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Charles Swann: The Kind of High Finance Player / Homme d'Esprit the World
Desperately Needs!
A meditation, perhaps un peu risquée, about Marcel Proust’s "Charles Swann"- character and Mr. Swann's
possible High Finance involvement, first drafted on May 8, published on May 12, 2019

    Et à tout moment elle [Mlle Odette de Crécy] demandait: “Qu’est-ce qu’il [M. Charles Swann] peut faire en ce moment? Si
    seulement il travaillait un peu! C’est malheureux, un garçon si doué, qu’il soit si paresseux.” (Marcel Proust: Du Côté De
    Chez Swann, Librairie Générale Française, 1992, p. 423)

The Canon of Western literature has regaled us with a sizable collection of fictitious personalities who have
either chosen the financial industry as their professional mainstay or who have supported their lavish life-style
in large measure through the proceeds of (earlier or current) money market activities.  Balzac’s Baron de
Nucingen is one of those characters, as is Flaubert’s M. Dambreuse,
Zola’s Aristide Saccard, Dreiser’s Frank
Cowperwood, Dicken’s Mr. Merdle, Trollop’s Augustus Melmotte, DeLillo’s Eric Packer, Tom Wolfe’s Sherman
McCoy, Musil’s Leo Fischel,
Bernhard’s Georg Murau and Easton Ellis’ Patrick Bateman to name perhaps the
most important of them.

Usually these fictitious bankers/traders/financiers are not portrayed as very likeable human beings. Authors
mostly prefer them to be consumed with desires for wealth, splendor, debauchery and extravagance.
Dishonesty and deceit therefore are often times part of the standard tool set of these characters. And
sometimes they do not even shy away from crime and murder in order to pursue their goals.

Not always though are these financier-personalities presented as appalling individuals. Occasionally
they even serve as positive, inspirational role models both to the author and the hero of the literary piece itself.
Thomas Bernhard’s Uncle Georg in “Ausloeschung” (Extinction) is a case in point here. Not only does that
Uncle Georg muster the courage to physically, emotionally and intellectually distance himself from the loaded,
crypto-fascist provinciality of his Austrian family background, but his very different, sophisticated investor life-
style also helps his nephew Franz-Josef to realize that an intelligent approach to money market speculation
may well constitute a viable basis for a life devoted to philosophical reflection and erudition.

Such uplifting examples of financial market personalities in literature are, however, far and few in between.  
Clearly, the finance industry itself is quite a bit to blame for the negative press it has received in the upper
echelons of Western art. The abuses, the digressions and the mistakes it is responsible for, not just in the 19th
and early 20th century but to this day (see, for instance, t
he bloated and misguided current Trump bubble
and/or the earlier sub-prime travesty), are substantial and considerable.

Despite all the distortions though which have been produced by the likes of Wall Street, the moral track record
of the finance industry has a few more shades to it than high Western fiction generally has us believe. And
thankfully enough some literary giants, sometimes against their own original intentions, acknowledge this.
Marcel Proust may well be one of them. His famous Charles Swann Jr. - character which is elaborated most
prominently in the first volume (“Du Côté de chez Swann”) of Proust’s seven-part series “
In Search of Lost
Time” (1913 - 1927), isn’t just an example of a superbly refined, high-class intellectual, but he is also
the archetype of a charming and cherished,
world-savvy interlocutor/counselor to the high and
, the sort of which you used to find only in the most hand-picked circles of Diplomacy and
High Finance.
(Members of the distinguished aristocracy would clearly also qualify as being charming and
superbly refined. Their above-market status, however, is a constant inconvenience to the realism of their
judgments, particularly in international matters.(see WWI, for instance))

Now it is true, of course, that Marcel Proust does not cast Mr. Swann as an active financial market player. Nor
can it be denied that Mr. Proust's narrator does not tend to harbor very favorable views about bankers and
financiers as such. But the fact that Mr. Proust prefers to describe Mr. Swann as a non-income generating
socialite and art connoisseur  (- probably to demonstrate the intrinsic moral value of refined idleness against a
narrow-minded Saint-Simonian
(Claude-Henri's (the grand-nephew) not Louis de Rouvroy's (the uncle)) market
philosophy -), should not deter us from presuming that
Charles may well have been a much more
important contributor to high finance decision making than M. Proust himself suspected
. Obviously,
we must not forget that investment banking in the late 19th and early 20th century was even more an Old Boys-
networking activity than it is nowadays. In fact, the concept of “investment banking” did not exist back then.
There were, hence, no professional analysts, no boutique funds, no CMEs and no day traders at that time.
Instead it was at exquisite luncheons at the Jockey Club or the Elysée that major financial decisions (like, say,
the opening up new credit facilities to the Ottoman Empire, or the financing of projects like the Suez Canal
construction) got first sounded out and informally prepared.

The regular and continued tête-à-tête-exchanges which Charles Swann, therefore, entertained with key
movers and shakers (General de Froberville (
Du Côté, p.374 ff), the future King of England, Edward VII (p 58),
the French National Assembly President d’Audiffret-Pasquier (
p. 67), the French Police Commissioner and
the President of the Republic, M. Grévy himself (
p.264)) may have been much more “productive” than
Odette de Crécy, Mme Cottard, James Tissot or even Marcel Proust himself realized.  (
see quote above and see
also Marcel Proust: La Prisonnière, Gallimard (Pléiade), 1954, tome III, p. 200

Obviously, there can be little doubt that
Charles must have had, what is nowadays being labeled as
“Street Cred” in the relevant financial circles
. His father had been an established and successful member
of the financial community; Charles himself had received a prestigious education; he had international
experience, and his personal charm and elegance made him a natural in diplomatic, artistic and aristocratic
settings. Above all, though, he had at his disposition the sort of analytical mind that an institutional investor
would nowadays naturally expect from its bond market strategist or structured finance specialist.

