Picture of author.

Marcel Proust (1871–1922)

Author of Swann's Way

931+ Works 41,794 Members 568 Reviews 291 Favorited

About the Author

Proust is one of the seminal figures in modern literature, matched only in stature by Joyce, Woolf, Mann and Kafka. By the last decade of the 19th century, the charming and ambitious Proust, born into a wealthy bourgeois family, was already a famous Paris socialite who attended the most fashionable show more salons of the day. The death of his parents in the early years of the 20th century, coupled with his own increasingly ill health, made of Proust a recluse who confined himself to his cork-lined bedroom on the Boulevard Haussmann. There he concentrated on the composition of his great masterpiece, Remembrance of Things Past (1913-27). In recent years, it was discovered that he had already prepared a first draft of the work in the 1890s in Jean Santeuil, which was only published posthumously in 1952. Remembrance of Things Past resists summary. Seeming at turns to be fiction, autobiography, and essay, Remembrance is a vast meditation on the relationship between time, memory, and art. In it the narrator, who bears the same first name as the author, attempts to reconstruct his life from early childhood to middle age. In the process, he surveys French society at the turn of the century and describes the eventual decline of the aristocracy in the face of the rising middle class. The process of reconstruction of Marcel's past life is made possible by the psychological device of involuntary memory; according to this theory, all of our past lies hidden within us only to be rediscovered and brought to the surface by some unexpected sense perception. In the final volume of the work, the narrator, who has succeeded in recapturing his past, resolves to preserve it through the Work of Art, his novel. He died of pneumonia and a pulmonary abscess in 1922. He was buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Image credit: Marcel Proust, vers 1891, à l’orée de sa vingtaine (Image colorisée)

Series

Works by Marcel Proust

Swann's Way (1913) 11,169 copies
In Search of Lost Time (1913) 3,909 copies
The Guermantes Way (1921) 2,722 copies
Sodom and Gomorrah (1921) 2,621 copies
Time Regained (1927) 2,310 copies
The Fugitive (1925) 1,252 copies
The Captive / The Fugitive (1923) 1,181 copies
The Captive (1923) 1,042 copies
Swann In Love (1913) 789 copies
Pleasures and Regrets (1896) 419 copies
Days of Reading (1988) 361 copies
On Reading (1971) 360 copies
Combray (1913) 288 copies
Literary Essays Volume I (1954) 245 copies
Jean Santeuil (1952) 245 copies
The Guermantes Way: Part 1 (1920) 223 copies
The Guermantes Way: Part 2 (1921) 212 copies
Swann's Way: Part 2 (1913) 155 copies
Swann's Way: Part 1 (1913) — Author — 139 copies
Proust on Art and Literature (1958) 139 copies
Letters of Marcel Proust (1949) 132 copies
The Lemoine Affair (1904) 124 copies
Letters to His Neighbor (2013) 102 copies
Sodom and Gomorrah: Part 2 (1941) 92 copies
Sodom and Gomorrah: Part 1 (1927) 84 copies
The Indifferent (1896) 76 copies
100 Eternal Masterpieces of Literature - volume 2 (2020) — Contributor — 71 copies
The Captive: Part 1 (1923) 68 copies
100 Eternal Masterpieces of Literature - volume 1 (2017) — Contributor — 58 copies
On Reading Ruskin (1987) 57 copies
The Captive: Part 2 (1923) 55 copies
A Vision of Paris (1963) — Text — 53 copies
Landscapes and Mixtures (1919) 42 copies
Massime e aforismi (1948) 35 copies
Time Regained: Part 1 (1927) 30 copies
Chardin and Rembrandt (2016) 27 copies
Time Regained: Part 2 (1927) 26 copies
Jealousy (2007) 24 copies
Selected Letters (2008) 22 copies
Unnecessary Precaution (2009) 22 copies
The Pleasure of Reading (1997) 21 copies
Letters 1885-1905 (1985) 19 copies
Proust Album (1987) 19 copies
Correspondance (2007) 19 copies
Noveller (2015) 18 copies
Obras completas (2004) 17 copies
Essais (2022) 15 copies
Writings on Art (1999) 13 copies
Celos (Spanish Edition) (2010) 12 copies
Antología póetica. (1985) 12 copies
Lettres choisies (2004) 11 copies
Samlade noveller (2018) 11 copies
The Accursed Race (2004) 10 copies
Reveries (1991) 10 copies
Essays & Articles (1994) 9 copies
Chroniques (1927) 9 copies
Lettres à Reynaldo Hahn (2012) 9 copies
The veiled wanderer, Marcel Proust ; letters (1947) — Contributor — 8 copies
Jedna Svanova ljubav (2004) — Author — 8 copies
The Fugitive: Part 2 (2021) 7 copies
Jean Santeuil: Volume I (1971) 7 copies
I Miti Novecento (2000) 7 copies
The Fugitive: Part 1 (2020) 7 copies
Lettere a André Gide (1989) 6 copies
Carnets 1, 2, 3, 4 (2002) 6 copies
Letters to a Friend (1949) 6 copies
Okuma Uzerine (2007) 6 copies
1 6 copies
The Proust Questionnaire (2004) 5 copies
Lettres à Madame C. (1946) 5 copies
Pastiches (1969) 5 copies
L'oeil de Proust: Les dessins de Marcel Proust (1999) — Illustrator — 4 copies
CRÍTICA LITERARIA (1999) 4 copies
Salões de Paris (2018) 4 copies
Correspondance, tome 6 (1980) 4 copies
La madeleine de Proust (2011) 4 copies
Le lettere e i giorni (1996) 4 copies
The Race of the Damned (2004) 4 copies
Valik esseid (2015) 4 copies
Proust Clothbound Box (2017) 3 copies
Sur le style de Flaubert (2014) 3 copies
IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME 3 — Author — 3 copies
Le Temps perdu (2021) 3 copies
Proust für Gestreßte (2002) 3 copies
Lusten en dagen (2022) 3 copies
Paris of the Lost Time (1985) 3 copies
Sonnolenza e altre prose (2002) 3 copies
Death of My Grandmother (2013) 3 copies
An Imitated Miscellany (1989) 3 copies
Poesía completa (2012) 3 copies
Obras Completas Tomo II (2004) 3 copies
Kiskanclik (2020) 3 copies
Swannova láska (2017) 3 copies
Charlus (1991) 3 copies
Lettres à Horace Finaly (2022) 3 copies
Crónicas 2 copies
Tres relatos criminales (1989) 2 copies
Personaggi 2 copies
Prizoniera 2 copies
La prisionera.Tomo II (2009) 2 copies
En este momento (2005) 2 copies
Il piacere della lettura (2016) 2 copies
Bésame = Embrasse-moi (2013) 2 copies
Das Ende der Eifersucht (2022) 2 copies
Pintores (2016) 2 copies
Swann’ın Bir Aşkı (2020) 2 copies
Tiempo Recobrado El (2010) 2 copies
37. Crnicas 2 copies
pg7178-images 2 copies
El caso Lemoine (2022) 2 copies
Proust and the Bible (1999) 2 copies
4 2 copies
Travel Impressions by Car (1900) 2 copies
To noveller (1991) 2 copies
Landscapes 2 copies
Utsikt over Delft (1996) 2 copies
MORCEAUX CHOISIS — Author — 2 copies
Беглянка (2000) 2 copies
6: I Guermantes: /1! (1997) 2 copies
I 75 fogli (2022) 1 copy
Kreusnach (2004) 1 copy
Dias de lectura (2014) 1 copy
H3: I IGuermantes (1991) 1 copy
Captiva ☆ 1 copy
Fugara 1 copy
Vikontun Ölümü (2022) 1 copy
Okuma Üzerine (2020) 1 copy
Hommage à Marcel Proust — Contributor — 1 copy
Marcel Antes De Proust (2013) 1 copy
Plennitsa (1990) 1 copy
Racconti 1 copy
Uwi♯ziona (2000) 1 copy
Okuma Günleri (2020) 1 copy
Utracona (2001) 1 copy
Fragments (2023) 1 copy
8: I Guermantes: /3! (1991) 1 copy
all 1 copy
Lettere 1 copy
Œuvres 1 copy
Slutet på svartsjukan (1989) 1 copy
Violante ou la mondanité (2001) — Author — 1 copy
Crónicas escogidas (2000) 1 copy
The Stranger 1 copy
Overture 1 copy
Aphorisms 1 copy
Words of Proust (2000) 1 copy
Painters (2006) 1 copy
Uwięziona 1 copy
Kayıp zamanın izinde (2010) 1 copy
Ritorno a Guermantes (1988) 1 copy
CARTAS A SU VECINA (2021) 1 copy
Précaution inutile (2008) 1 copy
Tage der Freuden (1974) 1 copy
Paises y Mediaciones (1998) 1 copy

