The final volume of a new, definitive text of A la recherche du temps perdu was published by the Bibliotheque de la Pleiade in 1989. For this authoritative English-language edition, D. J. Enright has revised the late Terence Kilmartin's acclaimed reworking of C. K. Scott Moncrieff's translation to take into account the new French editions.
About the Author
Date of Birth:July 10, 1871
Date of Death:November 18, 1922
Place of Birth:Auteuil, near Paris, France
Place of Death:Paris, France
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The twittering of the birds at daybreak sounded insipid to Françoise. Every word uttered by the maids upstairs made her jump; disturbed by all their running about, she kept asking herself what they could be doing. In other words, we had moved. True, the servants had made no less commotion in the attics of our old home; but she knew them, she had made of their comings and goings something friendly and familiar. Now she listened to the very silence with painful attentiveness. And as our new neighbourhood appeared to be as quiet as the boulevard on to which we had hitherto looked had been noisy, the song (distinct even at a distance, when it was still quite faint, like an orchestral motif) of a passer-by brought tears to the eyes of the exiled Françoise. Hence, if I had been tempted to scoff at her when, in her misery at having to leave a house in which one was “so well respected on all sides,” she had packed her trunks weeping, in accordance with the rites of Combray, and declaring superior to all possible houses that which had been ours, on the other hand, finding it as hard to assimilate the new as I found it easy to abandon the old, I felt myself drawn towards our old servant when I saw that moving into a building where she had not received from the concierge, who did not yet know us, the marks of respect necessary to her spiritual well-being, had brought her positively to the verge of prostration. She alone could understand what I was feeling; certainly her young footman was not the person to do so; for him, who was as unlike the Combray type as it was possible to conceive, moving house, going to live in another neighbourhood, was like taking a holiday in which the novelty of one’s surroundings gave one the same sense of refreshment as if one had actually travelled; he felt he was in the country; and a cold in the head afforded him, as though he had been sitting in a draughty railway carriage, the delicious sensation of having seen something of the world; at each fresh sneeze he rejoiced that he had found so “posh” a situation, having always longed to work for people who travelled a lot. And so, without giving him a thought, I went straight to Françoise, who, in return for my having laughed at her tears over a departure which had left me cold, now showed an icy indifference to my sorrow, because she shared it. The alleged “sensitivity” of neurotic people is matched by their egotism; they cannot abide the flaunting by others of the sufferings to which they pay an ever-increasing attention in themselves. Françoise, who would not allow the least of her own ailments to pass unnoticed, if I were in pain would turn her head away so that I should not have the satisfaction of seeing my sufferings pitied, or so much as observed. It was the same as soon as I tried to speak to her about our new house. Moreover, having been obliged, a day or two later, to return to the house we had just left, to retrieve some clothes which had been overlooked in our removal, while I, as a result of it, still had a “temperature,” and like a boa constrictor that has just swallowed an ox felt myself painfully distended by the sight of a long sideboard which my eyes had still to digest, Françoise, with true feminine inconstancy, came back saying that she had really thought she would stifle on our old boulevard, that she had found it quite a day’s journey to get there, that never had she seen such stairs, that she would not go back to live there for a king’s ransom, not if you were to offer her millions—gratuitous hypotheses—and that everything (everything, that is to say, to do with the kitchen and “usual offices”) was much better fitted up in our new home. Which, it is high time now that the reader should be told—and told also that we had moved into it because my grandmother, not having been at all well (though we took care to keep this reason from her), was in need of better air—was a flat forming part of the Hôtel de Guermantes.
At the age when Names, offering us an image of the unknowable which we have poured into their mould, while at the same moment connoting for us also a real place, force us accordingly to identify one with the other to such a point that we set out to seek in a city for a soul which it cannot enshrine but which we have no longer the power to expel from its name, it is not only to towns and rivers that they give an individuality, as do allegorical paintings, it is not only the physical universe which they speckle with differences, people with marvels, it is the social universe also; and so every historic house, in town or country, has its lady or its fairy, as every forest has its genie, every stream its deity. Sometimes, hidden in the heart of its name, the fairy is transformed to suit the life of our imagination, by which she lives; thus it was that the atmosphere in which Mme de Guermantes existed in me, after having been for years no more than the reflexion of a magic lantern slide and of a stained-glass window, began to lose its colours when quite other dreams impregnated it with the bubbling coolness of swift-flowing streams.