To get
a take on Mr. Swann’s speculative astuteness, witness his later Napoléon III -Forcheville analogy
Du Côté, p. 427) which is the result of intense reasoning and which then leads him to intuitively anticipate the
imminence of a “nuit noire”, complete with “sirens going of”, “houses being on flames” and “people running in
despair”. In other words, a forecast of major turmoil and market collapse is shaping up at that point in Swann’s
mind that not only echoes t
he brutal breakdown France and the French economy experienced in the aftermath
of the 1871 defeat against Prussia but which also suggests an unease with respect to the likelihood of future
WW1-type disasters  due to shocking narcissistic aberrations in the national and international arena.

most literary critics, artists and poets have only little if any understanding of the
amount of socio-political analysis high finance strategists employ when doing their jobs
.  Poets all
too often are likely to presume that such financial market analysis is first and foremost an
economic number-crunching business that is driven by greed and profiteering and that has next to nothing to
do with an artistic sense of balance and consistency or the subtle capability for psychological, political and
philosophical interpretation. This limited familiarity of the artistic profession with High Finance may well be the
reason why most literary descriptions of financial players expand quite a bit on their character flaws but are
generally pretty short on detail as to their actual investment work. American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, for
instance, although pursuing a supposedly "productive", well-paid daytime job, spends most of his time in the
office soliciting pain killers from his secretary, assessing the wardrobe of his colleagues and arranging lunch or
dinner meetings with his love interests and/or other high net-worth drug buddies. Cosmopolis’ Eric Packer, on
the other hand, is more concerned with his haircut than with actual asset management. (
In fact, the only pieces of
Canonical Western fiction that Noah denkt™ is aware of which actually detail some precise money market activities are Zola’s
The Kill,
Balzac’s Eugenie Grandet and Dreiser’s The Financier. Obviously, Michael Lewis (ML), Andrew Ross-Sorkin, Stanley
Weiser and others have meanwhile provided some relief in this respect. It remains to be seen though whether their work will
eventually be viewed as Canonical-grade.

Whatever, though, the shortcomings of Canonical literature with respect to High Finance may be,
there is
little doubt that Charles Swann Jr was a much more value-adding contributor to economic growth
than Mr. Bateman was
. And that assertion of ours is true even if Mr. Swann himself may eventually have
become just as disenchanted with the mediocrity of his Rothschild/Upper Class peers as Mr. Bateman became
once he had experienced the cynical cruelty of his 'Liar's Poker' (ML) investment bank bosses.  At least,
Mr. Swann never lost his belief in the merit of human decency and intellectual as well as artistic curiosity and
thereby avoided the decline into violence and destruction, Mr. Bateman inevitably suffered. Whether it is
Charles' erudition, his near-aristocratic sense of identity and/or his financial independence that is to be invoked
as the overriding explanation for his moral resilience in the face of an increasingly vulgar capitalist reality (
for instance the Balbec chapter in À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs
) remains to be seen.

The more important question with respect to Mr. Swann, hence, isn’t any more whether Charles is an uplifting
example of a high finance representative because he quite likely is. The real question much rather is whether
his prolonged infatuation with Odette de Crécy should diminish the respect we have for the perspicacity of his
value-oriented mind. Obviously, an argument could be made that his two-year-long (1879-1881), emotional
obsession with Odette speaks ill of his capability to cut losses and untangle himself from prior investment

We must not forget, however, that his personality is that of an analyst, and not that of a fund manager. As an
analyst, his job is more about getting to the bottom of a socio-psychological conundrum than it is about
maximizing assets. In other words, to help fund managers adequately deal with their possible
exposure to psychological misfits
like Kaiser Wilhelm II, Napoléon III or Trump I, it would be Charles’ job not
to shy away from studying, experiencing and de-constructing such personalities but to get intimately involved
with them instead. And this is precisely what he, Charles Swann Jr of "Swann's Way" does in the Odette case
. It
is our opinion that his obsession with Mlle de Crécy is way less erotic and sexual in nature than it is
sociological. Her emotional vulgarity fascinates him, the weird, perhaps Trumpian-like spell this psychological
deficiency can project on him and others, rightly so, obsesses him, and he unequivocally accepts his
intellectual duty to study this
narcissist aberration until its destructive, game-changing potential has been fully
(Napoléon III - "Nuit Noir") and flashed out by him. ("faire sonner bien haut" (À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs,
Ed. Gallimard 1987, p. 4))

In other words, his all-consuming devotion to the Odette and (Non-)Associates-issue does not undermine our
appreciation for the astuteness of his mind, it much rather does the opposite. And any High Finance industry
that is worth its salt should be proud to have such
a fine systemic risk and social change researcher
serving it, - regardless of whether his advice is being offered on a free-lancing, pro-bono basis or not.
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appropriate or suitable for him. And to leave no doubt as to what this means we urge our user to also note our extended

The Representation of High Finance in Western Literature, Inspiring examples of High Finance
Players in the Western Literary Canon, The Role of A Dandy in High Finance, Patrick Bateman
versus Charles Swann, Sherman McCoy versus Charles Swann, American Psycho (Easton
Ellis) versus Swann's Way (Marcel Proust)