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Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time is one of the most entertaining reading experiences in any language and arguably the finest novel of the twentieth century. But since its original prewar translation there has been no completely new version in English. Now, Penguin brings Proust's masterpiece to new audiences throughout the world, beginning with Lydia Davis's internationally acclaimed translation of the first volume, Swann's Way.

Swann's Way is one of the preeminent novels of childhood: a sensitive boy's impressions of his family and neighbors, all brought dazzlingly back to life years later by the taste of a madeleine. It also enfolds the short novel "Swann in Love," an incomparable study of sexual jealousy that becomes a crucial part of the vast, unfolding structure of In Search of Lost Time. The first volume of the work that established Proust as one of the finest voices of the modern age — satirical, skeptical, confiding, and endlessly varied in its response to the human condition — Swann's Way also stands on its own as a perfect rendering of a life in art, of the past re-created through memory.

444 pages, Paperback

First published November 14, 1913

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About the author

Marcel Proust

2,369 books5,972 followers
Marcel Proust was a French novelist, best known for his 3000 page masterpiece À la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past or In Search of Lost Time), a pseudo-autobiographical novel told mostly in a stream-of-consciousness style.

Born in the first year of the Third Republic, the young Marcel, like his narrator, was a delicate child from a bourgeois family. He was active in Parisian high society during the 80s and 90s, welcomed in the most fashionable and exclusive salons of his day. However, his position there was also one of an outsider, due to his Jewishness and homosexuality. Towards the end of 1890s Proust began to withdraw more and more from society, and although he was never entirely reclusive, as is sometimes made out, he lapsed more completely into his lifelong tendency to sleep during the day and work at night. He was also plagued with severe asthma, which had troubled him intermittently since childhood, and a terror of his own death, especially in case it should come before his novel had been completed. The first volume, after some difficulty finding a publisher, came out in 1913, and Proust continued to work with an almost inhuman dedication on his masterpiece right up until his death in 1922, at the age of 51.

Today he is widely recognized as one of the greatest authors of the 20th Century, and À la recherche du temps perdu as one of the most dazzling and significant works of literature to be written in modern times.

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Profile Image for s.penkevich.
849 reviews5,811 followers
May 20, 2022
'reality will take shape in the memory alone...

For 100 years now, Swann’s Way, the first volume of Marcel Proust’s masterpiece, has engaged and enchanted readers. Within moments of turning back the cover and dropping your eyes into the trenches of text, the reader is sent to soaring heights of rapture while clinging to Proust prose, leaving no room for doubt that this is well-deserving of it’s honor among the timeless classics. In swirling passages of poetic ecstasy, the whole of his life and memories dance upon the page, carefully dissecting the personages that surrounded his childhood and illustrating a vibrant account of the society and social manners. Swann’s Way is a powerful love story capturing the romance between Proust and his existence as he wields sprawling lyricism like tender touch and kisses in order to sensually undress the world, revealing all the poetic beauty that hides within the garments of reality.

Open the novel to any page and you are likely to find a long, flowing sentence full of love and longing for the depths of existence. Proust is a virtuoso. His famously complex sentences rise and fall in dramatic fashion, carefully pulling incredible aerobatics of emotion across the page like a violinist does with sound in only the most elite of classical compositions. If it isn’t obvious, I quickly became utterly smitten with Proust. Even Virginia Woolf read Proust in awe. Some of the finest passages that have ever graced my eyes are found in this volume. Take for example this exquisite passage on the power of music:
Even when he was not thinking of the little phrase, it existed, latent, in his mind, in the same way as certain other conceptions without material equivalent, such as our notions of light, of sound, of perspective, of bodily desire, the rich possessions wherewith our inner temple is diversified and adorned. Perhaps we shall lose them, perhaps they will be obliterated, if we return to nothing in the dust. But so long as we are alive, we can no more bring ourselves to a state in which we shall not have known them than we can with regard to any material object, than we can, for example, doubt the luminosity of a lamp that has just been lighted, in view of the changed aspect of everything in the room, from which has vanished even the memory of the darkness. In that way Vinteuil's phrase, like some theme, say, inTristan, which represents to us also a certain acquisition of sentiment, has espoused our mortal state, had endued a vesture of humanity that was affecting enough. Its destiny was linked, for the future, with that of the human soul, of which it was one of the special, the most distinctive ornaments. Perhaps it is not-being that is the true state, and all our dream of life is without existence; but, if so, we feel that it must be that these phrases of music, these conceptions which exist in relation to our dream, are nothing either. We shall perish, but we have for our hostages these divine captives who shall follow and share our fate. And death in their company is something less bitter, less inglorious, perhaps even less certain.
Beautiful. Throughout Swann’s Way we see this sentiment expressed to cover all of reality in a blanket of art; by reshaping what we perceive into beautiful notions of prose, music, sculpture, architecture, or any other form of aesthetics, Proust seeks to discover the true shape of meaning and cling to an ideal, an ideal that will linger like a sweet perfume long after the actual object of desire and reflection has either faded or reared it’s ugly head and begun to rot.

By exploring memory, Proust is able to wrap all his sensory perceptions, all the external stimuli experienced over a lifetime, into a charming bouquet of words in order grant them a linguistic weight in which they can be shared and enjoyed by others. He despairs when contemplating that his experiences were not shared by other people and didn’t have ‘any reality outside of me. They now seemed to me no more than the purely subjective, impotent, illusory creations of my temperament. They no longer had any attachment to nature, to reality, which from then on lost all its charm and significance…’. He finds solace in literature and his greatest hopes are to become a writer because it grants the power to capture the true essence of anything. By contemplating an object he finds it is ‘so ready to open, to yield me the thing for which they themselves were merely a cover’, and language is the snare to capture and immortalize these fleeting impressions and moments of glowing epiphany. For it is the impressions, the inner beauty, that matter to him instead of the objects themselves. He falls in love with Mlle. Swann because she connotes ‘the cathedrals, the charm of the hills of Île-de-France, the plains of Normandy’, as well as her association with his beloved Bergote – he loves the idea of her more than the physical being.