Associated Works

A World of Great Stories (1947) 263 copies
Remembrance of Things Past, Part 1: Combray (1998) — Contributor — 194 copies
Love Letters (1996) — Contributor — 183 copies
The Arabian Nights [Norton Critical Edition] (2009) — Contributor — 169 copies
The Columbia Anthology of Gay Literature (1998) — Contributor — 159 copies
In Search of Lost Time: Swann's Way: A Graphic Novel (2013) — Contributor — 141 copies
French Short Stories (1998) — Contributor — 87 copies
Remembrance of Things Past, Part 3: Swann in Love, Vol. 1 (2006) — Contributor — 82 copies
Unpacking My Library: Artists and Their Books (2017) — Contributor — 67 copies
Granta 140: State of Mind (2017) — Contributor — 58 copies
The World of Marcel Proust (1960) — Associated Name — 43 copies
Remembrance of Things Past, Part 3: Swann in Love, Vol. 2 (2006) — Contributor — 42 copies
The Book of the Sea (1954) — Contributor — 36 copies
Selected Writings (1958) — Contributor, some editions — 29 copies
Venice Stories (2018) — Contributor — 27 copies
Remembrance of Things Past, Part 4: Place Names: The Name (2013) — Contributor — 16 copies
Swann in Love [1984 film] (2004) — Original writer, some editions — 11 copies
An Adult's Garden of Bloomers (1966) — Contributor — 7 copies
Time to Be Young: Great Stories of the Growing Years (1945) — Contributor — 7 copies
The Captive [2000 film] — Original book — 7 copies
Best of Women's Short Stories, Volume 3 (2007) — Contributor — 7 copies
Un amour de Swann, Marcel Proust (1989) — Contributor — 2 copies
フランス短篇24 (現代の世界文学) (1989) — Contributor — 1 copy

Tagged

1001 (97) 1001 books (99) 19th century (137) 20th century (800) 20th century literature (141) classic (523) classic fiction (101) classics (595) ebook (110) essays (103) fiction (3,977) Folio Society (166) France (1,120) French (1,635) French fiction (301) French literature (2,465) In Search of Lost Time (180) Kindle (126) letters (108) literature (1,613) love (100) Marcel Proust (1,295) memory (207) Modern Library (150) modernism (388) narrativa (167) non-fiction (117) novel (1,371) Novela (171) own (96) Paris (125) read (180) Roman (415) series (101) short stories (151) skönlitteratur (95) to-read (1,749) translated (135) translation (320) unread (252)

Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Proust, Marcel
Legal name
Proust, Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel
Birthdate
1871-07-10
Date of death
1922-11-18
Burial location
Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, Paris, France (85e division)
Gender
male
Nationality
France
Country (for map)
France
Birthplace
Auteuil, France
Place of death
Paris, France
Cause of death
Bronchite (Epuisement + Complication avec asthme chronique)
Places of residence
Auteuil, France
Paris, France
Education
Lycée Condorcet
Ecole des Sciences Politiques (lic. 1893 - Law | lic. 1895 - Literature)
Occupations
novelist
short story writer
translator
essayist
literary critic
librarian
Relationships
Lange, Monique (cousin)
Gimpel, Rene (friend)
Ferval, Claude (friend)
Organizations
Le Figaro, Journal (Rédacteur)
Bibliothèque Mazarine, Paris (Bibliothécaire, 4 mois, 1895)
Short biography
Marcel Proust was born in the Paris suburb of Auteuil. He suffered from chronic asthma from age nine. In 1882, he began attending the Lycée Condorcet, but his education was disrupted by his illness. He studied at the Ecole des Sciences Politiques, taking licences in law and in literature. In 1896, he published his first book, Les Plaisirs et les jours (Pleasures and Days), a collection of short stories, essays and poems. In 1895, he began writing an autobiographical novel, Jean Santeuil, which he never finished. He published a number of articles on Ruskin, as well as translations of two of his books, La Bible d'Amiens (1904) and Sésame et les Lys (1906). Proust died in 1922 at age 51 of pneumonia exacerbated by asthma.

