Marcel Proust’s Jewish Problem

Although he was baptized as a child, Marcel Proust was born to a Jewish mother. In his major work, Remembrance of Things Past, the protagonist and narrator, also named Marcel, resembles the author in almost every way—except, notably, for the absence of Jewish ancestry. Instead, Proust seems to place this burden on the narrator’s friend Charles Swann, for whom the book’s third volume is named. Robert Siegel comments:

Swann was a Jew, at least in the terms by which Proust probably saw himself as half-Jewish—by ancestry, not by faith or practice. The Swanns were at least nominally Catholic but . . . Swann bears the suspicion of being a modern-day converso, which is how I have come to see him. We know of his Jewishness because others allude to his family background, as if hinting at generations of skeletons in the closet; as for his own view of his family’s origins, Swann gives away nothing.

He is the 19th-century Jew-by-genealogy par excellence, who epitomizes the social class that made Paris the jewel of the Western world. He is admitted to the super-exclusive Jockey Club, a measure of acceptance at the time typically barred to Jews not named Rothschild. He is an art collector and expert, a maven to aristocrats whose palace walls and budgets exceed their knowledge of painting. . . .

Neither Proust nor the fictional Marcel has much positive to say about Jews. [By contrast], an unambiguously Jewish character, Marcel’s onetime schoolmate Albert Bloch, is brilliant but uncouth, a caricature of the pushy, ill-mannered Jew of anti-Semitic tropes.

What makes the Jewishness of Bloch and Swann important to the novel is the backdrop of the great political issue of turn-of-the-century Paris, the Dreyfus affair. . . . Marcel is a convinced Dreyfusard—a believer in [Alfred Dreyfus’s] innocence. So is Bloch. And so is Swann. Toward the end of his life, Swann openly despises the anti-Semites of the aristocracy, but, knowing them well, he cautions the younger and more headstrong Bloch to act discreetly. . . . [W]hen Swann publicly identifies himself with the Dreyfusard cause, the perfect converso encounters a social inquisition in the salons and palaces where the fruits of his aesthetic wisdom hang on the walls. In the eyes of the [aristocratic] Duc de Guermantes, Swann’s position on Dreyfus is not just wrong, but disloyal.

Read more at Moment

More about: Alfred Dreyfus, Anti-Semitism, French Jewry, Marcel Proust


Hamas Wants a Renewed Ceasefire, but Doesn’t Understand Israel’s Changed Attitude

Yohanan Tzoreff, writing yesterday, believes that Hamas still wishes to return to the truce that it ended Friday morning with renewed rocket attacks on Israel, but hopes it can do so on better terms—raising the price, so to speak, of each hostage released. Examining recent statements from the terrorist group’s leaders, he tries to make sense of what it is thinking:

These [Hamas] senior officials do not reflect any awareness of the changed attitude in Israel toward Hamas following the October 7 massacre carried out by the organization in the western Negev communities. They continue to estimate that as before, Israel will be willing to pay high prices for its people and that time is working in their favor. In their opinion, Israel’s interest in the release of its people, the pressure of the hostages’ families, and the public’s broad support for these families will ultimately be decisive in favor of a deal that will meet the new conditions set by Hamas.

In other words, the culture of summud (steadfastness), still guides Hamas. Its [rhetoric] does not show at all that it has internalized or recognized the change in the attitude of the Israeli public toward it—which makes it clear that Israel still has a lot of work to do.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli Security