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In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
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In Search of Lost Time

by Marcel Proust

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: In Search of Lost Time (1-7)

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3,027393,064 (4.51)1 / 323
For this authoritative English-language edition, D. J. Enright has revised the late Terence Kilmartin’s acclaimed reworking of C. K. Scott Moncrieff’s translation to take into account the new definitive French editions of À la recherche du temps perdu (the final volume of these new editions was published by the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade in 1989).… (more)
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English (30)  Italian (4)  Danish (2)  French (2)  German (1)  All languages (39)
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"Stories somehow lengthen when begun" - Lord Byron, Beppo

And so, after 11 months and 3 weeks, I find myself making the emotionally harrowing descent from Mont Proust. And, boy, has it been worth it. Le Temps retrouvé (Time Regained, also translated as Finding Time Again) is the final volume of the masterful Search, and is a distinct step up from its immediate predecessors, for a few reasons. (My reviews of the previous volumes : Unum Duo Tria Quattuor Quinque Sex )

Published a few years after Proust's death, Time Regained exists in something of a draft form, and this is rampantly evident throughout. The narrative is fragmented; key characters make cameo appearances in what must surely have been pencil sketches for larger farewells; the dead return to life with alarming regularity; and some sections betray a sense of repetition that even Gertrude Stein would have hesitated at. Anyone who tells you that they can explain what Proust intended is lying however, like any good paleontologist, we can hope to reconstruct at least some of what lies at the end of Proust's search. (Walking with Proust?) And thank goodness we can.

“My great adventure is really Proust. Well-- what remains to be written after that? - Virginia Woolf

Broadly speaking, Time Regained can be separated into four sections. The first, brief chapter takes place before WWI, and is sometimes included at the end of The Fugitive instead, although I prefer it here, as in my Vintage edition. With Gilberte, the narrator (we'll call him Marcel however, as I've previously established, I don't like that name for him) returns to Combray, marking the beginning of his psychological reassessment of what has gone before. It's remarkable to think that when Proust began the novel, he could not have predicted that there would be a Great War allowing him to destroy Méséglise and to so powerfully capture the downfall of so many of his characters and the society in which they move. What this vignette shows us is the susceptibility of memory, of perspective. Marcel could not have known, all those years ago, what Gilberte truly intended as a child, nor that this valuations of people - such as the seemingly upright Saint-Loup - could be proven so incomplete with the passing of the years. The grand revelation that the two "ways" are connected is a perfect symbol of everything the novel has attempted to say. The novel constantly hints at other lives Marcel may have led: an early, happy marriage to Gilberte? An early death, perhaps? As with homosexuality and Jewishness, those two big, bad questions that academics and readers can't help asking about the narrator/author connection, I wonder how much of a role age and illness played. Proust was famously hands-on when it came to revisions, and there is certainly a level of denial in the narrator's claims that he has "totally forgotten" Albertine, and that he is perfectly happy to retreat from the world. One wonders.

A book is a huge cemetery in which on the majority of the tombs the names are effaced and can no longer be read.

The second of the four is the part that most obviously shows evidence of being a rough draft. The war years are, to a large part, glossed over, with indications that Marcel spent time in a sanatorium. We will, alas, never find out what happened to Mamma and Papa. Yet, the war actually seems a fitting if unintended conclusion to the political drama that has played out in the background of the Search, from the Dreyfus Affair to the naiveté of the aristocracy on Europe's nationalist troubles at the beginning of the 20th century. It also allows for an obvious transition point, a kind of termination shock, after which everyone has changed, and their society has changed with them. ("It is all a question of chronology.")