The centerpiece of the novel, Swann in Love, is an emotionally jarring ride from sublime romance and intimacy to the obsessive, nerve wracking depression of love being ripped to pieces in its fiery tailspin downward. This story, practically a novella that could work well as a stand-alone piece, gripped me the strongest. Perhaps it was the bruised memories of similar circumstances, but my heart went out to Swann despite all his flaws, self pity and shameful actions. Proust creates near-Greek tragedy in him by creating a man of legendary proportions and casting him down upon the rocks. Story aside, Swann too seeks the ideal, even to the point of self-destructive monomania. A man of the arts, Swann associates his image of ideal with aesthetics, but unlike the narrator, brings it to life through sculpture, paintings and music. Odette becomes most beautiful to him when he can appraise her like a sculpture:
[E]ven though he probably valued the Florentine masterpiece only because he fount it again in her, nevertheless that resemblance conferred a certain beauty on her too, made her more precious…and he felt happy that his pleasure in seeing Odette could be be justified by his own aesthetic culture.
Lovemaking for the couple becomes more personal, more artistic in his eyes through their personal euphemism ‘make cattleya’ as it brings all further acts of intimacy performed under such a title an extension to the first, passionate and idealized union of their bodies. The act ‘lived on in their language’ and offered Swann a sense of possession over the act by creating with the phrase an ‘entirely individual and new’ action. The ‘little phrase’ played by the pianist during their first encounter at the Verdurin’s becomes the anthem of their love, and it’s melody carries the image of his ideal Odette, the Odette that swooned over his every word and loved him deeply, the Odette that he will always hold to his heart and pursue even when the Odette he can physically hold comes up as a pale shell of the ideal (I've been reading to much Derrida lately to not comment that we can never achieve the ideal, which makes his downfall inevitable. The lack of sound logic in his thinking is apparent all through his romantic decline too). Sometimes when you have lost everything, you fight for that ideal that has already dissipated in order to uphold some sort of self-dignity, even though it is just that dignity which will be lost in the process. Proust delivers love and tragedy at it’s finest.

Through each marvelous passage, Proust gives a fleshed out portrayal of the people and places n his life. His family and friends are given a second life through his words, which paint such a lifelike portrayal, examining their greatest traits, their habits and not shying away from unveiling even their flaws, that they practically breath on the page. Proust has an acute eye for social manners, and the reader can pick up on even the most subtle of vanities, ill-manners, or kind-heartedness of all those encountered. Of particular interest is Proust’s brutal portrayal of the Verdurins and their group of the ‘faithful’, refraining from casting judgment while letting their actions speak for themselves to betray their ignorance of the ideas they speak so highly of. The Verdurin scenes bring back memories of college parties where less-than-sober members speak so highly of art yet have little of value to discuss when pressed, the same people who label everyone around them and sneer at those without their same ‘high standards’ of art (which, okay, sometimes that person is me). Proust immortalizes these fakes forever in his words, making me think he was getting the last laugh at a group that once condescended him.

I urge anyone with even the slightest interest in the novel to find it and read it immediately. The language simply blossoms, even after being run through the presses of translation. First loves, heartbreaks, losses of many kinds, and the exciting phase of childhood when our understanding of the world around us begins to reveal itself, all come to life in a book that will make your emotions dance and sway. 100 years after it was written, Proust still holds weight in the world today and remains high and above many of the authors who have followed him. I cannot stress how incredible his prose is, I have found a new author to hold close to my heart and savor each blessed word. Take the Swann’s Way.

I looked at her, at first with the sort of gaze that is not merely the messenger of the eyes, but a window at which all the senses lean out, anxious and petrified, a gaze that would like to touch the body it is looking at, capture it, take it away and the soul along with it…

Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.5k followers
August 3, 2021
(Book 685 from 1001 books) - Du Côté de Chez Swann = Swann's Way (À La Recherche du Temps Perdu = In Search of Lost Time #1), Marcel Proust

Writing about this series of novels should be a separate book in itself. You do not know where to start, as if you want to depict the pyramids of Egypt stone by stone, and you really do not know how to deal with the storm of words, the word "magnificent" is too small for this series of novels.

Far superior to the Gothic cathedrals, the Wagner, Beethoven operas, and the works of all Expressionists.

But what we learn more than anything from this series of novels is that the book is full of a concern, a concern called "fear of death", and "fear of dying", and not saying all the words that make your mind Chew and eat it.

This may or may not be understandable to many people. That your brain is full of words, that knock on this door and that wall, to get out, but they can not, they despise life, and devote themselves to an incredible fantasy, with which nothing can equal it.

It so happens that the best description of one of the greatest masterpieces in the history of literature is limited to the term "disease," and I agree, however, that many literary masterpieces are full of revealing the condition of sick people.

From Dostoevsky and Kafka to Celine, Hedayat, Mishima, Faulkner, Wolf, and Joyce, humans do not create anything to be immortal, and they are always different.

Which become immortal; "In Search of Lost Time" is one such difference.

در جستجوی زمان از دست رفته - مارسل پروست (مرکز) ادبیات؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش: در ماه نوامبر سال 1992میلادی

عنوان: در جستجوی زمان از دست رفته، کتاب اول: طرف خانه سوان؛ نویسنده: مارسل پروست؛ مترجم: مهدی سحابی؛ تهران، نشر مرکز، 1369، شابک 9643054810؛ چاپ دهم 1389؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان فرانسه - سده 20م

کتاب نخست: «طرف خانه سوان»؛ کتاب دوم: «در سایه دوشیزگان شکوفا»؛ کتاب سوم: «طرف گرمانت یک»؛ کتاب چهارم: «طرف گرمانت دو»؛ کتاب پنجم: «سدوم و عموره»؛ کتاب ششم: «اسیر»؛ کتاب هفتم: «آلبرتین گمشده (گریخته)»؛ کتاب هشتم: «زمان بازیافته»؛