However, the fairy languishes if we come in contact with the real person to whom her name corresponds, for the name then begins to reflect that person, who contains nothing of the fairy; the fairy may revive if we absent ourselves from the person, but if we remain in the person’s presence the fairy ultimately dies and with her the name, as happened to the family of Lusignan which was fated to become extinct on the day when the fairy Mélusine should disappear. Then the Name, beneath the successive retouchings of which we may end by finding the original handsome portrait of a strange woman whom we have never met, becomes no more than the mere identity card photograph to which we refer in order to decide whether we know, whether or not we ought to bow to a person who passes us in the street. But should a sensation from a bygone year—like those recording instruments which preserve the sound and the manner of the various artists who have sung or played into them—enable our memory to make us hear that name with the particular ring with which it then sounded in our ears, we feel at once, though the name itself has apparently not changed, the distance that separates the dreams which at different times its same syllables have meant to us. For a moment, from the clear echo of its warbling in some distant spring-time, we can extract, as from the little tubes used in painting, the exact, forgotten, mysterious, fresh tint of the days which we had believed ourselves to be recalling, when, like a bad painter, we were giving to the whole of our past, spread out on the same canvas, the conventional and undifferentiated tones of voluntary memory. Whereas, on the contrary, each of the moments that composed it employed, for an original creation, in a unique harmony, the colours of that time which are now lost to us and which, for example, still suddenly enrapture me if by some chance the name “Guermantes,” resuming for a moment after all these years the sound, so different from its sound today, which it had for me on the day of Mlle Percepied’s marriage, brings back to me that mauve—so soft and smooth but almost too bright, too new—with which the billowy scarf of the young Duchess glowed, and, like two inaccessible, ever-flowering periwinkles, her eyes, sunlit with an azure smile. And the name Guermantes of those days is also like one of those little balloons which have been filled with oxygen or some other gas; when I come to prick it, to extract its contents from it, I breathe the air of the Combray of that year, of that day, mingled with a fragrance of hawthorn blossom blown by the wind from the corner of the square, harbinger of rain, which now sent the sun packing, now let it spread itself over the red woollen carpet of the sacristy, clothing it in a bright geranium pink and in that, so to speak, Wagnerian sweetness and solemnity in joy that give such nobility to a festive occasion. But even apart from rare moments such as these, in which suddenly we feel the original entity quiver and resume its form, carve itself out of syllables now dead, if in the dizzy whirl of daily life, in which they serve only the most practical purpose, names have lost all their colour, like a prismatic top that spins too quickly and seems only grey, when, on the other hand, we reflect upon the past in our day-dreams and seek, in order to recapture it, to slacken, to suspend the perpetual motion by which we are borne along, gradually we see once more appear, side by side but entirely distinct from one another, the tints which in the course of our existence have been successively presented to us by a single name.
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In Search of Lost Time Volume I Swann's Way Volume II Within a Budding Grove Volume III The Guermantes Way Volume IV Sodom and Gomorrah Volume V The Captive The Fugitive Volume VI Time Regained
A Guide to Proust
Reading Group Guide
This discussion guide will assist readers in exploring In Search of Lost Time. Hopefully, it will help create a bond not only between the book and the reader, but also between the members of the group. In your support of this book, please feel free to copy and distribute this guide to best facilitate the program. Thank you.
1. Time is a central concern for Proust, appearing first in the title and last as the final word of the novel. What is his vision of the past? Does he have a vision of the present? The future? Can the Narrator be said to be living in the past? Is he like the White Queen in Through the Looking-Glass, with "jam tomorrow and jam yesterday - but never jam today"?
2. The renowned translator of Proust, C. K. Scott Moncrieff, originally grouped the opening section of In Search of Lost Time under the title "The Overture," which includes two famous passages, the good night kiss and the evocative taste of the madeleine. Does this seem apt? If so, how might this fifty-odd page beginning prefigure what will transpire later? What would you expect to follow, given that an overture usually introduces the main themes of a musical work? What does it suggest about Proust's conception of literature and music?
