Shutters of Gold
The quixotic night, where Swann hunts and tries to trap Odette in flagrante delicto, concludes with his hilarious banging on the wrong window. Before that unceremonious conclusion, there is a delicious passage about the nature of the wrong window itself. The window has shutters with slats through which light radiates outward in the form of golden horizontal bars; it resembles a writing slate. Swann’s heart quickens when he sees that slate because he reads it as a message – a message that can deliver the truth (that Odette is there with another man).
The metaphorical use of light for truth and darkness for ignorance is ancient; the narrator is on terra firma. Platonic heaven is suffused with golden light and the cave of ignorance cast in shadow. But something happens here to wildly shake up that metaphor.Light errs.
“…he had been misled this time by the light, and had knocked at the window beyond hers, which belonged to the adjoining house.” [Vol I, SW, 300]
Perceived light is not necessarily truth. Truth is hidden and coy. Illusion is all around.
Now look ahead several years. Marcel is returning home to Albertine whom he has made captive in his house. He looks up at her window, just as Swann looked up at Odette’s window. He sees her golden shutters as a scroll, just as Swann saw Odette’s golden shutters as a manuscript. The manuscript for Swann was a vehicle to bare the truth. For Marcel, the horizontal bars of Albertine’s window morph from scroll into prison bars. Now, instead of Albertine being the captive, Marcel (the twit) portrays his own condition as captive – a prisoner who has forfeited his freedom, solitude and thought.
The point I am making here is not to dwell on the truth that Swann seeks or the captivity that Marcel bemoans, but to delight in the masterful morphing of these two window scenes; one from the other, where both lovers peer at the golden bars of the windows and read them or into them skewed reflections of their own condition.
Amid the glimmering blackness of the row of windows in which the lights had long since been put out, he saw one, and only one, from which percolated-between the slats of its shutters, closed like a wine-press over its mysterious golden juice the light that filled the room within, a light which on so many other evenings, as soon as he saw it from afar as he turned into the street, had rejoiced his heart with its message: “She is there expecting you,” and which now tortured him, saying: “She is there with the man she was expecting.” [SW, pg. 297]
He knew that the reality of certain circumstances which he would have given his life to be able to reconstruct accurately and in full, was to be read behind that window, streaked with bars of light, as within the illuminated, golden boards of one of those precious manuscripts by whose artistic wealth itself the scholar who consults them cannot remain unmoved. He felt a voluptuous pleasure in learning the truth which he passionately sought in that unique, ephemeral and precious transcript, on that trans- lucent page, so warm, so beautiful. [SW, 299]
From the pavement, I could see the window of Albertine’s room, that window, formerly quite black at night when she had not been staying in the house, which the electric light from inside, segmented by the slats of the shutters, striped from top to bottom with parallel bars of gold. This magic scroll, clear as it was to myself, tracing before my tranquil mind precise images, near at hand, of which I should presently be taking possession, was invisible to Brichot who had remained in the carriage and was almost blind, and would in any case have been incomprehensible to him .[Vol III, CAP 336]
It was true that I endowed those luminous streaks which I could see from below, and which to anyone else would have seemed quite superficial, with the utmost plenitude, solidity and volume, because of all the significance that I placed behind them, in a treasure unsuspected by the rest of the world which I had hidden there and from which those horizontal rays emanated, but a treasure in exchange for which I had forfeited my freedom, my solitude, my thought. ,..[Vol III CAP 336]
So that, as I raised my eyes for one last look from the outside at the window of the room in which I should presently find myself, I seemed to behold the luminous gates which were about to close behind me and of which I myself had forged, for an eternal slavery, the inflexible bars of gold. ,.. [Vol III CAP 337]