نوشتن در باره ی این سری از رمانها، خود باید کتابی جداگانه باشد؛ نمیدانید از کجا آغاز کنید، تو گویی بخواهید سنگ به سنگ، اهرام «مصر» را تصویر کنید، و واقعا ً نمیدانید با طوفان کلمات و واژه ها، چگونه برخورد نمایید، واژه ی «باشکوه» برای این سری از رمانها، بسیار کوچک است؛ شکوهی به مراتب برتر از ساختمان کلیساهای جامع «گوتیک»، اپراهای «واگنر»، «بتهوون»، و آثار همه ی «اکسپرسیونیستها»؛ اما چیزی که بیش از هر چیز از این سری رمانها درمییابیم، اینست که کتاب از یک دغدغه، سرشار است، دغدغه ای به نام «هراس از مرگ»، و «ترس از مُردن»، و نگفتن آن همه واژه ای که روان شما را میجوند، و میخورند؛ شاید این برای مردمان بسیاری، قابل درک نباشد و نیست؛ اینکه مغزتان پر از واژه هایی باشد، که خودشان را به این در و آن دیوار میکوبند، تا خارج شوند، ولی نمیتوانند، زندگی را ناچیز میشمارند، و خود را وقف خیالی باورنکردنی میکنند، که هیچ چیز را یارای برابری با آن نیست؛ اینگونه میشود، که برترین وصف یکی از بزرگترین شاهکارهای تاریخ ادبیات، به شرح «بیماری» محدود میشود، و با این هم موافق هستم، که بسیاری از شاهکارهای ادبی، پر از فاش کردن حالات انسانهای بیمار است؛ از «داستایوسکی» و «کافکا» گرفته، تا «سلین»، «هدایت»، «میشیما»، «فاکنر»، «وولف»، و «جویس»، انسانها چیزی را نمیآفرینند، تا جاودانه شود، و همیشه این متفاوتها هستند، که جاودانه میشوند؛ «در جستجوی زمان از دست رفته»، یکی از همین متفاوتهاست؛

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 06/06/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 11/05/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,084 reviews6,998 followers
April 2, 2023
[Edited 4/2/23]

Proust! Memories! Almost 5,000 reviews so I thought I would simply give examples of his writing if you have not read him before. Beautiful writing, lyrical, complex, maybe even occasionally convoluted.

First the famous passage about madeleines:


“And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of a little piece of the madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Leonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often seems such things in the meantime, without tasting them, on the trays in pastry-cooks’ windows, that their image had disassociated itself from those Combray days to take its place among others more recent; perhaps because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the shapes of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds, were either obliterated or had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness. But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.”


An example of detailed description – Swann’s woman friend:

“It must be remarked that Odette’s face appeared thinner and sharper than it actually was, because the forehead and the upper part of the cheeks, that smooth and almost plane surface, were covered by the masses of hair which women wore at that period drawn forward in a fringe, raised in crimped waves and falling in stray locks over the ears; while as for her figure – and she was admirably built – it was impossible to make out its continuity (on account of the fashion then prevailing, and in spite of her being one of the best-dressed women in Paris) so much did the corsage, jutting out as though over an imaginary stomach and ending in a sharp point, beneath which bulged out the balloon of her double skirts, give a woman the appearance of being composed of different sections badly fitted together; to such an extent that the frills, the flounces, the inner bodice follow quite independently, according to the whim of their designer or the consistency of their material, the line which led them to the bows, the festoons of lace, the fringes of dangling jet beads, or carried them along the busk, but nowhere attached themselves to the living creature, who, according as the architecture of these fripperies drew them towards or away from her own, found herself either straight-laced to suffocation or else completely buried.”


A passage I liked: “But the lies which Odette ordinarily told were less innocent, and served to prevent discoveries which might have involved her in the most terrible difficulties with one or another of her friends. And so when she lied, smitten with fear, feeling herself to be but feebly armed for her defense, unconfident of success, she felt like weeping from sheer exhaustion, as children weep sometimes when they have not slept. Moreover she knew that her lie was usually wounding to the man to whom she was telling it, and that she might find herself at his mercy if she told badly. Therefore she felt at once humble and guilty in his presence. And when she had to tell an in significant social lie its hazardous associations, and the memories which it recalled, would leave her weak with a sense of exhaustion and penitent with a consciousness of wrongdoing.”

An example of what I think of as his occasional complex writing:

[As a small boy when the main character’s love and another girl are talking near him about meeting again that evening]: “The name Gilberte passed close by me, invoking all the more forcefully the girl whom it labeled in that it did not merely refer to her, as one speaks of someone in his absence, but was directly addressed to her; it passed thus close by me, in action so to speak, with a force that increased with the curve of its trajectory and the proximity of its target; - carrying in its wake, I could feel, the knowledge, the impressions concerning her to whom it was addressed that belonged not to me but to the friend who called it out, everything that, as she uttered the words, she recalled, or at least possessed in her memory, of their daily intimacy, of the visits that they paid to each other, of that unknown existence which was all the more inaccessible, all the more painful to me from being, conversely, so familiar, so tractable to this happy girl who let it brush past me without my being able to penetrate it, who flung in on the air with a light-hearted cry; - wafting through the air the exquisite emanation which it had distilled…”



Note: Proust’s masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time, was originally published in seven volumes. There are more than a hundred editions and volumes have alternate names in English, such as The Prisoner vs. The Captive. Wikipedia gives a good summary of all the pieces and the sequence of volumes under “In Search of Lost Time.”

Photos: Proust's imagined village in Normandy, strongly inspired by the village of his childhood, Illiers, which has now been renamed Illiers-Combray (shown in photo). From Wikipedia

Second photo: madeleines from finedininglovers.com

Painting of the woman who partially inspired Odette from Wikipedia

The author from irishtimes.com
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews68.1k followers
December 19, 2020
Childhood Expectations

The Delphic maxim Nosce te ipsum, Know thyself, is the motivating force not only of Western philosophy and Christian theology but of much of Western literature. All of the volumes of In Search of Lost Time are an experiment in self-understanding, an experiment which incorporates something that is left out of much of modern science, particularly psychological science, namely the concept of purposefulness.

Purposefulness is the capacity to consider purpose rather than the adoption of any specific purpose. It is a concept which is difficult to grasp, and to live with, since it easily deteriorates into some specific purpose through the sheer frustration with the unsettlement it provokes. The most startling characteristic of Swann’s Way is Proust’s dogged refusal to subvert purposefulness to purpose.