Members

Discussions

In Search of Lost Time - Volume V & VI: The Captive & The Fugitive in 1001 Books to read before you die (September 2014)
In Search of Lost Time - Volume IV: Sodom & Gomorrah in 1001 Books to read before you die (August 2014)
In Search of Lost Time - Volume 3: The Guermante's Way in 1001 Books to read before you die (May 2014)
In Search of Lost Time - Volume II: Within a Budding Grove in 1001 Books to read before you die (April 2014)
In Search of Lost Time - Another 2014 year long group read in 1001 Books to read before you die (April 2014)
Group Read: In Search of Lost Time - Volume I: Swann's Way in 1001 Books to read before you die (April 2014)
Why read Proust (1871-1922) today ? in Book talk (November 2013)
***Group Read: Time Regained in 75 Books Challenge for 2011 (August 2011)
***Group Read: The Fugitive, or Sweet Cheat Gone by Marcel Proust in 75 Books Challenge for 2011 (August 2011)
***Group Read: The Captive in 75 Books Challenge for 2011 (June 2011)
***Group Read: The Guermantes Way in 75 Books Challenge for 2011 (February 2011)
***Group Read: Within a Budding Grove in 75 Books Challenge for 2010 (October 2010)
***Group Read: Swann's Way in 75 Books Challenge for 2010 (August 2010)
Reading "Remembrance of Things Past" in 1001 Books to read before you die (February 2010)
Proust's In Search of Lost Time in 1001 Books to read before you die (December 2009)
Fixing up Proust in Combiners! (October 2006)

Reviews

"I did not want to abstractly analyse this evolution of a thought, but rather reacreate it, make the reader live it." -- Marcel Proust, letter to Jacques Riviere.

"If I am not better than others, at least I am different." - Rousseau, Confessions

The sixth volume of the Search, La Fugitive (or Albertine disparue, translated as The Fugitive, The Sweet Cheat Gone, or Albertine Gone), is based on a manuscript that Proust was feverishly working on in the weeks before his death. This unfinished quality is evident both in the text and in the numerous continuity quibbles, but one could even question whether a dying, heavily medicated man can be taken as a reliable author - even of his own work! Anyhow, despite these complications (and the fact that scholars argue that the work should be only about half its length, since Proust crossed out dozens upon dozens of pages and planned to make Albertine's flight even more duplicitous), I still found this book a welcome return to form after The Captive, which will hopefully assuage some of dear readers who express displeasure with my previous review. (For newcomers to the journey, my previous reviews can be found: Un Deux Trois Quatre Cinq.)

So, shall we continue?

"One does not possess a picture because it hangs in one's dining room if one is incapable of understanding it.

The novel is in four parts, each of which improves upon the previous. Grieving and Forgetting is, truly, only about the first of those words, as non-Marcel suffers from the most arduous break-up in history that doesn't involve Archie and Betty. What makes the book much more captivating (sorry, that's the last time I'll pull that pun!) than the previous instalment in the Albertine books is that the narrator is forced to act rather than simply think. With his beloved having left, he is plunged into a darkness from which he can only escape by forgetting and, as he begins to realise, forgetting can only happen once habit has found new hobbies which can become new vocations which can become the new normal. Of course, he's still obsessed with the "gay panic" that characterised The Captive, but now he is forced to examine his own actions, and ultimately seek out, if not answers, friends and companionship: a recovery.

Early in the novel, Proust makes reference to moments in life where beauty and trouble are "intertwined like Wagnerian leitmotifs". Despite several reference to the German behemoth, this was the first time I'd explicitly connected the leitmotif with the Search and it really makes perfect sense, doesn't it? The Fugitive feels a bit like it could have been the ending to the work, in that it brings back many of the series' earlier characters, uniting them in unexpected connexions, and reminding the narrator of the many roads not taken. Many of the former icons of Paris are now decrepit and wearisome to him (some of them are medical marvels, it seems, since they were killed off in The Captive and yet have returned - through the magic of the author's early death - to life!), and everyone is beginning to learn truths they had earlier ignored. For the narrator, he begins to get some of the answers regarding Albertine's tastes, from Andrée particularly, but these answers just provide further questions: did Albertine truly love him? And, if so, how can her love be explained in light of her answers? The mystery here goes some way to justifying why Albertine had to remain such a shadowy figure in the previous novels, but I still believe that decision was the undoing of The Captive and parts of Sodom too. The implication here - backed up, I think, by the condensed but charming BBC Radio adaptation - is that Albertine relied on the narrator, needed him, genuinely loved him. Like many cheats before and since, she may well have sought out others to fulfill her sexual desires and yearnings she did not connect with him, but that did not necessarily change the nature or strength of her feelings. It's a wonder no-one has yet written a post-modern retelling of the story from Albertine's viewpoint, isn't it? (Note to self.)

It was not Albertine alone who was a succession of moments, it was also myself.

The reveals about Albertine are beautifully rendered, although occasionally betraying some of that monomaniacal exhaustion of the previous volume. The comparison of her love to the sonata by Vinteuil is particularly inspired, and the vision of this man "suffering from a love that no longer existed" is poignant. Nonetheless, it's good to get the narrator out of the house, even if at first he is simply sending his henchmen, Robert and Aimé, to find out more for him. Gradually, many of Proust's earlier conceits which were either confusing or ambiguous to contemporary readers are being explained, with scenes from earlier volumes taking on shocking new meaning. Even the realisation that the narrator's naïve belief that Robert de Saint-Loup was 100% upstanding, as if anyone could be, is challenged and asks one to revisit the niggling moments where he has behaved unusually, often on the fringes of a scene.