Various rumours are cleared up as we meet Saint-Loup, Jupien, and Charlus for the last time. The brothel sequence, in which Morel and Jupien take their "inverted" tastes to the logical extreme, is perhaps a bit silly. It feels too calculated to shock, too desperate and contrived (why exactly Marcel needs to rent a private room for a glass of cassis is beyond me) but, nevertheless, it provides a logical endpoint for the discussion of social codes-within-codes that has often dominated the story and, in the tale of Saint-Loup's sad demise (oh, that croix de guerre!) and Morel's ironic rise, he captures all the irony of a Madame Bovary with just a few, brief, moonlit images. If the novel really is like Vinteuil's septet, then this is most certainly the "da capo al fine" section. Thankfully, with the rise and fall of the war, Proust's social eye - arguably his strongest single literary skill - gets to put a little extra sharpness into his pen after quite some time in which we have focused only on the immediate concerns of the protagonist. After all these years, a younger generation are rising up in society, and what good is a war if you can't use it to forget the inconvenient facts about the past? Social status has changed for so many since the teenaged Marcel burst on to the scene, and everyone is doing their best to obfuscate their origins. Perhaps the single funniest line in the whole novel is when Madame Verdurin, continuing her rise from the bourgeoisie (to which she was once so firmly proud), describes someone with great disdain as being hopelessly "pre-war"! And, of course, Francoise continues to be the greatest comic relief character written since Shakespeare's death.

An hour is not merely an hour, it is a vase full of scents and sounds and projects and climates.

Next up is the single most dense section of the entire Search, as Marcel - and, I think we can all agree, Proust - lays out his extensive theory of art and creation. (It's important to note both are equally important; those critics who most savagely deride Proust for filling a novel with platitudes on art rarely seem to notice that this is really a novel about creating it.) Here is the ultimate modernist push Proust made, to create a climax that is, really, entirely passive and internal. The reason this section fascinates (even if, true, it is heavy going) is that these revelations are so important to Marcel, for Marcel. He is realising a rebellion against the so-called "literature of description", and seeking an answer to "the vision... of a person situated in the distorting perspective of Time". With each revelation about previous moments, our narrator is seeking to find whether all of that time has been truly wasted (an equally good translation for the title's "perdu", translated usually as "lost") or whether we can keep it with us, whether we can find time again. And indeed, we can all find it through art. To do so, Marcel needs to "become a mirror" and transcribe the music of all these years. As he says, "oblivion is at work within us". That's not to say that creating art is a vanity project - it may well be for La Berma, and perhaps Bergotte, and it took Elstir until his dying moments to realise otherwise - but that desire to write must come from somewhere. Marcel here seems to find that desire in his realisation of the ultimate tragedy of life: that we can't let go - "If our life is vagabond, our memory is sedentary" - but neither are we holding on in the right way. Here, more than ever, one understands that now conventional wisdom of why Remembrance of Things Past is such a bad title: Marcel may be the first truly internally-driven protagonist in literary history, but he is still driven. It's just that Albertine was never truly the fugitive; the fugitive was Time (yep, capital T, no way around it).

Profound Albertine, whom I saw sleeping and who was dead.
(What a quote, huh? What a freaking quote.)

The final fascicle of Time Regained captures surely the longest social engagement of the entire work and, to be frank, it feels it. I assume Proust would have done some pruning and elaborating before he published this section, or at least I hope so! That's not to say this section isn't gorgeous, by the way, because it is. However, it contains all the hallmarks of a reworked draft, with characters recognising one another before they've even arrived at the party, identical analogies in quick succession, fragmentary portraits that deserve more airtime, and occasionally grand statements from the narrator that haven't earned their place.

It's tragic in retrospect, but this section takes place assumedly in the late '20s, i.e. the time the volume was published, and which Proust expected he would live to see. Marcel, now a man in his 50s, is attending a reception at the home of the aged Princesse de Guermantes. It's a bit of a greatest hits package, as we are reunited one last time with the Duc, Morel, Rachael, Gilberte, Odette, Bloch, and Mme Verdurin who has completed her ascent to become the new Duchesse de Guermantes, for all the happiness it will bring her. Proust opens this section with a startling narrative conceit, that of appearing to enter a costume ball where everyone has come as the walking dead, until he realises it is simply that everyone has substantially aged. (It is clear that Marcel has been removed from society for some time, although he is also only just making the decision to truly retreat, one of many little inconsistencies that poke out from this draft volume.) While the heartbreaking final scene for Charlus is fitting, one hopes that Morel and Mme Verdurin would have received greater farewells in the finished work - although the last we see of the new Duchesse is her truly enjoying the music at the reception even as those around her engage in intrigues, a reminder of her bourgeois past, so at least that's fitting. Warming my heart is the fact that, although we don't get a farewell to Francoise, this is because she appears to be the only character who will remain in the narrator's life after he retreats from society on the final page.

