Group Read: Proust, Volume 1 - Swann's Way

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Group Read: Proust, Volume 1 - Swann's Way

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Edited: Jul 8, 2017, 8:16pm

Hi everyone! We are planning to read Proust's In Search of Lost Time over the next year or two. Hoping many will join us as we'll probably all need some moral support to get through it!

Let's not worry too much about "spoilers" as I don't view it as that sort of book, but rather comment and ask questions as you go, marking each post with a general idea of where you are in the book (page number of your edition, percentage into the section you're in, etc. - no easy way with no chapters!).

Good luck and happy reading!

Volume 2 Group Read: Within a Budding Grove can be found here.

Volume 3 Group Read: The Guermantes Way can be found here.

Volume 4 Group Read: Sodom and Gomorrah can be found here.

Dec 31, 2016, 3:21pm

I'm personally looking at this as a 2 year project, hoping to read one book (my set is in 6 volumes, 5 and 6 are combined) every 2-3 months. We can certainly set up threads for each volume as soon as anyone is ready, though, and all comment as we get there.

I've found several books to read around the actual text that I'm hoping will enhance my reading. I started with Monsieur Proust's Library by Anka Muhlstein. It's a slim, easy-to-read book about the real and fictional authors in his book and how his characters read and what it says about them. It put me in a good frame of mind.

I've also purchased Paintings in Proust which is a beautiful glossy page book that has a reprint of just about every painting mentioned in the book and the text that describes it. I'm having fun looking up each reference.

I also have A Reader's Guide to The Remembrance of Things Past by Patrick Alexander which has background info on Proust himself, France in the time of Proust, and summaries of each volume and character. I'm hoping it will be helpful as well.

I am reading the Modern Library Classics Edition which is a six volume set.

Dec 31, 2016, 5:17pm

I'm going to start with Swann's Way and see if I want to continue from there. If I read the rest, it'll be over two years. 🙂

I've already started the book - I'm listening to it on audio and am about 5 hours in to the 22hr book.

Dec 31, 2016, 5:22pm

I just requested The Reader's Guide to Remembrance of Things Past from my library. Thanks for the heads up on that one.

Jan 1, 2017, 6:46am

Oh, go on, then. Like Rachel, I'm just going to start with the first and see how I feel about going further. Right, I'm off to dig it out from the depths of my TBR shelves.

Jan 1, 2017, 6:50am

>3 The_Hibernator: That is very sensible! Glad to have you here!

>5 rachbxl: Yes! Glad you decided to come on over!

lauralkeet also introduced me to a blog about reading Proust.

It looks interesting, especially if I get bored or uninspired, but right now I'm ready to just read the book on my own.

Jan 1, 2017, 8:35am

I'm actually surprised at how not bored I was so far. LOL. I don't know why I'm reading a book that I expected to be boring!

Jan 1, 2017, 10:42am

I'll give it a try as well. I can certainly use some moral support from others as I gave up last time I tried by myself.

I will try to read one part every three months, so it will take me 2 years.

A nice challenge, thank you Jennifer for setting this up!

Jan 1, 2017, 1:37pm

>7 The_Hibernator: I'm quite liking the beginning as well.

>8 Simone2: So glad you're giving it a try! I expect to be on the two year plan as well.

Jan 2, 2017, 4:35pm

I'm in. I'm starting with the Carter and Tadie biographies.

Jan 3, 2017, 12:01pm

I just came across this group and it seems like a good push for getting me to read the Swann's Way that's been sitting on my shelf for who knows how many years. I'll start today.

Jan 4, 2017, 5:11pm

I've read about 10% of the Lydia Davis translation on the Kindle, and am finding that I can read only small amounts at a time because after a while I drift off into the long, descriptive sentences. I've just been reading about the church at Combray. The people hold my attention, but the stained-glass windows are requiring a lot of concentration.

Many years' ago I read the first three volumes in the Scott Moncrieff translation, which is why I'v chosen a different translation this time. Moncrieff was at a disadvantage because he was translating the volumes as they were published and did not know the ending. I am seeing the theme of searching for lost time more clearly on this second reading. Then again, that might be because it's a second reading and have nothing to do with the translation.