Still, one thing that intrigues about the volume is that Proust remains subtle to the point of coy regarding the narrator's sexual experiences. Aside from that teenaged tussling with Gilberte and some enjoyable romps with Albertine when the latter happened to be, awkwardly, asleep, we don't really have much information on how far he tends to go. When it comes to describing same-sex action, Proust is far less shy (and the foot fetishes of certain laundry-girls get a workout here), but the coupling of male and female is generally spoken of in a roundabout way - ironically the early 20th century English translators of Ancient Roman & Greek texts would often translate the naughty parts into another language, often French, so that they wouldn't ruffle the delicate sensibilities of the reader - or, more importantly, of the person sitting next to the reader on a train! Proust speaks here of "semi-carnal" relations at one point, and of his frequenting of brothels, not to mention one apparently humorous incident in which he is almost charged with child molestation due to the casual act of taking a young girl home with him, only to be saved by a police officer who perhaps shares his tastes, and manages to cover the matter up. (!!!!) Whether this is deliberate subtlety that went too far, or a squeamishness on the part of the homosexual Proust, or something altogether, I do not know.

What is fascinating and, psychologically, I think realistic is the way Proust's narrator, as his 20s presumably give way to his 30s, becomes far more sanguine than his uptight young self. A certain fetishistic desire to understand Albertine's tastes overwhelms him, and later in the novel he even professes to be perfectly okay with homosexuals, a far cry from his earlier stance!

"Even if one love has passed into oblivion, it may determine the form of the love that is to follow it."

This newfound maturity is further emphasised in the second chapter, Mlle de Forcheville, as we return gradually to artistic references, with Bergotte and Elstir particularly getting name-checked. The narrator is last making some (small) headway in doing something with his life. With the publication of his first article in Le Figaro, Proust is able again to delight us with something truly comedic, as the young author imagines all the absolute highs and lows of his newfound "fame". His acquaintances are also growing up, and everyone from Rachel to the nebbish, golf-playing Octave will prove to have serious talents. A return to the world of the aging Guermantes, who no longer impress the narrator, sees us return to the original counterpart to him: Charles Swann. Gilberte is now grown up, although it's here that more evidence of Proust's lack of revision creeps into the text. True, he can't be expected to recognise her after all these years, but even the narrator's internal voice seems barely to remember her at times, which is crazy given how much we know his thoughts lingered on her. Perhaps with more time, Proust would have worked this section into the direction whereby we understood that this was a deliberate comment related to his previous thoughts on habit, that over time we really do lose these memories that at one time we live amongst. Here, at least in the Scott Moncrieff-Kilmartin-Enright translation, it's all a bit undercooked. Still, the return to the world of the living is a great relief, and we feel that transition from winter to spring as Proust no longer suffers "night and day from the companionship of [Albertine]'s memory". (He also gets in some dynamite zingers about Francoise, which are always worthwhile!)

"We fall in love for a smile, a look, a shoulder. That is enough; then, in the long hours of hoipe or sorrow, we fabricate a person, we compose a character."

It's here I should note, isn't it fascinating how much Proust lived in this world? I knew before I began my Year of Proust 10 and a half months ago that he became the hermit in the cork-lined room, but the casual-yet-exacting references he makes throughout to minor scenes from the narrator's life are so expertly laid on. It's no wonder people have trouble separating the real Proust from the character of "Marcel". The interplay of the seemingly endless array of characters never ceases to delight me.

Anyhow, the third chapter - the Venice episode - allows Proust to adopt the mask of Dickens for forty pages, obviously delighting in describing a landscape so different to that of the French domain of the rest of the novel. Mamma also blossoms as a fresh character here, seen now in the narrator's eyes as an adult undergoing her own painful transitions. Here, the narrator is able to ponder the nature of our various selves as we move from situation to situation and, more importantly, as we age. Strolling the streets of Venice, cruising for girls, the narrator begins to realise there is a difference between yearning for the girls he loved when he was 16 and yearning for the girls now 16. "What I loved was youth", he says, and in this one, atypically brief sentence, we realise how far we have come from the Marcel Proust writing Swann's Way in the early 1910s to this sickly in-patient completing a novel after the horrors of WWI.

The less said about that telegram the better (the BBC Radio adaptation slightly neutralises the issue by causing the bad penmanship to be that of the concierge writing it down than that of Gilberte), as it's one of the most melodramatic moments in the novel, and would hopefully have been excised by Proust before the novel was published. Anyhow, Proust - after a beguilingly beautiful scene overlooking the canals - departs for home on a train with his mother, where two letters bring word of two marriages, and plunge us into the final act of the great novel.

Memory has no power of invention.

This last chapter, A New Aspect of Saint-Loup, I found particularly enjoyable because of the very evident development of the characters, and of the thought processes of the narrator. Nevertheless, it is clearly only fragments of whatever Proust was intending to do here. The death of the author in 1922 really is one of the greatest tragedies in the annals of artists dying mid-work. The doomed marriage of Jupien's niece allows us to briefly check in on Charlus (still as inexplicable to me as ever) and Morel, and allows Proust one last jab at the silliness of "society". The more important marriage of two of the most defining figures of the narrator's life is severely truncated as mentioned, but nevertheless it is intriguing to read about Gilberte. Perhaps because her parents were examined in such detail in the first volume, or perhaps because she represents less of a sexual threat, Gilberte is so much more refreshing a character than Albertine and, although her developments are not always positive, they are always interesting.

What can I say about the final revelations? I feel vindicated in my suspicions of Saint-Loup since first we met, that's what! I'll have to wait until I've read Time Regained to comment further, as all of this feels thematically but not naturally connected to the rest of the novel. My understanding is that in some translations, The Fugitive ends with the short Combray episode with Gilberte but, in the Vintage Books editions, that scene opens the final volume, so here we are left, rather abruptly, with the narrator revising his entire history with Robert Saint-Loup, his only moral male friend of any note, and "obliged to make an effort to restrain my tears". He's always been delicate, and here is no exception.

In the end, The Fugitive is an incomplete work and it is even more hubristic to give it a star-rating than The Captive. Proust's intentions sometimes seem clearer here, but sometimes we clearly only have sketches from which he may well have spun gold if time and health had allowed. Nonetheless, we've ditched the dead weight (sorry, Alb) and I'm very excited to savour the 450 pages that make up the final volume of this incredible achievement.