The ponderings on old age seem to go on for some time, often repeating themselves, suggesting that Proust was uncontrollably - and reasonably - fascinated by the subject as he entered his 50s himself, a dying man living like a hermit in his cork-lined room (I suppose you could argue that this is a deliberate literary technique to present the narrator as aged and forgetful but this seems overly generous and also, I would think, a way of writing that hadn't really been invented yet). However, they are constantly delightful, and indeed much of this section is light-hearted, suggesting to me yet again that the popular image of the depressive, wilting Proust is in fact only one aspect of his personality. Two portraits particularly stand out. The ageing Odette who, like so many others, has forgotten Marcel's own early years in the haze of her memory (fairly reasonably; after all, he was no-one special to her!), now mistakes his minor successes for true fame, and takes the time to exaggerate events from her early life for his benefit. Describing her new place as the constantly demeaned mistress of the "magnificent ruin" that is the Duc de Guermantes, Proust speaks thus: "She was commonplace in this role as she had been in all her others. Not that life had not frequently given her good parts; it had, but she had not known how to play them". Can this man write, or can this man write? And, perhaps the best scene of the entire second half of the Search takes only a few pages, as Berma - the character I least expected to see receiving such narrative focus in the closing chapter - hosts the world's saddest dinner party. It's a testament to the great skill Proust had developed over the course of writing his magnum opus that a conflict between two fairly minor characters, taking us from location to location, from past to present to future, can at all times seem so razor-sharp, so thematically apt, and so dimensional. There is certainly an air of tragedy underlying everything, though. Our protagonist at last finds his way, but this newfound focus on genealogy couldn't but remind me of that other original protagonist, Charles Swann. In an earlier volume, it was mentioned that the late Swann wished to leave three things behind: good memories in friends, his child, and his name. Well, his name is barely known at all by the new generation, his ageing friends hold some good memories although they're largely fictionalised (and often bowdlerised) from reality, and his child - who, having married twice, no longer even bears his name - has largely renounced him. (Marcel says of Gilberte early on that she is "like one of those countries with which one dare not form an alliance because of their too frequent changes of government.")

A few of those old bugbears return to haunt us in the final pages. First, Marcel decides that the logical next step in his life would be to take Gilberte and Robert's 16-year-old daughter, Mlle de Saint-Loup, as his next mistress (um...?), and Gilberte indicates that Robert would probably have preferred a son given his homosexual tendencies (ummmmmmm....?). And then Marcel becomes obsessed with death in the same way he once obsessed over jealousy and, before that, over kisses from his mother. Well, at least he's consistent! The problematic nature of parts of the novel should not be neglected by serious readers, and I hope I have not, but they only add to my desire to reread, and to study more of Proust's life, to better capture all the complexities of this man and his work. The final pages, as the narrator agonises about whether death will take him before he finishes his great work, are sobering given Proust's untimely end, but they also enlighten and enrapture, as Marcel realises that over the course of his life, his book was "perpetually in the process of becoming".

(On a housekeeping note, this Vintage imprint includes the substantial A Guide to Proust which catalogues the Characters, Real-Life Persons, Places, and Themes of the novel with handy breakdowns of key moments. It's by no means a complete concordance, but it's a satisfyingly researched appendix to the volumes, and I really appreciate its inclusion - not that it makes up for the frustrating lack of annotations! I appreciate the complexity of such things but, for a work written in a vastly different society in a different language a century ago, there were many areas of discussion and reference where the knowing voice of an expert would have helped me, and many others with which I was familiar, but which I suspect most people of my generation would not be. In this "do more with less" era, I appreciate why publishing houses issue these bare-bones editions, but it is a cheap shortcut now that will only lead to an incomplete map in the future, as young people struggle with the Everest that is four centuries of art and literature in an age when such things are already less and less valued. Simply put, the cost of a world without introductions and endnotes is too much for Western culture to afford.)