Jan 4, 2017, 6:41pm

I'm reading from the Moncrieff translation, but it would be very interesting to see the difference between that and a later translation. I skimmed the "Notes on the Translation", written by Terence Kilmartin, which says that a criticism that can be leveled against Moncrieff's translation is that "his prose tends to the purple and precious..."

Jan 4, 2017, 7:32pm

I'm reading the edition translated by Moncreiff/Kilmartin and then revised by Enright, this is the Modern Library Classics set. Translation is always a touchy topic. I'm just relieved there are far fewer English versions than some of the Russian classics!

>12 pamelad: Interesting that you're enjoying smaller chunks. I'm finding the opposite. I like to set aside a minimum of 30 minutes and really sink into it. There's definitely a fine line to walk, though, between experiencing some of the sort of dreamy and yet detailed passages and having that glazed-over eyes experience!

I'm really enjoying this first section in Combray.

Jan 4, 2017, 8:25pm

I'm listening to the Moncrieff translation.

Jan 5, 2017, 8:09pm

I started my Proust journey a couple of years ago, made it through three volumes, and then set it aside for about 18 months. I'm back at it again with vol 4 in the Moncrieff translation. I'm using the blog mentioned in >6 japaul22: which provides commentary on ~10-12 page "chunks." It's a good way for me to stay on track because, like >12 pamelad:, I tend to drift so can't read too much in one sitting.

I will enjoy lurking here as you all take on this challenge.

Jan 5, 2017, 8:13pm

>16 lauralkeet: Welcome, Laura!

Jan 5, 2017, 10:31pm

>16 lauralkeet: Hi Laura. Good to see you here. It was the blog you mentioned that recommended the translation I'm reading, but I hadn't looked further. Will investigate the commentary.

Jan 6, 2017, 7:52am

>18 pamelad: The blog appears to have been a sort of group read way back in 2010. The blog owner set daily (or weekend) reading assignments -- about 10 pages per day, 20 on weekends -- and then wrote a post about the assignment. Each day I try to read the next "assigned" section, followed by the blog post & comments.

Jan 8, 2017, 2:22am

I am planning to read a chapter after every book I finish. Hope that'll work. So I'll start soon and share my thoughts here.

Jan 12, 2017, 7:59pm

I have started a few days ago with the Scott Moncrieff translation of Swann's Way, both in Kindle and the Simon Vance narration of the audiobook.

I am not sure how much I like it so far - it works best for me when I listen and read simultaneously; if I just read, I find that I am skimming too much & if I just listen, my mind sometimes wanders off. I like the characters but the very long sentences are a challenge! Sometimes I get to the end of one and find that I have forgotten what the beginning was about & have to go back!

Jan 12, 2017, 8:59pm

Some of the highlights I have made so far (I am about 35% in) have been about how we can't know others. For example, this passage in the Overture:

"... our social personality is created by the thoughts of other people. Even the simple act which we describe as "seeing some one we know" is, to some extent, an intellectual process. We pack the physical outline of the creature we see with all the ideas we have already formed about him..."

I find this theme fascinating as the 'unknowability' of others is something I have pondered about myself over the years.

Jan 13, 2017, 4:30am

>21 leslie.98: my mind is wandering off a bit too now. I don't think I will be able to read the entire set of books. But I'm going to finish Swann's Way

Jan 15, 2017, 5:00pm

I've finished the first section, Combray, and I'm really loving the book. I'm going to enjoy that, as I gather from reviews around here that the later volumes get increasingly challenging!

Some thoughts:

I liked the structure of this section, how he begins with the memories of his mother coming (or not coming) to kiss him goodnight and then ending the section thinking about the same thing, but with a more grown up connotation relating to his later relationships.

I love the dreamy writing and descriptive passages. They were beautiful, and I found enough forward momentum to keep my attention as characters are introduced. I especially loved the steeple descriptions.

I enjoy how he keeps using other senses (smell and taste) to jar his memory - I think that's very true to life but hard to put into words.

I noted many themes that I think will persist - obviously memory, particularly how it's impossible to recreate a memory and the differences between memory, dreams, and reality.

The descriptions of love are already pretty disturbing. Several instances of relating love with possession and foreshadowing how none of his lovers can measure up to the memory (not reality!!) of his mother.

The set up of the idealizing of the aristocratic Guermantes family and the bourgeois Mme Verdurin is interesting and I'm looking forward to hearing Swann's story.

How is everyone else doing?

