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Tag Archives: Marcel Proust

In Search of Lost Time

He looks rather cute here. Not so neurotic and hard to live with. I finished reading Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, which is like climbing Everest in some ways. I’m a Also I finished William Carter’s Marcel Proust: A Life. What to say? Obviously, whole books have been written on Search, which has its peaks and valleys to continue the mountain analogy, banal as it is.

Here are some quick comments.

  1. Thank God, I’m not a hyper-observant person. Granted one can make perceptive observations about every aspect of life, but that’s quite a cross to bear.
  2. Wow! Talk about beautiful sentences and masterful descriptions by the dint of perfectionism. (That’s sort of an inside joke since Proust uses “by the dint of” a lot—in some spots three times in two pages.)
  3. I loved Françoise, the servant. She was so funny, probably my favorite character. There were times that I had to take a rest because there would be so much about the Narrator’s ruminations or (mis)perceptions on Albertine, which echoed Swann’s relationship with Odette and the Narrator’s with Gilberte. I guess two obsessions per work is my limit.
  4. Read a biography before or along with the book (or in lieu of). Some would disagree, but I found Proust’s life fascinating. He was quite neurotic, wearing fur coats inside in the summer, eating little and strange combinations of foods at odd hours, needing his mother so much, and never finding love. The biography will tell you about his relationship with money. He never held a regular job, though his parents encouraged him to find a career. He wound up inheriting a fortune, but frequently had money problems due to lavish spending and poor investments. He had a vexing and contentious relationship with his financial advisor after his parents died. Definitely, a father figure. Yet the book neglects the theme of money, while how we view money does reveal so much about our psyche, though it’s not something we remember the way we remember past loves, friendships.By reading the biography, we learn about the incredible task of editing and publishing this opus, who helped him and how they had to literally cut and paste and decipher Proust’s handwritten pages for the resulting 3300 plus page novel, which sadly wasn’t finally edited when Proust died (so we don’t really have what he finally approved). Proust thought he was going to die and his last months were a race to finish checking the manuscript. another bonus the biography provides is insight into what other writers and Proust’s friends thought of the book. Since some of the characters in the book are patterned after real people, it’s interesting to see what those individuals think of the book.

If you’re not up for a seven volume novel or 800 page biography (that does read much faster than the novel), do try Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life. It should amuse, enlighten and maybe pique your interest in Search.

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2012 in fiction, French Lit

 

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A Dance to the Music of Time: The First Movement (66% of It)

Garrison Keillor‘s Writer’s Almanac mentioned Anthony Powell‘s A Dance to the Music of Time in December and I was intrigued. How could I pass up a book Evelyn Waugh compared to Proust‘s In Search of Lost Time? Waugh says Powell’s 12 volume masterpiece is “dry, cool, humorous, elablorately and accurately constructed and quintessentially English. It is more realistic than A Recherche du Temps Perdu, [trans. In Search of Lost Time], to which it is often compared and much funnier.”

So far I’ve read the first two novels, A Question of Upbringing and A Buyer’s Market. Set in the 1920s, A Question of Upbringing introduces readers to Nicholas Jenkins, the narrator. He’s attending boarding school with the churlish, bothersome Kenneth Widmerpool, and the “cooler kids” Stringman and Templer, with whom he hangs out conniving pranks, and sharing a jaded view of their teachers and peers. After graduation, Jenkins is sent to France for six weeks to polish his language skills and whom should he run into but Widmerpool. Finally, the novel concludes with Jenkins at university attending a tea at a unctuous social climbing professor’s rooms. Here he meets Mark Members, JG Quiggin, Bill Truscott, who’re sure to factor into the rest of the story. I was surprised at how little time university would play in a 12 volume work.

Here’s a sample insight:

Human relationships flourish and decay, quickly and silently, so that those concerned scarcely know how brittle, or how inflexible, the ties that bind them have become.” (A Question of Upbringing, p. 229)

In A Buyer’s Market, Jenkins has finished his education and is living in London. Though work is the topic of many conversations and status is determined by one’s employment to a degree, the emphasis is on debutante balls, loves and faux loves, and friendships that are ill-advised, dead, or comatose.

The strength of these novels isn’t what happens, but how Jenkins thinks about events, relationships, and perceptions. That’s where the power and the humor come into play. The descriptions are trenchant and witty. As I read them, I envy Powell’s talent and skill. Ah, to write so well.

The book does center on the upper crust of England and that’s not everyone’s cup of Earl Grey, but if you like Downton Abbey, I think you’ll like this.

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2012 in British Lit, classic, contemporary

 

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Part Explanation, Part Rant

Nicolas Poussin's oil "Dance to the Music of Time" inspired Powell's title

One thing that has really burned me up about this recent bad job is that I’m working ’round the clock and have so little time to read. On top of that since I’m surrounded by construction noise and just a weird environment that’s got and gives off ADHD, it’s oddly sort of psychically impossible to concentrate and finish a book.

Thus I haven’t been able to read much at all and I do resent this sacrifice.

Happily I’m back home and able to read. There are so many books I’d like to cram in to this month. I’ve got to choose wisely. From the Writers’ Almanac I learned of Anthony Powell‘s A Dance to the Music of Time, a series of 12 novels that Evelyn Waugh says is better than Proust‘s In Search of Lost Time (a.k.a À la recherche du temps perdu). So far it’s splendid. I expect it’ll take a year to read it all since I want to intersperse this read with other books I need to finish.

One of those books is Gifted, which called to me at the library. It’s a very well written young adult novel about an Indian-English girl who’s mathematically gifted and somewhat cursed by a father obsessed with frugality and achievement.

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2011 in British Lit, classic, contemporary

 

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