3. The episode of the good night kiss strikes some readers as odd or contradictory: the Narrator's need for a kiss seems almost infantile, while his power of observation seems extraordinarily precocious. Considering that he is sent to bed at eight o'clock, how old do you think the Narrator is? Is it significant that his father suggests the Narrator be given the kiss he craves, whereas his mother is reluctant, saying "We mustn't let the child get into the habit . . ."? Is the fact that the Narrator succeeds in getting the kiss he wants a good thing or a bad thing? Why?
4. "The whole of Proust's world comes out of a teacup," observed Samuel Beckett. Indeed the episode of the madeleine dipped in tea is the first (and most famous) of numerous instances of "involuntary memory" in the novel. A recognized psychological phenomenon triggered by smells, tastes, or sounds, involuntary memory vividly reproduces emotions, sensations, or images from the past. Why do you think readers and critics universally consider this scene to be pivotal? What does the Narrator think about the experience of involuntary memory? What might its function be in the scheme of In Search of Lost Time?
5. Another emblematic theme involves the recurring "little phrase" of music by Vinteuil that catches the ear of Swann at the Verdurin's salon and steals into his life. How do Vinteuil's compositions stir both Swann and the Narrator? In Proust's scheme of things, is music a higher art than painting or writing because it can produce involuntary memories? How does involuntary memory affect writing and painting? Is it unrelated to art except as a necessary catalyst?
6. In "Combray" we are introduced to the Narrator's family, their household, and their country home. Since Paris is the true heart of upper-class France, why do you think Proust chose to begin In Search of Lost Time elsewhere? What do we learn from the Narrator's description of his family's life and habits? Is the household dominated by men or by women? Does the Narrator's account seem accurate, or is it colored by his own ideas and preoccupations?
7. A madeleine dipped into a cup of tea first impelled Proust into the "remembrance of things past." Though Proust was a gourmet in his youth, in the final years of his life he subsisted mainly on fillets of sole, chicken, fried potatoes, ice cream, cakes, fruit, and iced beer. Consider how food and culinary happenings - from meals at the restaurant in the Grand Hotel in Balbec to dinners at La Raspelière and the Guermantes's in Paris - form an integral part of the work.
8. Swann's Way and the Guermantes Way are presented as mutually exclusive choices for promenades, with Swann's Way given primacy of place at the novel's outset. Where, metaphorically speaking, does Swann's Way seem to lead? What are the aesthetic signposts and milestones the Narrator points out? What does the landscape around Combray represent?
9. "I want my work to be a sort of cathedral in literature," Proust once said. In his description of the area around Combray - and in many other places in the novel - the Narrator describes churches, and particularly steeples. Indeed, Howard Moss cites the steeple as one of Proust's most important symbols. In religious architecture, the steeple represents man's aspiration toward God, and by inference toward Art, the Proustian religion. What else might it suggest? Does it have a counterpart in nature?
10. Proust and the Narrator share an appreciation of gardens and flowers - Proust himself was eager to visit Monet's celebrated garden - and in a sense, all Combray can be seen as a garden. What associations does this evoke? How does the Narrator respond to natural beauty? What do flowers mean to him? How do we know?
11. Proust's work is filled with "doubling" - the most obvious being the identification of the author with a fictional self of the same name but with somewhat different characteristics. Is Swann a double of the Narrator? What qualities do they share? In what ways do they seem different? What is the importance of the fact that Swann is a Jew?
12. Louis Auchincloss questions the use of a fictional first person named "Marcel," who is but isn't Proust. Marcel claims that he is neither a snob nor a homosexual, yet he is obsessed with both. Would Proust have strengthened Marcel's viewpoint by making it that of the young social climber that he himself so clearly was? Did he enhance or detract from Marcel's credibility by casting him as one of the few heterosexuals in the book? Does it matter that Marcel regards "inversion" as a dangerous vice? Did Proust?
13. "Swann in Love" might be thought of as a dress rehearsal for the Narrator's own performance, and Swann's passion for Odette establishes a model for various other love relationships that appear later in the book. Proust believed that all emotions and behavior obey certain psychological laws. E. M. Forster maintained that "Proust's general theory of human intercourse is that the fonder we are of people the less we understand them - the theory of the complete pessimist." Do you agree? How does Swann's love affair reflect this? What conclusions does the Narrator draw from his perception of Swann's experience? In what way does this differ from Swann's own view?