Jan 15, 2017, 5:32pm

I am about 2/3 done - currently in the Swann in Love section. I am not as big a fan of the dreamy writing as you are >24 japaul22: but I am not disliking it.

I am finding the section Swann in Love ironic in that Odette chased after Swann when he was uninterested and now that he is in love with her, she is not interested! Of course, all she really wants is his money.

A query regarding Mlle. Vinteuil's friend (with the "evil reputation") in the Combray section:

Is the problem with this friend & the cause of M. Vinteuil's sorrow that Mlle. Vinteuil is having a lesbian relationship with her? I puzzled over the 'fall' of M. Vinteuil but then later, after he had died, it seemed that a lesbian affair might be this "vicious" aspect of his daugher (in the scene when Marcel is looking into the lighted room from outside).

Jan 15, 2017, 6:32pm

>25 leslie.98: I took the relationship between Mlle Vinteuil and her friend of evil reputation the way you did.

Edited: Jan 15, 2017, 8:14pm

I've just reached the bit about Mlle Vinteuil and am hoping to understand now why her father felt disgraced and refused to see his old acquaintances. I like the humour. I've stopped trying to follow the details of the sentence structure and am relying on intuitive understanding, which seems to work.

ETA > 25 Still a little puzzled. Just read your spoiler, and am relieved that you are too. I thought the same way you did. Perhaps the puzzlement is due to us having to impose the sensibilities of 2017 onto an earlier time and a different place. I have ordered Marcel Proust's Search For Lost Time: A Reader's Guide To Remembrance Of Things Past as a crutch, and am interested to find out whether there are other interpretations. Before I'd read this bit, I'd wondered whether Vinteuil's daughter was illegitimate and had been kept out of sight.

Jan 16, 2017, 6:51pm

>27 pamelad: Glad that I wasn't the only one to find that section a bit confusing. Probably it is as you say, due to the difference in sensibilities from 1910ish to 2017 - perhaps in Proust's time, those phrases ("evil reputation" etc) were accepted code & everyone would have known immediately what was being hinted at!

Jan 16, 2017, 8:55pm

For the most part, still wending my way through the Carter biography.

Jan 19, 2017, 1:27am

Vinteuil has popped up again as the composer of a sonata that contains a thread of melody that haunts Swann, who cannot believe that the old, pathetic piano teacher he knows could be the composer of the sonata. Swann assumes that the composer is a relative of the piano teacher. We shall see!

Jan 19, 2017, 7:58am

>30 pamelad: I'm right around there and getting a little confused by all the characters present at the Verdurins parties. Any insight into Forcheville or Brichot? And are "the painter" and "the musician" extra unnamed characters or descriptions of Forcheville and Venteuil?

Sorry if I sound dumb!

I am sort of amused by Swann and Odette's romance. I think the scene with the flowers (cattlyas) in the carriage is funny - not sure that it was intended to be so!

Jan 21, 2017, 3:07am

I just finished the Combray section and am not too discouraged. The combination of all his senses gave the story a dreamy feeling to me but, as Jennifer pointed out, enough is happening to keep my attention.

The parts about the aunt in the bed, waiting for news, I really enjoyed. I was a bit disappointed however, by the famous Madeleine scene (is this all?!) but then I really liked the two walks (Swann's way and Guermantes) and see how they can be a help in observing the things that happen to him in life.

The part about the Vinteuil daughter I interpreted immediately as >25 leslie.98: mentioned above.

Well, time for a break with something lighter but then on to Un amour de Swann.

Jan 21, 2017, 12:22pm

>32 Simone2: I liked the madeleine scene, but I know what you mean. I think it's indicative of something he does often, though, which is to make the senses of taste and smell (not just hearing and sight which are more common triggers) set off memories intensely. Something that I think is true but not often described so well in words.

Jan 21, 2017, 3:20pm

>32 Simone2: I too was a bit disappointed in the Madeleine scene but I think that is because it is SO famous that I expected something spectacular. However, I went back and reread that bit when I finished the book & it does descibe how memories are triggered by the senses (rather than the intellect) extremely well, which I guess is one of Proust's big themes, as >33 japaul22: mentioned above.

Jan 21, 2017, 4:12pm

>31 japaul22: Just kept plowing through this section and I'm getting now that Forcheville is set up as an opposite to Swann and competitor for Odette.