About 20 years ago I was asked to give a speech at a meeting of the Italian Bankers Association. At the dinner afterwards I was seated next to the chairman of the Banco Agricultura, a charming man of approximately seventy, who, as many Italian businessmen, had a very different social manner than most Northern Europeans.

Instead of spending ten minutes on pleasantries leading to a more serious business conversation, the chairman reversed conventional priorities: after ten minutes of business-oriented chit-chat, he signalled an end to that portion of our conversation with the line “You know I think Freud had it entirely wrong.”

A bit taken aback but intrigued by his change of tack I asked how so. “According to Freud, we all go through traumas when we are young that we have to live through for the rest of our lives.” He replied, and continued “My experience is completely different. I believe that we all make fundamental decisions about ourselves that we try to live up to for the rest of our lives.” He then went on to explain how he, a scientist by training, had ended up in banking as the correct expression of his childhood decision.

Clearly only the very rare, and probably incipiently psychotic, child would be able to take a such a decision about himself - to become a banker! So I was somewhat sceptical about the chairman’s rationale until I watched an instalment of the British ITV programme originally entitled 7-Plus (See postscript below; the final instalment is nigh).

This programme followed the lives of a dozen or so Britons beginning at age seven at subsequent intervals of seven years (to my uncertain knowledge the next instalment should capture them at age 63). In the early years the children are clearly both inexperienced and inarticulate, as would be expected. Yet they make statements which are also clearly reflective of their later more experienced and more articulate selves.

Some are uncanny: a seven-year-old Yorkshire lad herding cattle in his remote family farm, asked by the interviewer what he wants to do when he grows up replies “I want to know everything about het moon.” By his mid-thirties he had become a prominent astrophysicist. The association between most childhood statements and life-outcomes are far more subtle than this, but almost all correlate to such a degree that one can match young to old merely on the basis of what the children and adults say and do rather than their physical states.

The ITV programme is obviously anecdotal rather than scientific but I nevertheless I find it compelling. Alfred Whitehead observed that we are all born either Platonists or Aristotelians. As with religious faith, we cannot verify either position except by adopting it. Confirming evidence flows from the choice not vice versa. Proust knows this:

The facts of life do not penetrate to the sphere in which our beliefs are cherished; they did not engender those beliefs, and they are powerless to destroy them; they can inflict on them continual blows of contradictions and disproof without weakening them; and an avalanche of miseries and maladies succeeding one another without interruption in the bosom of a family will not make it lose its faith in either the clemency of its God or the capacity of its physician.

So where do these beliefs, not just Platonic and Aristotelian but all important beliefs, particularly about purpose, come from? Do we actually decide these beliefs in some sort of analysis and process of verification as rationalists suggest is ‘rational’? Or do they emerge incrementally from our actual experience in the world, shaping us through an appreciation of ‘the facts’ as empiricists insist? Is anyone really driving the bus at all?

For Proust, the impetus to action is vague and ambiguous intention not specific causal stimulus, not even the ‘future cause’ of a defined purpose; his cosmos is Platonic and idealistic rather than Aristotelian and material; his theology is that of a Bonaventure who finds infinite significance in small things, not of a Thomas Aquinas who looks to the cosmos for confirmation of the divine; for him the mind is better described by Jungian archetypes than Freudian phobias.

There is also a profound twist in Proust’s apparent modernism. His intense romantic self-consciousness, the drive to understand oneself through feelings, leads to something unexpected and very post-modern: the recognition that the unconscious is indistinguishable from reality, a reality which is created. The realm of the particular and individual, those parts of the world with proper names like cities and people, can't be pinned down. We can't be sure where things begin and end, including ourselves. Our inability to distinguish the particular Kantian thing in itself from what we think of it can even make us ill as Marcel discovers in the book's final part.

Even more profoundly, the Self, our consciousness combined with this reality, is indistinguishable from God. As God is infinite, and infinitely ‘beyond’ our ability to understand, so too the Self. That the Self is inherently unknowable except as a direction of search is a conclusion he reaches again and again in Swann’s Way. Every feeling is traced through memory until memory merely points further without a material reference. When memory stops at objects without recognising the transcendent reality, Marcel finds himself in error:

No doubt, by virtue of having permanently and indissolubly united so many different impressions in my mind, simply because they made me experience them at the same time, the Meseglise and Guermantes ways left me exposed, in later life, to much disillusionment and even to many mistakes. For often I have wished to see a person again without realising that it was simply because that person recalled to me a hedge of hawthorne in blossom.

This is also the eponymous Swann's fate. In attaching the 'signs' of an emotionally moving, indeed transformative, musical phrase (authored, significantly, by a resident not of Swann's Way but the other path, the Guermantes Way, in Combray) and a female figure in a Botticelli painting (Botticelli shared with Swann an ambivalence about commitment in relationship) to the person of Odette, Swann creates a false reality. The music indicates a distant ideal. Swann regards:

...musical motifs as actual ideas, of another world, of another order, ideas veiled in shadow, unknown, impenetrable to the human mind, but none the less perfectly distinct from one another, unequal among themselves in value and significance.

His compulsion to fill the void between these aesthetic ideals, which he recognises as divine, and his concrete situation with whatever is at hand is overpowering. The result is an apparently disastrous confusion and self-imposed delusion. Swann emerges in Proust's text as an avatar of Saint Augustine, knowing that he is over-valuing the object of his desire, yet unwilling to cease digging the spiritual pit in which he finds himself. The second half of the book, which is entirely third-party narrative, uses this tale of destruction as a sort of case study of the theory developed in the first, which is entirely introspective and associative.

There are constant reminders throughout that the map which indicates the direction toward the ideal is not its territory. On a short coach trip during childhood with the local doctor, for example, Marcel recalls the comforting sight of three village church steeples. Why are they comforting? The scene is pastoral, at sunset, but minutely crafted analysis gives no clear reason for either the importance of the memory or the intensity of the feeling. Nevertheless there is something there, just out of sight, obscurely attractive just beyond the steeples. It is what lies beyond, behind this image that is the source of its power. His imagery of women is similarly and explicitly archetypal:

Sometimes in the afternoon sky the moon would creep up, white as a cloud, furtive, lustreless, suggesting an ancient actress who does not have to come on for a while, and watches the rest of the company for a moment from the auditorium in her ordinary clothes, keeping in the background, not wishing to attract attention to herself.