How many great cathedrals remain unfinished!

As I finished the last page of this 3,000-page masterpiece, I achieved a truth that I'm sure everyone has felt who has finished Proust: one never finishes Proust. This world created, these philosophies explored: they will never leave me. It may be several years before I read the Search again, but I know that I will. I chose to embark upon the Scott Moncrieff/Kilmartin/Enright translation because it is the foundation text upon which most Proust criticism is written, but next time I look forward to devouring the new 21st century translations. The layers to the Search are historical, biographical, emotional, psychological, literary and, it seems, are endless. When at last, the narrator sits down to write, he at last understands "this notion of Time embodied, of years past but not separated from us", and it is one of the most beautiful revelations I have yet had the privilege to read in all of literature. That final image of the Duc de Guermantes on the ever-growing stilts that we all wear in this life, is indelibly etched upon my memory. Much like the young Marcel and Gilberte in the pink hawthorn grove, I feel as if I have witnessed countless signs I have only just begun to comprehend. Yet also, like an evening salon with the Verdurins or a walk by the seaside in Balbec, this year of reading Proust has only been a part of my life, a tiny aspect of that tapestry of memory, that web created between our mind and the world. Proust mentions in this volume that all art, particularly good art, is on some level only what the reader makes of it. Less charitably (with due credit to the wonderful 182 Days of Proust) Schopenhauer said "Books are like a mirror. If an ass looks in, you can't expect an angel to look out". Indeed, I can only agree - with both of them! Over the past year, I have connected so much of my own life to what Proust writes about, and conversely I have connected much of Proust's search to my own. Reading Proust has been bewildering, delightful, uplifting, heartbreaking, philosophical, and occasionally infuriating. But, whatever else it may have been, I know I have not wasted Time. ( )
  therebelprince | Apr 27, 2020 |
843.912 PRO
  alessandragg | Apr 18, 2020 |
In the car I am listening again to Remembrance of Things Past on CD. I have reached CD number 3 of 39. There is so much there about human nature, behaviour and emotions. There is so much beauty in the writing despite its occasional complexity. There is so much humour deriving from the traits of the characters, their class, their idiosyncrasies and downright self-centredness. Take the snobbery of Legrandin who considers snobbery to be an evil sin but whose behaviour epitomises it. Take Aunt Leonie, bedridden, who despises her friends, nearly all of them and especially those who consider her to be as ill as she claims to be and those who consider that she is not as ill as she says she is.This is not to mention Swann and his unfortunate marriage and its social consequences and the narrator’s aunts and their thanks delivered to Swann for his gift of wine so subtly that no one could conceivably notice the understated gratitude. As well as explaining and demonstrating the difference between involuntary and voluntary memory, the book uncovers every aspect of human nature, the strengths and weaknesses of us all as individuals, families or in any form of relationship. ( )
1 vote jon1lambert | Jun 27, 2019 |
Take your time with this one. It's rich, deep, and has a lot to say. ( )
  LisaBurns1066 | Jun 9, 2019 |
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» Add other authors (96 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Proust, Marcelprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bloom, HaroldIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Blossom, Frederick AugustusTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Clarac, PierreEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Enright, DJTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ferré, AndréEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fischer, Bernd-JürgenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Keller, LuziusTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kilmartin, TerenceTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Matic, PeterNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maurois, AndrePrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rechel-Mertens, EvaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Scott Moncrieff, C. K.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tadié, Jean-Yvessecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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L'edizione comprende i sette romanzi della "Recherche" nella prestigiosa traduzione di Giovanni Raboni, e il volume "Sulla lettura", una rievocazione di Proust delle proprie esperienze di lettore, corredato di un'appendice di "Immagini proustiane" a cura di A. L. Zazo.

Dalla parte di Swann; La parte di Guermantes; All'ombra delle fanciulle in fiore; Sodoma e Gomorra; La Prigioniera; Albertine scomparsa; Il Tempo ritrovato; Sulla lettura.

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