"Habit is the ballast that chains the dog to his vomit." - Samuel Beckett, Proust
… (more)
 
Flagged
therebelprince | 17 other reviews | Apr 21, 2024 |
"The most familiar precepts are not always the truest" -- Gisèle as Sophocles, writing to Racine.

The second volume of Proust's Great Novel(TM), À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (Within a Budding Grove, better - but more salaciously - translated as In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower) is no less magisterial than the last, although one suspects that many more people falter at the posts of this one, given as much of the book is to social commentary and increasingly oblique yet erudite discussions on art, love, culture, and human development. Truthfully, I am more excited for the work after reading this second novel, reminded as I so often am by the depth of Proust's brilliance. (One can surely believe that a man needs an editor even as one entirely supports his artistic innovations!) My review of the first volume can be found here.

Perhaps the more the great writer developed in Bergotte...the more his own personal life was drowned in the flood of all the lives that he imagined...

The second volume of In Search of Lost Time details the young narrator in his late teens, as his love for a young lady named Gilberte blossoms and fades, as his beliefs in art and human nature as shattered and newly built up, as he develops his first real platonic male friendship, and ultimately seeks to understand how he can ever become a writer. The characters of Volume One continue, primarily in the explanation of the family Swann and their tumultuous place in French society, and in Marcel's determined grandmother and his wise simpleton of a maid, Françoise. What draws me to the work is partly Proust's incredible ability to detail the development of the human consciousness. Some of his arguments, about why we fall in love, for instance, could be debated, but nevertheless he lays out his argument so meticulously, it's hard to disagree. Marcel's gradual understanding of the workings of the human heart is layered with his growing up, and with it that shocking experience of getting to know adults and social mores in ways that you had completely mistaken - or completely neglected - as children. The relationship of Odette and Swann, profiled so extensively in the book's first volume, is now placed further under the microscope, with an even less rosy hue.

We construct our lives for one person, and when at length it is ready to receive her that person does not come; presently she is dead to us, and we live on, prisoners within the walls which were intended only for her.

It's worth pointing out that Proust can be very, very funny! This is something they don't teach you in highschool or university lit class, when you are given brief excerpts of the French author to look at, but it comes through clear as a bell for the dedicated reader. True, the humour is of a wry kind no longer in vogue, but it's there, in the constant ironies the older narrator throws in when explaining the motivations of his younger self:
His head reminded one of those old castle keeps on which the disused battlements are still to be seen, although inside they have been converted into libraries."

At the same time, it's worth noting that the book is heavy going. It's well known that Proust's early attempts at getting the work published were stymied by publishers who were dubious of anyone's patience for a book that routinely runs on sentences for half a page, particularly when the sentences themselves are describing an action as simple as eating, or even as nonexistent as the vacillations of brain cells as we move from place to place by public transport. Proust is a great thinker but there is no doubt that the parts of the book that stray furthest into philosophical or artistic commentary can be the hardest, although again it is perchance they are the most rewarding. There is a beautiful quote somewhere which, alas, I cannot find, wherein an author speaks of how, after reading Proust for an extensive period of time, the memories contained within become one's own. That is part of my experience too, as I suspect it is for many. The subjectivity of memory, and the desperate wish to return there, are haunting themes pored over by many authors, but perhaps none found so much human truth as Marcel Proust. Still, I would say to readers who find themselves daunted that it is better to skim the odd 10 pages rather than give up. (At one point, a more recent translator notes, Proust himself made a marginal note on a passage in this volume stating "this is all badly written". It may just be self-doubt, but it sounds plausible!) Around each corner lurks a passage of such sublime beauty that one begins to doubt whether any literature written after 1922 could ever make such intelligent points again.

At the moment at which I entered, the creator was just finishing, with the brush which he had in his hand, the outline of the setting sun.

The second half of the book is perhaps more successful at retaining reader interest, although it is also slow going. Taken by his grandmother to the seaside town of Balbec for the season, Marcel makes a friend in Robert Saint-Loup, develops an idol in the artist Elstir, witnesses the complex social mores when people are taken outside of their regular society, has some odd interactions with a Baron, Charlus (which will make more sense in the sight of later novels, so I'm told), and finally meets a misty gaggle of girls who hold sway over his evolution into a lover. In this way, the fragmented nature of the whole novel becomes both an asset and a flaw. It's easy to imagine French people of the era being somewhat confused by this occasional dips into the lives of others, which would make sense once all seven novels were published, but not in the moment. And, after centuries of narrative literature, the reader is anxious to get to this young lady Albertine, whom we have heard passing mention of several times in Volume One, but she is constantly overshadowed and eclipsed until the last 100 pages. Even then, Marcel doesn't get anywhere with her that he would like! Instead, this is a novel of personal development, of the ways that the narrator comes to know the world, and himself.

Could it be that this man of genius, this sage, this recluse,this philosopher with his marvellous flow of conversation... was the ridiculous, depraved painter who had at one time been adopted by the Verdurins?

Besides the truthfulness of Proust, I also adore his run-on sentences, and the density of language presents a wonderful challenge. I have no doubt that, if I were to improve my schoolboy French, I would enjoy the works more in their mother tongue, but as that isn't a priority for me, English will have to do. I am not of the school of thought that argues Proust's sentences make no sense in English. Certainly, one must change one's preconceptions about how we use pronouns and modifiers, but it's possible. Even preferable! Open your minds, people! The third of my five reasons for such enjoyment is the complexity of character. In some ways, all non-Marcel characters in the Search betray essential qualities that fail to make them complete humans. Yet, this is precisely the point. We can never truly know another, as Marcel learns so humiliatingly with Albertine here. We the audience get the sense there is more to Saint-Loup then we thus know. By a similar notion, despite Saint-Loup's stories of his uncle Charlus' respectability, something sounds a bit fishy. A man who boasts about bashing up homosexuals and enjoys taking in young men who are down on their luck? I'm not making any allegations, Baron Charlus, but... Let's just say, based on his inability to stop gawking at our young narrator, I have a feeling we'll be learning certain secrets about this character in future volumes! So much of Proust's method of character development comes from anecdotes and moments. This is something that those of us who trained as classical actors learn. Judi Dench, playing Shakespeare's Cleopatra, was confounded by how to suggest her character's majesty, her passion, her silliness, her forethought, and her impulsiveness, all at once. The director wisely told her to play each part in the right moment. In the hands of a good actor, the audience reads each individual element at their time, and puts together a personality. So Proust does here, with everyone from the wackadoodle Verdurins to the irrational Françoise.