Often he presents the naked image, leaving it without comment except that he considers it significant enough to write about. The evocation simply echoes in this example:

Here and there in the distance, in a landscape which in the failing light and saturated atmosphere resembled a seascape rather, a few solitary houses clinging to the lower slopes of a hill plunged in watery darkness shone out like little boats which have folded their sails and ride at anchor all night upon the sea.

Proust often uses grammar to make his point about the obscure reality of these ‘strange attractors’ as they are called in the modern theory of chaos. In describing a meadow by the River Vivonne in Combray:

For the buttercups grew past numbering in this spot where they had chosen for their games among the grass, standing singly, in couples, in whole companies, yellow as the yolk of eggs, and glowing with an added lustre, I felt, because being powerless to consummate with my palate the pleasures which the sight of them never failed to give me, I would let it accumulate as my eyes ranged over their golden expanse, until it became potent enough to produce an effect of absolute, purposeless beauty; and so it had been from my earliest childhood, when from the towpath I had stretched out my arms towards them before I could even properly spell their charming name - a name fit for the Prince in some fairy tale - immigrants, perhaps, from Asia centuries ago, but naturalised now for ever in the village, satisfied with their modest horizon, rejoicing in the sunshine and the water's edge, faithful to their little glimpse of the railway station, yet keeping none the less like some of our old paintings, in their plebeian simplicity, a poetic scintillation from the golden East.

The sheer length and complexity of the sentence, combined with the ambiguity of the referents of many of the pronouns, and the allusions to a mysterious Asian past, are components of his monumental experiment to express that which is just beyond the reach of expression. Its density is poetic, but it is not poetry. It is a new genre. In it Proust makes the search for the Platonic ideal visible by subverting literary habits but no so much as to make the text incomprehensible.

Life then for Marcel is a search in which habits may provide comfort, security, and facile communication, peace even, but inhibit discovery of what one is. By simply accepting our habitual responses to events as obvious or inevitable, we short-circuit the investigation of why and how they should be as they are. In particular this applies to habits of thought, methods, if you will, our ways of dealing with the emotional world.

There is no essential method, not just for psychology but for thought in general. Both the Meseglise Way and the Guermantes Way are essential to one’s formation (to use a term from religious development). Proust’s implicit proposal is that there is an emotional epistemology which is the heart of human purposefulness, but that this epistemology excludes nothing. It ‘sweeps in’ everything it can using every approach it can imagine.

Proust’s implicit contention is that what is important in adult life is decided in early conscious life, which adult life then induces us to make unconscious - thus confirming the chairman of the Banco Agricultural and Freud (of whom Proust was ignorant) as well as the producers of ITV. But like the chairman and unlike Freud, Proust appreciated this as a positive necessity. For him human beings are creative idealists who become oriented to a certain configuration of not just how the world is but how it ought to be.

Appreciating the source of this phenomenon is what he is about. Proust's ‘therapy’ is not Freudian since he seeks neither to neutralise the motivational effect of childhood ideals nor to subject these ideals to some sort of choice. His intention is to further articulate and explore what the ideals might be, indeed what we might be behind the veil of appearances.

The ideals created in childhood are, after all, as the chairman said, what we actually are. But the ITV children suggest, contrary to the chairman's opinion, that these ideals are not deterministic. There are any number, perhaps an infinite number, of ways through which ideals may be interpreted and approached. Only afterwards can the creativity of the individual be discerned. This is the domain of choice and learning.

Nosce te ipsum does not imply, therefore, an analytic understanding of one's desires. But without some sort of reflective assessment, these desires, feelings, aversions remain unappreciated, as does consequently the Self in which they occur and which they constitute. These desires are created in youth not as specific neurotic fixations but as memories and responses to a vague, inarticulate presence, essence perhaps, which is just behind, just beyond what we perceive and what we can express.

This knowledge is essential because without it we are liable to pursue ineffective paths; but it is also useless because it will bring us no closer to the real content of the ideal. Neither the past nor the Self can ever be found or recovered - "...houses, roads avenues, are as fugitive, alas, as the years." But they can be appreciated: 'Worldly' desires, those conventions of society, are forceful but sterile once achieved - love, social position, power, wealth - and do not really create that which ought to be because that which ought to be is irretrievable.

For Proust, as for Augustine, each of us, is a Citizen Kane, pursuing an ideal we can know only faintly, often through inappropriate means. The Rosebud is our unique possession – or more properly a sign to its hidden meaning - and it is the only possession we need.

In his 1651 publication of The Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes makes an intentional mistranslation of Nosce te ipsum. ‘Read thyself’ is how he prefers the classic maxim in English. When we read, we are forced to interpret, to bring ourselves into the text. When our interpretation becomes a text, which it must if it is articulated, that too is subject to interpretation. And so on ad infinitum.

As the philosopher Richard Rorty famously quipped: it’s interpretation all the way down. There is no terminal point of truth in a text, nor is there a true Self, just as there is no foundation in terms of first principles for thought. The post-modern position reckons our job as one of permanent interpretation, an un-ending search for the truth – about the world as well as ourselves.

Hobbes had the insight that we are texts to be read and interpreted. Proust demonstrates how this is done. The fact that the horizon recedes at the same pace as it is approached doesn't invalidate the task.

Goal-orientation, according to psychologists, therapists, and management consultants, is a desirable human trait. This is demonstrably false. Goal-orientation is a neurosis involving the fixation of purpose regardless of consequences. It implies a wilful rejection of the possibility of learning through experience.

The most vital experience is not about learning how to do something, technique; but learning about what is important to do, value. Loyalty to purpose is a betrayal of purposefulness, of what constitutes being human. This is a prevailing poison in modern society. Proust understood this toxin, and, without even giving it a name, formulated the cure. This, for me, is the real value of Swann's Way.

Postscript 26May19: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019...
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,962 reviews293k followers
October 11, 2012
I have removed my initial three star rating for this and settled with a blank rating. This is because I cannot in any way say what I want to say about this book with goodreads stars. I had given it three stars because of my indecision, it seemed like a good idea to just stick my rating somewhere in the middle when I couldn't make my mind up. The problem is that on goodreads three stars means "I liked it", which, unfortunately, I didn't. Two stars means "it was ok", but that's not an accurate description of the genius taken to write this either.