I must have missed something, though, about why the Verdurins turn on Swann and try to set Odette up with Forcheville instead. Was there a specific incident or do they just decide he isn't their type?

I'm finding that the writing style makes it difficult to concentrate on each word and I think I'm missing things sometimes!

Edited: Jan 21, 2017, 8:07pm

>35 japaul22: I'm enjoying the Lydia Davis translation, which makes it easy to see the comedy. The Verdurins are ridiculous, and their behaviour is cringeworthy. Instead of agreeing with the ludicrous things Mme Verdurin says, Swann nods with a slight smile and he even disagrees when Mme Verdurin runs down someone he knows (a Duchess whose name escapes me). These are two strikes in the Verdurin's eyes: Swann doesn't agree wholeheartedly with them and he associates with people in a higher stratum of society, classified by the Verdurins as "bores". Also, Swann doesn't come to dinner, but turns up later on, when it suits him. In the Verdurin's eyes, Swann thinks he's too good for them. They find Forcheville much more amenable.

>31 japaul22: In this translation, the scene with the cattleyas is obviously comical and Swann comes across as deluded twerp.

I was planning to read the rest of In Search of Lost Time in the updated Moncrieff translation, but now I think I'll continue with the Prendergast translations, even though the other volumes haven't received the same critical approval as Davis's.

At the moment I'm having a break to read trash: China Dolls by Lisa See.

ETA Fixed spelling of Verdurin/Verudin/Vedurin, I think.

Jan 21, 2017, 8:17pm

>36 pamelad: That's what I was thinking - that all the disagreement finally added up to making him not welcome. I was wondering if it was also an issue that he's Jewish? Also, Forcheville is an aristocrat, though I think he doesn't have as much money as Swann. I wondered if the Verdurins would be more forgiving of Swann if he wasn't Jewish and came from an aristocratic family?

Glad to hear the cattleyas scene was supposed to be ridiculous. I need to not make the mistake of thinking that just because this is the vaunted "In Search of Lost Time" that it has to be serious all the time. I'm finding quite a bit of humor in it.

Jan 26, 2017, 4:10pm

I've returned to Swann's Way and am immersed in Swann's obsession with Odette.

>37 japaul22: I hadn't thought Swann being Jewish as a factor, but now that you've raised it, I can see how relevant it is. Swann's Way was first published in 1913, only seven years after the acquittal of Alfred Dreyfus.

Jan 26, 2017, 4:23pm

>38 pamelad: Yes, some of the stuff I read before starting really stressed that. I think the Dreyfus affair plays a large role in one of the later volumes, I forget which. I hadn't heard of it, so I read a little bit about it.

Jan 26, 2017, 7:44pm

I finished this a few days ago. I ended up really loving it, despite the moments where my attention wavered or I wasn't quite sure what was going on. I found the writing dreamy and reflective, but also insightful and sometimes funny. It definitely left me feeling as though it was a first volume, meaning that I need more to really get where Proust is going with all this.

I'm looking forward to continuing on in a month or two, but I'll definitely take a break first.

How is everyone else doing? If anyone has anything they'd like to discuss please feel free!

Jan 27, 2017, 12:57pm

>40 japaul22: I think that a break between volumes is definitely in order! I will be starting the second volume Within a Budding Grove (aka In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower) towards the end of February (around the 21st?).

Jan 30, 2017, 3:54pm

Still immersed in Swann's obsession with Odette. A character just described Swann as a Jew who is unfit to mix with people who had archbishops in their family. Swann's grandparents converted to Catholicism, but he is tainted by his Jewish heritage. This is the first overt bit of anti-Semitism that I have noticed.

75% read on the Kindle. So many digressions. In fact it's mostly digressions. Some, mainly about people's behaviour and motivations, I read and think, "How Brilliant!" Others, I think, "Get on with it!"

Jan 30, 2017, 5:10pm

I've moved on to the Tadie biography and still in the Combray section of Swann's Way.

Feb 2, 2017, 7:46pm

I have finished The Way by Swann's (the Lydia Davis title) and am looking forward to reading In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower in a few weeks' time. The James Grieve translation has received some iffy reviews, but Grieve is Australian so I'll give it a try, and if it's problematical will switch to the Moncrieff/Kilmartin version.