Gone are the kings, their ships pierced by arms,
Vanished upon the raging deep, alas,
The long-haired warriors of heroic Hellas


A couple of housekeeping notes: first, while I'm eminently satifised with the Moncrieff-Kilmartin-Enright translation, I was a bit confused by the Vintage editions. 14 endnotes for this entire volume? Literally 70 pages will pass full of references to artworks and plays, sometimes without even being clarified (for instance, when characters at a dinner party debate modes of literature) and we will receive no footnote. Then, suddenly, we'll have an endnote as dull as: "Arvede Barine was the pseudonym of Mme Charles Vincens, a French woman writer..." This decision seems to ally with the printing of the Reader's Guide to Proust which is included with the sixth and final volume in the series, Time Regained. So if you're thinking of embarking on this journey, best to get Volume 6 at the same time as the rest, so you can refer in detail to people, places, and themes.
Elsewhere, having read the relevant sections of two Reader's Guides on the subject, I can eminently recommend Patrick Alexander's guide for those who intend either only to skim the volumes or who are very novice readers (it is primarily plot summaries and category listings), or the wonderful David Ellsion's guide for those open to academic interpretation, and to a really grand potted history of Proust and his philosophies. There are many other great books, I'm sure, that I will read once I have finished the Search, but these two are actually structured as guides, chapter-by-chapter, which I find very worthy to consolidate my knowledge.

"I am reading Proust for the first time ...and am surprised to find him a mental defective" - Evelyn Waugh

Anyhow, it is worth stating the last two reasons I am so enamoured of Proust at this stage. There's the lyrical beauty of so many of his passages. As I said, it's not always a light read, but when one reaches a passage like the powerful description of Elstir's painting of the sea, one is illuminated both by the transcendent imagery and the philosophy underpinning it. As the boundaries between sea and land are diffused in a man-made work, as people are placed amongst the grandeur of nature and artists debate as to whether one should focus on the grandeur or the person, Marcel - and by extension, Proust, and by extension, the Western world - discovers an understanding of a world that is both larger than him and yet also contained within him. And also, perhaps most importantly, there is the feeling of inevitability about reading Proust. It is like returning home after three years spent at sea. (I have been spurred on by my Proustian year to start cataloging my own memories chronologically, in the hopes of both recalling all the moments that I have lost to the "involuntary" part of my memory, and also that I may free up some space in there!) There is a warmth, a need, a sensibility, a sense of discovery, a certainty forever bouncing off uncertainty, that plays into Proust's great Search. With my other favourite verbose writers - Pynchon, Mailer, Woolf - I tend to take a year between books to ensure I have the mental energy, and that I don't exhaust the supply. In the case of Proust, I may only give myself a week until I stumble down The Guermantes Way and find what lies next in store for Marcel, and for me.

And when Françoise removed the pins from the top of the window-frame, took down the cloths, and drew back the curtains, the summer day which she disclosed seemed as dead, as immemorial, as a sumptuous millenary mummy from which our old servant had done no more than cautiously unwind the linen wrappings before displaying it, embalmed in its vesture of gold.
… (more)
 
Flagged
therebelprince | 45 other reviews | Apr 21, 2024 |
"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 : rel="nofollow" target="_top">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.… (more)
 
Flagged
therebelprince | 45 other reviews | Apr 21, 2024 |
Women shall have Gomorrah and men shall have Sodom - Alfred de Vigny, epigram

"[The Sodomites] form in every land an oriental colony, cultured, musical, malicious, which has charming qualities and intolerable defects."

For his next trick, Marcel Proust contrives to up-end much of what has come before, as his narrator goes ever further in search of lost time. (My reviews of the first three volumes can be found: rel="nofollow" target="_top">here, here, and - what do you know? - here.) I'd have to say that volume four, Sodome et Gomorrhe (Sodom and Gomorrah, more poetically, but less accurately translated in the past as Cities of the Plain), is the most challenging volume of Proust, and yet as I reached its end, I realised just how vital and thematically intertwined this is. As the narrator matures in his 20s, he is at a tipping-point between his youth and naivete, and his growing understanding of the world. There are essentially four sections to the novel:

"People never cease to change place in relation to ourselves."

One. In a brief section, Marcel (let's just agree to call him that, shall we?) decides to spy on a bee fertilising a flower, and instead gets to watch an altogether different kind of pollination, that of his old nemesis, Baron de Charlus, and Francoise's beloved tailor, Jupien. The sequence is cheeky, and heavily coded (to the point where I could imagine an older French reader of the 1920s barely even grasping what has happened) yet virtually obscene. A fascinating reminder of how utterly different the act of reading and writing was 100 years ago. It reminds me of Noel Coward apparently writing many of his straight couples with the intention of them being homosexual couples - if only he had born a generation or two later. This section sets off one of the major analyses of the novel, that of the homosexual and his (her?) relationship to polite society. Proust - himself both gay and part-Jewish - creates distinctly unflattering portraits of both groups, but one senses that some of the writing is tongue-in-cheek. There's no denying that the author is working through some serious issues over his sexuality, but at the same time, his deeply personal comparison of the homosexual to the dispersed Jews suggests that he was ultimately sympathetic. And many of the passages about the so-called "freemasonry" of gays, in which they begin to tell one another out amongst the crowd, still ring true in much of today's society - I can certainly pick examples from my own life that resonate! The anti-Semitism and homophobia (the latter not being anywhere near as virulent) expressed by many of the characters is not expressed by Marcel the narrator, suggesting that this social obsession with difference is not something of which Proust approves. And indeed, as we go on, we begin to realise how closely young Marcel identifies with both Charles Swann (the Jew) and Palamède de Charlus (the homosexual) even though he is neither, suggesting a human connection underneath.

(Proust's meditations on the idea of the homosexual as an "invert", as a "woman", are perhaps more problematic in light of the 94 years that have since passed, but to complain about such is fruitless. If nothing else, the book sheds an interesting light on the many ways gay culture - and views of gay culture - have evolved in a century ... and a few ways in which they have remained steadfastly the same.)