Frankly, Proust is a genius. It doesn't matter whether you enjoy this book, or think it adds up to what makes a novel "good" or "enjoyable", I challenge anyone to argue with the idea that Proust's work takes the mind of someone with a deep-set gift for writing. I personally think that football (or soccer) is one of the most boring things on the planet, but I also appreciate the skill and hard work of the players. Here I read the Montcrieff translation and translations are often a somewhat simplified version of the original work - but if that is true here, I pity and admire anyone who has braved the original. Montcrieff, himself, deserves a medal for so perfectly taking Proust's deep complexity across languages.

And I want to point out that my dislike for this book isn't just because it's a challenge - I've read many challenging books and come through at the other side with satisfaction and the desire to recommend it to others. I would hesitate before recommending this. As I said in a comment below, Tolstoy wrote a lengthy book because he had a long and epic story to tell and it is one that kept me hooked throughout... Proust has written a seven volume novel with over 4000 pages and the reason it's so long is because he feels the need to describe every little speck of dust in intricate detail. That may be an exaggeration, but only slightly.

In Swann's Way we are told how the furniture smells, things and objects that are completely irrelevant to the story get a page of description. Why? I can't see a good reason. He also has that habit of waxing poetic about every simple little everyday action, and I understand why some readers will love this beautiful exploration of the simplest things... but I don't. I care so little about these things he is talking about that I suddenly realise I've read a few pages without really taking in a single word of it. Which means you have to go back and start again, reigniting your headache.

These volumes are a challenge that people who prefer writing over story should make their way towards. Readers who appreciate the quality of writing, the literary technique, they are the ones who will devour Proust. I like a story, and I don't like stories that drown in a sea of prose and over-descriptiveness, if you're like me then you will probably feel the same weird mixture of admiration at Proust's ability, and disappointment that one of the often stated "greatest novels of all time" didn't do it for you.
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
August 25, 2018
”At the hour when I usually went downstairs to find out what there was for dinner...I would stop by the table, where the kitchen-maid had shelled them, to inspect the platoons of peas, drawn up in ranks and numbered, like little green marbles, ready for a game; but what most enraptured me were the asparagus, tinged with ultramarine and pink which shaded their heads, finely stippled in mauve and azure, through a series of imperceptible gradations to their white feet--still stained a little by the soil of their garden-bed--with an iridescence that was not of this world, I felt that these celestial hues indicated the presence of exquisite creatures who had been pleased to assume vegetable form and who, through the disguise of their firm, comestible flesh, allowed me to discern in this radiance of earliest dawn, these hinted rainbows, these blue evening shades, that precious quality which I should recognize again when, all night long after a dinner at which I had partaken of them, they played (lyrical and coarse in their jesting like one of Shakespeare’s fairies) at transforming my chamber pot into a vase of aromatic perfume.”

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The more you look at asparagus the odder and more wonderful they look.

Now anyone can see beauty in the Pacific Ocean, in the Rocky Mountains, in the New York Skyline or in a Turkish spice market, but not everyone looks at asparagus and sees beauty. Proust looks at this unusual looking vegetable and sees so much more than just his next meal. He sees rainbows, mythical creatures, and an explosion of radiant colors. He inhales their aroma as they exit his body as well. Their final gift to his senses. When we see an asparagus and see so much more than just an asparagus; life, however small or however large, becomes a kaleidoscope of adventure. It is wise to see beauty in the smallest things.

Our narrator although I can not distinguish him from Proust; so therefore, I will continue to think of them as one and the same, is a reader. So much so that his parents have to insist that he do something in the fresh air before he buries himself in his books for the rest of the day. Many of us can identify with that desire, that indulgence if I may, that would allow us to spend a day in bed reading. Even the best jobs can not compete with the worlds to be experienced in books or for that matter with our favorite sheets, our fluffy pillows, and our washed a hundred times comforter.

”I always returned with an unconfessed gluttony to wallow in the central, glutinous, insipid, indigestible and fruity smell of the flowered bedspread.”

He loves his momma. In fact bedtime is one of his favorite points in the day where he waits with great anticipation for the moment when his mom slips in to kiss him goodnight. He will even risk the ire of his father to elicit this kiss if he feels his mother is distracted by guests or may believe she can skip this all important, much awaited brush of her lips to close the day.

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Marcel Proust, he loves his momma, and there ain't nothing wrong with that.

He meets a girl, Gilberte, the daughter of Swann, a man who drifts in and out of his family affairs. A man who becomes an obsession of our narrator. As he pursues the daughter he also pursues the story of her father.

Swann meets a woman named Odette de Crecy. She, in the beginning, is much more enamored with him than he is with her. ”She had struck Swann not, certainly, as being devoid of beauty, but as endowed with a kind of beauty which left him indifferent, which aroused in him no desire, which gave him, indeed, a sort of physical repulsion, as one of those women of whom all of us can cite examples, different for each of us, who are the converse of the type which our senses demand.”

Swann looks at her the way we do when we are first analyzing a potential mate, overcritical in a Seinfeldesque manner. ”Her profile was too sharp, her skin too delicate, her cheekbones were too prominent, her features too tightly drawn to be attractive to him. Her eyes were beautiful, but so large they seemed to droop beneath their own weight, strained the rest of her face and always made her appear unwell or in a bad mood.”

As they are thrown together at the same parties and Odette continues to pursue him his opinion of her changes although reluctantly. He keeps a little seamstress as almost a counter weight to his relationship with Odette.

”But Swann told himself that if he could make Odette feel (by consenting to meet her only after dinner) that there were only pleasures which he preferred to that of her company, then the desire that she felt for his would be all the longer in reaching the point of satiety. Besides, as he infinitely preferred to Odette’s style of beauty that of a young seamstress, as fresh and plump as a rose, with whom he was smitten, he preferred to spend the first part of the evening with her, knowing that he was sure to see Odette later on.”