14. The Balbec sequence of Within a Budding Grove gathers a group of the novel's principal characters, many for the first time: Robert de Saint-Loup, the Baron de Charlus, and Albertine, to name three of the most important. Others begin to emerge in their true significance, like Elstir the painter. Why do you think Proust chose to bring them together in Balbec? In what ways does Balbec echo or amplify Combray? Is the little "society" of Balbec a preview in microcosm of Paris?
15. While writing In Search of Lost Time Proust often rummaged through his vast photographic collection of Belle Époque luminaries as a means of stimulating his memory. "You could see that his thoughts were following a kind of underground track, as if he were organizing everything into images before putting them into words," recalled his maid Céleste Albaret. Indeed, the Baron de Charlus, in Within a Budding Grove, speaks of the special importance of photographs in preserving an unsullied moment of time past, before it has been altered by the present. Discuss how Proust used photographs in the story - just as he exploited the technology of trains, cars, and airplanes - as symbols of passing time.
16. In his landmark essay on Proust, Edmund Wilson praises the broad Dickensian humor and extravagant satire that animate vast sections of In Search of Lost Time, yet he goes on to call it "one of the gloomiest books ever written." Can you reconcile Wilson's remarks?
17. Critic Barbara Bucknall maintains that "no Proustian lover really cares at all for his beloved's feelings." Is this true? Would the Narrator agree? Would the author? Are there any happy or satisfied couples in In Search of Lost Time? Or is love in Proust inevitably a prelude to misunderstanding?
18. "Proust's stage [is] vaster than any since Balzac's, and packed with a human comedy as multifarious," said Edith Wharton. Discuss Proust's depiction of the elaborate hierarchy of French society - from the old nobility of the Faubourg to la haute bourgeoisie, from rich and cultivated Jews to celebrated artists - that forms the great backdrop to In Search of Lost Time. What cracks appear in the aristocratic world of the Guermantes that make us realize it is slowly crumbling? What forces stand ready to propel Mme. Verdurin and her bourgeois salon upward on the social ladder? In recording this change is Proust, in fact, chronicling the birth of modern society?
19. The title Sodom and Gomorrah functions on many levels. What does it suggest about the nature of society? What new areas does it open up? How does the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah relate to Proust's characters? Since the very nature of In Search of Lost Time involves looking backward, should we expect a parallel between the Narrator and Lot's wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt?
20. Critics agree that Sodom and Gomorrah opens a new phase of In Search of Lost Time. If the first three volumes represented the Overture and the first movement of Proust's great composition, with Balbec as an interlude, then the second movement begins here. What seems different? In what ways have the Narrator's preoccupations changed? Are these changes reflected in Proust's style or tone?
21. The Narrator's explicit initiation into the nature of homosexuality occurs while he is waiting in the courtyard of the Duchesse de Guermantes to observe the pollination of her orchid, from which he is distracted by Charlus and Jupien. What is the effect of this particular juxtaposition? Since flowers and insects have already been established as symbols of eros in nature, is this a veiled comment on the "unnatural"? Is the Narrator observing the two men in the same way as he observes the flower? Is his unconcern with being a voyeur connected to the writer's role as an observer of the world in all its aspects? Edith Wharton found the scene offensive and deemed it a lapse in Proust's "moral sensibility." Why?
22. Many crucial sexual scenes in Proust, including the one just mentioned, are witnessed through the "lenses" of windows, which become a commanding metaphor in the novel. Consider how Proust first introduces the window device by way of the magic lantern slides in Marcel's bedroom at Combray. How are windows analogous to Proust's notion of viewing life through a telescope, an instrument that propels images through dimensions of both space and time?
23. The Captive and The Fugitive show the Narrator acting out his own version of the grand passions he has observed so keenly and dispassionately in others. But when it comes to his own affairs, Howard Moss says that the Narrator's greatest lie is that he is objective with respect to Albertine. To whom is the Narrator lying, the reader or himself? Is he aware of his lack of perspective? If he is mistaken about one of the most important relationships in his life, can readers trust his observations about other subjects and people?