Proust and Time

Swann’s Way is the first volume of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time), and I found it easy to dip into the lives of the boy Marcel and the dilettante Charles Swann for my first foray into Proust.

Where is the first volume going? Somewhere along the life of a little boy and a Mr. Swann, but apparently that will be wherever life takes them and not where plot demands. To enjoy this novel one must allow a companionable closeness with the protagonist, and if you do, you’ll find yourself as torn up as he is over the refusal of a mother or lover, and as overjoyed to see his beloved. How closely you can identify with a character when you know the minutest details of his thoughts!

Describing the charm of Proust’s writing is difficult because his virtues are old-fashioned and rare. He doesn’t skimp words. He is circuitous and his relates much more than is necessary for any plot; his writing is the opposite of what we are taught. His flow lacks the modernity of Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness, and yet has an expansive, naturally drifting quality that revolves around an intense personal consciousness. Unlike Joyce, reading Proust is the most easy, natural thing to dip into, but he requires patience. The longer read, the better sense you gain of the cumulative meanings that lend poignancy to his writing.

“the memory of a particular image is but the regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years”

Proust might be writing fiction, but it reminds me of Fernando Pessoa’s autobiographical The Book of Disquiet. À la recherche du temps perdu is to a great point autobiographical (I think that is what allows him to write it so well.) Proust names the protagonist Marcel, his own name, and his title suggests that he is trying to write his life back. What a lovely thing, to be able to write a fictional account of one’s own life. How much closer one might get to the heart of the matter, as Proust does.

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