Swann begins to see her beauty differently and we, the reader, can start to feel the shift in affections. ”Standing there beside him, her loosened hair flowing down her cheeks, bending one knee in a slightly balletic pose in order to be able to lean without effort over the picture at which she was gazing, her head on one side with those great eyes of hers which seemed so tired and sullen when there was nothing to animate her, she struck Swann by her resemblance to the figure of Zipporah, Jethro’s daughter, which is to be seen in the Sistine frescoes.”,

 photo JethrosDaughter_zpsc79c3362.jpg
Botticelli's Zipporah

He realizes that despite his best efforts he is falling in love with her or more accurately of an ideal version of her. His resistance has crumbled. ”And it was Swann who, before she allowed it, as though in spite of herself, to fall upon his lips, held it back for a moment longer, at a little distance, between his hands. He had wanted to leave time for his mind to catch up with him, to recognize the dream which it had so long cherished and to assist at it’s realization, like a relative invited as a spectator when a prize is given to a child of whom she has been especially fond. Perhaps, too, he was fixed upon the face of Odette not yet possessed, nor even kissed by him, which he was seeing for the last time, the comprehensive gaze with which, on the day of his departure, a traveller hopes to bear away with him in memory a landscape he is leaving for ever.”

*Sigh* Swann is in love. It is really an interesting roller coaster that Proust takes us on with this relationship. At first I felt that Swann was being rather unchivalrous with Odette and unduly harsh, but then as Odette pursues him I start to feel like maybe his first reaction to her was the proper evaluation. As he falls into pit after pit of jealousy both become mired in a relationship that probably never should have started. As his passion increases her ardour for him cools. He has turned a corner in the relationship that blocks his view of the road that would take him away from Odette. ”And this malady which Swann’s love had become had so proliferated, was so closely interwoven with all his habits, with all his actions, with his thoughts, his health, his sleep, his life, even with what he hoped for after his death, was so utterly inseparable from him, that it would have been impossible to eradicate it without almost entirely destroying him; as surgeons say, his love was no longer operable.”

 photo HubertRobert_zps62b0ead0.jpg
"In each of their gardens the moonlight, copying the art of Hubert Robert, scattered its broken staircases of white marble, its fountains, its iron gates tempting ajar. All that was left of it was a column, half shattered but preserving the beauty of a ruin which endures for all time."

A character, a friend of Swann’s named Princesse des Laumes shows up in the later pages of the book and I wish she’d had a bigger role. I want to share a bit of conversation she has with a General about Mme de Cambremer.

”Oh, but Cambremer is a quite a good name--old, too,” protested the General.
“I see no objection to its being old,” the Princess answered dryly, “but whatever else it is it’s not euphonious,” she went on, isolating the word euphonious as though between inverted commas, a little affection to which the Guermantes set were addicted.

Do you hear just a bit of the Dowager Countess Lady Grantham in that exchange?

Swann finds himself unhappily happily in love. ”he said to himself that people did not know when they were unhappy, that one is never as happy as one thinks.” I will counter that to say that rarely are people aware of how happy they are either. He may have been as happy as he was ever going to be when he was cuddling with his seamstress.

Our narrator sees Odette long after all the negotiations, passions, and pain have passed with her relationship with Swann. ”I doffed my hat to her with so lavish, so prolonged a gesture that she could not repress a smile. People laughed. As for her, she had never seen me with Gilberte, she did not know my name, but I was for her--like one of the keepers in the Bois, or the boatman, or the ducks on the lake to which she threw scraps of bread--one of the minor personages, familiar, nameless, as devoid of individual character as a stage-hand in a theatre, of her daily walks in the Bois.”

There are those books that once finished inspire the reader to turn back to the first page and start again. This is one of those books for me. It does not feel like a 600+ novel. Once you are sucked into the story which for different readers begins at different points the pages will seem to fly by. I finished this in the midst of the recent snowstorm in Kansas City. The blizzard provided the proper isolation for me to devote my total attention to the final 200 pages. If you are finding Proust difficult I might suggest starting with the section called Swann in Love. I know odd to think of reading a book out of order, but this is one of the few books that you actually can. If you enjoy that section then you can go back and read the rest, after all at that point as they say in poker you are pot committed. I may still be in a Proust glow, but I must say for me this fits the bill of a masterpiece. I’m in awe of the Proustian insights into human behavior and his unique and inspiring way to see the world around us. More Proust please.
Profile Image for Fergus, Quondam Happy Face.
968 reviews17.6k followers
April 7, 2023
Proust is immortal. For he discovered a Hidden Way to transform our past, and, by extension, like the mystics of old - our souls - into a thing of enduring beauty. The Past can be Regained and Transmuted, as by St. Teresa of Avila, into an Interior Castle. Or, as Proust says in In a Budding Grove, a Magic Lantern Show.

Few of us are old enough to remember Magic Lanterns. They were the original still photo projectors, developed at the turn of the twentieth century. My Dad had his own ancient model, which he transported from the childhood home of his mid-1920’s and 30’s to our first Ontario home.

The trick is to suspend a bedsheet at the far end of a child’s bedside and project these wonderful faerie-like mezzotint images upon it. Proust says we who create (even reviews? You bet!) must become that white suspended bedsheet for our viewer’s reading imagination:

“One smoky Fall day many, many years ago, as the Canada Geese overhead loudly sermonized us human stragglers about the hefty price we would soon pay for not following them down to the sunny South, I must regretfully have recommenced Swann’s Way once again...

“For the very act of picking up that beloved, contrarious book always had in those days the same mysteriously autumnal aura of old summertime desires yielding painfully yet wistfully to familiar and mournful wintry regrets - but that act inevitably, in turn, evoking the epitome of the best of the winter to come:

“Our cozy curling-up with a book in the close confines of our own warm and oh-so comfortable inner space.”

So, in a rather naïve pastiche of Proust’s style, I dreamily wrote two years ago. Naïve, because in my ingenuous flippancy, I rushed in like the proverbial fool to spray-paint illegible graffiti on the enduring Proustian legacy.

“Love conquers all” - but love of EVERY kind compromises and convicts so many!

That insight is at the heart of that legacy, unfolding slowly and delicately throughout the Proustian opus like an ancient Belgian town being de-shrouded by the departing mist, in the Memory of Flemish friends by Stéphane Mallarme.