A Reader's Guide to The Remembrance of Things Past arrived yesterday, along with Edmund White's Marcel Proust. I bought the guide to help keep track of the characters.

Feb 3, 2017, 9:38am

>42 pamelad: said: "So many digressions. In fact it's mostly digressions. Some, mainly about people's behaviour and motivations, I read and think, "How Brilliant!" Others, I think, "Get on with it!""

That pretty much summed up my feelings!

Feb 9, 2017, 4:49pm

Still reading about Swann's obsession with Odette. I find it hard to concentrate. I do like the details but I can't keep focussed. Perhaps this is because I read 50 pages or so and then another book, but I can't manage to read more than those 50 without my TBR-shelves, full of attractive books, calling out to me. So... I am not having such a good time as some of you did so far, but I won't give up!

Feb 9, 2017, 6:16pm

>46 Simone2: I took big breaks while I was reading that too. It's certainly not easy reading!

Feb 19, 2017, 8:54am

Well, I did it, I finished Swann's Way. I did like it overall, although it was difficult to keep concentrating at times, with those long meandering sentences, but I am ready to give the second part a try as well. First some easy reads though!

And I have a question, perhaps I missed it but how old is the storyteller (Proust as a boy) in this first part? He is so wise and at the same time he is a child who wants to be with his mother all the time. This makes him very strange boy to me.

Has anyone started yet in In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower?

Feb 19, 2017, 9:35am

>48 Simone2: congrats!!

I think the narration is confusing too. I think that the point of view is from two different times in the narrator's life, one being as a child describing recent events and one being as an adult looking back on childhood. I didn't find it clearly delineated and therefore it bothered me too, but it's an interesting technique.

I haven't started volume 2 yet, but I intend to do so sometime in March or early April.

Is there enough interest to keep going as a group? I could start a volume 2 thread for people to join whenever they start reading it (my original intent), or we could just continue with this thread for all the volumes. Thoughts?

Feb 19, 2017, 12:06pm

I'll start again in March or April as well. I am very interested un going as a group, but we can continue this thread I guess? As long as we give a warning when mentioning spoilers?

Feb 19, 2017, 2:56pm

I plan on reading Self, Deception, and Knowledge in Proust as part of this project. One of the topics covered is the different layers of narrator within the novel. Should be an interesting read.

I think it would be ok to keep it to one thread.

Feb 19, 2017, 3:55pm

I'd like to continue as a group, and would prefer a separate thread for each volume. Planning to start the next volume in the next couple of weeks.

Feb 24, 2017, 8:00pm

I've thought about it and I think it makes sense to start a new thread for each volume. That way people can read at their own pace. If we continue using this thread, I'm worried that people who haven't yet finished volume one won't want to comment if they feel the discussion has moved on. Not sure what everyone else will do, but I'll keep all the threads starred so if someone comments I'll check in no matter what volume I'm on.

I'll start the next thread in early March.

I'm starting to get exciting about starting up again!

Mar 3, 2017, 1:38pm

I've started the thread for Volume 2, Within a Budding Grove. I'm not quite ready to start, but will in the next few weeks. Feel free to post anything that comes to mind as you start reading! The link is also in the top message of this thread.

Mar 3, 2017, 1:39pm

And please continue to comment on this thread at any point about Volume 1. I'll keep it starred and hopefully others will too so that we can discuss anything that comes up for people still reading.

Apr 5, 2017, 9:04am

If anyone needs a little inspiration and listens to podcasts, I'm really enjoying the Slate Audio Book Club podcast of a discussion of Swann's Way. The episode is from May 2, 2013 and it's free.

Apr 5, 2017, 1:32pm

That might be the push I need to get started - thanks!

Dec 30, 2017, 12:50pm

I'm jumping back in on this one and crazy enough to start from the beginning again.

Reading Philosophy as Fiction as a warm-up and enjoying it immensely. Highly recommended for those into the philosophical side of the novel.

Dec 30, 2017, 1:09pm

Excellent! I have all the threads starred, so feel free to comment as you go. Good luck!

Jan 2, 2018, 5:10pm

I'm reading the Moncreiff/Kilmartin translation. I can't read French so I have no way to know if it's "good" or not. All I can say it that I love it. I'm not a big fan of ratings and rankings but I'm tempted to label this my favorite work of fiction. The feeling only gets stronger with each reading.