"When you rely on other people, you should try not to be such an idiot." - Madame Verdurin

Two. The return of Madame Verdurin! My favourite Proustian character by a country mile, Madame Verdurin drags her entire "set" kicking and screaming back into the novel, as we begin to see the older generation of characters filtered through Marcel's slightly-less-rose-coloured glasses, as they all spend the summer in and around Balbec. Swann and Robert Saint-Loup are developing and changing, their own personalities deepening and widening, their connection to Marcel strengthening and then fading, as happens to us all. As Proust was writing this novel (which was published in two parts), his health was fading rapidly, and indeed he would die only weeks after the second part was released. In light of this, it's impressive just how dense and funny much of this bulky centrepiece is. Madame Verdurin and all of her guests, interlopers, and rivals are portrayed in microscopic detail, and much of it is hilarious - particularly the deep, and finally seemingly complete, Cambremer vs. Verdurin rivalry, which escalates over essentially nothing! Much is discussed here, and Proust makes very little effort to even pretend like this section is being told from Marcel's point of view, but at the same time ... he does rather go on, doesn't he? Given that The Guermantes Way was almost sickeningly absorbed with salons and dinner parties, I was expecting a more personal experience for Marcel, and instead the narrator all but disappears from vast swathes of the novel. Everything ties back in thematically, and sometimes in surprising ways, such as the long-winded M. Brichot, who holds up the novel for sometimes four full pages discussing the etymology of place names (Mme Verdurin bemans how he likes to "hurl chunks of dictionary at our heads during dinner"), but - just when this is inducing a coma - we realise that Brichot's words are the final nail in the coffin of the narrator's earlier romanticism about such names and, by extension, the places themselves. On the other hand, the self-absorption and rung-climbing of society has been well and truly displaeyd, and one wonders whether we are achieving much more by examining it in yet further detail. It's not that the character drawings are dull or that the situation is lacking in humour and insight; it's just a continuation of what has gone before, with little reason to repeat. (One of my favourite of the many social debates is the different ways of seeing a Princess' social habits. Some think that she is received only alone by a certain guest because that guest is particular special. Others argue that she is only received alone by that guest because she doesn't really want to be seen with them!

But what this section of the novel does, importantly, is thrust Albertine back into the spotlight in a big way.

"It was my fate to pursue only phantoms, creatures whose reality existed to a great extent in my imagination."

Three. Things pick up considerably once Marcel and Albertine are contrasted with - of all people - Baron de Charlus and that dashing, debonair devil, Charles Morel the violinist soldier (I mean, honestly, what a combination). Proust is always at his strongest when analysing the "intermittencies of the heart" (a chapter title here but also apparently a rejected title for the overall novel), and this is no exception. On returning to Balbec, Marcel stands on a cliff top and finds his soul splitting and rejoining - Marcel past, Marcel present, Marcel future - a line of Scrooge's ghosts. Involuntary memory, like that of his grandmother's death, competes with voluntary memories: memories of girls he wants to forget, girls he has forgotten, girls he can never let go of. Marcel desires Albertine, even needs her, although he's still not able to interpret and convey love in the right ways. Is he truly in love with this girl? Is he even really trying to get to know her? I'm not entirely convinced. There are overt shades of the Swann/Odette relationship from Swann's Way, not least when Marcel becomes convinced - apropos of nothing - that Albertine is having, or has had, the old Sapphic scissoring with some of her Balbec girlfriends. But just as the Verdurin set are different in the leafy confines of La Raspeliere (the passage detailing Marcel and Albertine's painfully long journey there one night by carriage is a particular delight), so too are the young couple different in this strange netherworld both in and out of society, pretending they are cousins for the sake of the Verdurins and their ilk.

While we're given a bit of foreshadowing for Volume Five, in that Albertine is clearly becoming Marcel's psychological prisoner, at least in his own mind, the better part of this section is given over to the love affair of Morel and Charlus, completing the triptych of relationships that began with Odette and Swann. It's very intriguing in the way that Charlus' love basically strips him of any self-awareness and practicality, and the way Proust indicates that Morel clearly is not that into it. The comedy is really amped up here, from Charlus at dinners, not realising he is being mocked, to plotting a duel that he never intends to carry out. By this point, of course, we're reading not "for the story", but nevertheless while I find Charlus repugnant, his fierce personality manages to keep the reader intrigued through the sometimes overgrown plains of Sodom and Gomorrah.

"His nature was really like a sheet of paper that has been folded so often in every direction that it is impossible to straighten out."

The above quote is possibly my favourite of the entire work, incidentally.

Four. The final, brief section of this novel continues the trend of previous books, in acting more as a preface to the next volume. Marcel's jealousy of Albertine has now gone into overdrive, to the point where it inadvertently destroys his friendship with Bloch (forever? I hope not!). In these last pages, Proust reaches his most lyrical, in passages of beauty that we haven't really experienced - at least of such a height - since the days that Odette was a main character. Some of my favourite images include a restaurant waiter portrayed as a series of "successive statues of a young god running", the conceit of Charlus as a fish in an aquarium, swimming delicately but not realising visitors are laughing behind the glass only metres away, and an absolutely fantastic analogy featuring a centaur. The ending is not particularly a surprise, given the narrator's penchant for ironical twists, but it certainly creates a great narrative hook, while also making us - or at least me - worried about his mental state. This young man is just refusing to grow up. No wonder, really, given he is surrounded by complete and utter children - maybe that's the point of all these dinner parties?

"Oh, if I could write like that!" - Virginia Woolf on reading Proust, 1922

In closing, then, I'm excited to learn that a change in tone is coming in The Prisoner. As much as I've enjoyed this book, the focus away from Marcel's psychology, which made the first two volumes such captivating and perfect reads, has been frustrating. Even Proust's delightful page-long sentences occasionally became enervating this time around. Nevertheless, Sodom and Gomorrah remained a deeply human work, full of sneaky character portrayals and staggering moments of beauty. As previously mentioned, if you're reading the Vintage editions, be sure to get a hold of Volume 6: it contains the Reader's Guide which apparently replaces any attempt at serious footnotes, with its dense thematic and character indices. They're great, they really are, but I'm beginning to suspect that an Annotated Proust will become more and more necessary. There were sections of social dialogue that were essentially indecipherable to me, beyond what I could gleam from context. As a music lover, I was deeply amused by the constant musical reference, particularly in the older Mme de Cambremer and whether Debussy will eventually become "as passe as Massenet", but it's not enough to expect readers to look up the two musicians. Without an understanding of their place in the repertoire, provided by an annotation, the point - both comic and serious - is lost, and this is but one of hundreds of examples I have come across thus far. The decision, for instance, to render all house mottoes in the original French or Latin also creates problems for audiences of a generation who don't habitually learn these things in school. If this is a Reader's Edition, I would like it to be as readable as possible. All of which is to say, this is a wonderful translation - and in a few years, once I've regained my strength - I'll be sure to check in on one of the 21st century traditions beginning to make their presence known - but I think we need to slightly adjust our approach if the great novelists are to regain their appeal in this new iWorld.

