé trop loin dans la voie qui menait à la réalisation de ce désir pour pouvoir rebrousser chemin.

N o t e s

Outsiders. Proust wrote “un étranger,” which previous translations have put as “a stranger.” But I think the sense here is more of someone who’s not a family member but can observe the family closely. To avoid having it seem like the narrator is thinking only of Swann (which is possible but far more ambiguous in French), I’m using the plural “outsiders.” In general, the emphasis is on how things worked within young Marcel’s family, as opposed to what most people would assume is normal.

Nervous origin. Proust wrote only “origine” here, which in English seems to need clarification. Proust’s father, Adrien Proust, was a renowned epidemiologist and pathologist, so the idea of tracing abnormal behaviors to an origin may help explain how Proust was raised, and/or how he later interpreted his parents’ punishments.