So, people are ageing, dying, getting engaged, getting married, getting more and more bitter. I'm excited for whatever comes next for Marcel, Albertine, and those crazy kids as the 20th century begins.

"I must marry Albertine."… (more)
 
Flagged
therebelprince | 38 other reviews | Apr 21, 2024 |

Lists

Romans (1)
1910s (3)
1920s (5)
2021 (1)

Awards

You May Also Like

Associated Authors

George Sand Contributor
Alexandre Dumas Contributor
H. P. Lovecraft Contributor
Edgar Allan Poe Contributor
Jonathan Swift Contributor
D. H. Lawrence Contributor
Herman Melville Contributor
Victor Hugo Contributor
Jane Austen Contributor
Leo Tolstoy Contributor
Jack London Contributor
Stendhal Contributor
Arthur Conan Doyle Contributor
Mary Shelley Contributor
Mark Twain Contributor
Bram Stoker Contributor
Elizabeth Gaskell Contributor
Dale Carnegie Contributor
Upton Sinclair Contributor
Grant Allen Contributor
Margaret Cavendish Contributor
O. Henry Contributor
Arthur Morrison Contributor
Marcus Aurelius Contributor
Rebecca West Contributor
Pieter Harting Contributor
George Gissing Contributor
Vatsyayana Contributor
Benjamin Disraeli Contributor
John Cleland Contributor
Charles Dickens Contributor
Daniel Defoe Contributor
Rudyard Kipling Contributor
James Joyce Contributor
Walter Scott Contributor
H. Rider Haggard Contributor
H. G. Wells Contributor
Wilkie Collins Contributor
Maxim Gorky Contributor
L. Frank Baum Contributor
G.K. Chesterton Contributor
Thomas Mann Contributor
Jules Verne Contributor
Jr. Horatio Alger Contributor
Lucius Apuleius Contributor
Hollis Godfrey Contributor
Susan Coolidge Contributor
Alphonse Daudet Contributor
Thomas Dekker Contributor
Fyodor Dostoyevsky Contributor
Guy de Maupassant Contributor
Honoré de Balzac Contributor
Emily Brontë Contributor
Anne Brontë Contributor
Honore de Balzac Contributor
Henri Barbusse Contributor
Gustave Flaubert Contributor
Washington Irving Contributor
Sun Tzu Contributor
Gaston Leroux Contributor
Sir Walter Scott Contributor
Aldous Huxley Contributor
Homer Contributor
Oscar Wilde Contributor
Henry James Contributor
Joseph Conrad Contributor
Theodore Dreiser Contributor
Lewis Carroll Contributor
Henry Fielding Contributor
Louisa May Alcott Contributor
Dante Alighieri Contributor
Charlotte Brontë Contributor
George Eliot Contributor
E. M. Forster Contributor
Blaise Pascal Contributor
John Webster Contributor
Theodor Fontane Contributor
Arthur Machen Contributor
Virginia Woolf Contributor
Giovanni Raboni Translator
Daria Galateria Contributor
Carlo Bo Foreword
Annikki Suni Translator
Gerard Hopkins Translator, Editor
Stefan Zweifel Translator
Alain Nave Annotateur
D. J. Enright Translation revision, Translator, Editor
Gunnel Vallquist Translator
Pedro Salinas Translator
Lydia Davis Translator
Consuelo Berges Translator
Richard Howard Introduction, Translator
Andreas Mayor Translator
Lewis Galantière Introduction
Rafael Conte Foreword
C.N. Lijsen Translator
Natalia Ginzburg Translator
Luzius Keller Translator
Harold Bloom Introduction
Peter Matic Narrator
C.N. Lijsen Translator
Nicoletta Neri Translator
Franco Fortini Translator
Mario Bonfantini Translator
Mark Treharne Translator
John Sturrock Translator
Elena Giolitti Translator
Caproni G. Translator
Tõnu Õnnepalu Translator
Joanna Kilmartin Revision of guide
C.N. Lijsen Translator
Peter Collier Translator
Paolo Serini Translator
Rositsa Tasheva Translator
S. Dresden Introduction
Oreste Del Buono Translator
Lucy Raitz Translator
Louise Varèse Translator
Barbara Dupee Translator
A. N. Wilson Foreword
Andrew Brown Translator
Luciano Erba Contributor
Harold Augenbraum Translator, Editor
Bob Korn Cover designer
Harry Levin Introduction
Mina Kirstein Curtiss Editor and Translator
Adam Gopnik Introduction
Enid Marx Cover designer
Phillipe Jullian Illustrator
Ana Oancea Translator
Kelly Blair Cover designer
Lauren Watel Translator
Fernande Gontier Contributor
Rosanna Warren Translator
Susan Stewart Translator
Mary Ann Caws Translator
Cole Swensen Translator
Claude Francis Contributor
Meena Alexander Translator
Jeff Clark Translator
Mark Polizzotti Translator
Deborah Treisman Translator
Jennifer Moxley Translator
Wyatt Mason Translator
Marcella Durand Translator
Anna Moschovakis Translator
Michel Durand Translator
Neville Jason Narrator
Luc Fraisse Introduction
Hanno Helbling Translator
Philippe Jullian Illustrator
Roland Gant Translator
Bernd Schwibs Translator
Andreas Maier Afterword

Statistics

Works
931
Also by
33
Members
41,794
Popularity
#415
Rating
½ 4.3
Reviews
568
ISBNs
2,294
Languages
32
Favorited
291

Charts & Graphs