Until it stands at last fully unveiled at the conclusion of Time Regained, like the naked Venus.

Or Gorgon.

Aye, there’s the rub!

For when our past is finally transmogrified into suddenly-remembered monstrous forms, that’s the time - says Proust - to bring those bad memories into consciousness, according to how much of them we are able to bear at any given moment.

And that’s his method.

For here, as when the rainbow-hued daughter of a noted composer - “Verdurin” - secretly and blackly reviles his reputation to her passionate girlfriend, Proust carefully intersperses such moments with the lighter fluff of his dreams and his daily drudgery.

This, then, is the reason my mom, the librarian, could endure his complex and endless grammatical periods for four consecutive long rereadings of the entire collection of novels - for she always knew Proust’s bottom line, at the end of her cauchemars, was the redemption of her soul in a state of pure release.

That final state is the pure epiphanic moment - the Aleph, as Borges says - or the centre from which the universal totality may be viewed. The Timeless Extended Moment, which Henry James exultantly celebrates in his chef d’œuvre - you love it or you hate it - The Ambassadors.

And that Aleph for the noted Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, as revealed in his Aion, is Christ.

The heart of the opus itself is slowly and casually thus presented, especially here in Swann’s Way, in which - by biting into a Madeleine - the now fully temporally-redeemed narrator reveals the golden key to the unlocking of our scotomized memories.

Yes - the magic lantern totality of our childhood memories that seems lost, but is eternally present - on memory rolls, as George Gurdjieff says.

And they can be fully recovered in rêverie.

Many readers, including myself, have imitated the Proustian modus operandi to recover our own Time Past.

The bottom line is: yes, we can unlock our past.

But in so doing, we will open a veritable Pandora’s Box of complex issues.

Do we really want to GO there?

It’s all secreted deep in our subconscious if we dare!

And with good-hearted Faith we CAN survive the utter turbulence of its revelations:

By a slow, patient meditation on the Truth -

Which will then reveal the real, universal epiphany beneath our dreams - clearly - for the first time, and for All Time.
Profile Image for karen.
3,978 reviews170k followers
June 22, 2018
so i figured i would finally read me some proust, get in touch with my roots or whatnot. and i have to say, for my introduction, it was kind of a mixed bag. the first part i had real problems with. i am not a fan of precocious or sensitive children, so the whole first part was kind of a wash for me. i know, that's terrible, right?? here is this Monument of Great Literature, and i am annoyed, as though i were watching some children's production of oklahoma, or any musical, really. (shudder) there are some truly beautiful moments in it though - the varnish scene, those madeleines, the little secret room... and the transitions between these memories are so well-executed, you don't even really feel like you are reading them, you are just kind of flowing along with the words. but when he started hugging the flowers goodbye and crying because he was going to miss them, i'm a monster, really, i was so full of eye-rolling, it was almost seizing. seriously - buy the kid a football. but then the second part - ah - here's where i understand it! such minute and perfect details. such insight into love and obsession and betrayal. it was like high school, but only the really painful first-love bits. i'm looking forward to reading the rest of these, but i need a break and some sensitivity training first.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,422 reviews3,373 followers
June 28, 2021
Marcel Proust is a weaver – he weaves his narration from memories of the past, dreams and threads of irony…
A sleeping man holds in a circle around him the sequence of the hours, the order of the years and worlds. He consults them instinctively as he wakes and reads in a second the point on the earth he occupies, the time that has elapsed before his waking; but their ranks can be mixed up, broken.

Memories of childhood: relatives, relationships in the family, hearsay and gossips, life of neighbours, churchgoing, perambulations in the country, books and their correlation with reality…
A real human being, however profoundly we sympathize with him, is in large part perceived by our senses, that is to say, remains opaque to us, presents a dead weight which our sensibility cannot lift. If a calamity should strike him, it is only in a small part of the total notion we have of him that we will be able to be moved by this; even more, it is only in a part of the total notion he has of himself that he will be able to be moved himself. The novelist’s happy discovery was to have the idea of replacing these parts, impenetrable to the soul, by an equal quantity of immaterial parts, that is to say, parts which our soul can assimilate.

Kith and kin… And visitors… One of the frequent visitors was Swann – a connoisseur of art, a socialite mixing in high society, a man about town…
Swann did not try to convince himself that the women with whom he spent his time were pretty, but to spend his time with women he already knew were pretty. And these were often women of a rather vulgar beauty, for the physical qualities that he looked for without realizing it were the direct opposite of those he admired in the women sculpted or painted by his favorite masters. Depth of expression, melancholy, would freeze his senses, which were, however, immediately aroused by flesh that was healthy, plump, and pink.

Odette, a woman of demimonde, had eyes for Swann and was attempting to win him over… But she only attracted him because of her resemblance to Zipporah on the painting by Botticelli… However their relationships kept evolving and finally Swann fell in love… But very soon Odette turned the tables and became cold while Swann remained hopelessly infatuated…
And in fact, Swann’s love had reached the stage where the doctor and, in certain affections, even the boldest surgeon, ask themselves if ridding a patient of his vice or relieving him of his disease is still reasonable or even possible.

When one falls in love with one’s ideal and then finds out that the object of one’s passion is quite different from this ideal one is doomed to suffer beyond reason…
Profile Image for Guille.
755 reviews1,537 followers
March 24, 2020
“Así ocurre con nuestro pasado. Es trabajo perdido el querer evocarlo, e inútiles todos los afanes de nuestra inteligencia. Ocúltase fuera de sus dominios y de su alcance, en un objeto material (en la sensación que ese objeto material nos daría) que no sospechamos. Y del azar depende que nos encontremos con ese objeto antes de que nos llegue la muerte, o que no lo encontremos nunca.”
Son legión quienes afirman que En busca del tiempo perdido es una novela sobre el paso del tiempo, sobre el deleite en su recuperación. Hay quién dice que es el retrato de un novelista, de su formación y crecimiento, una reivindicación de una forma de hacer novela. Para mí, sin querer quitar ni poner razones, la obra de Proust, al menos en este primer volumen, es la representación de una forma de sentir, de experimentar la vida y de sentirse a uno mismo, la descripción literaria de una especial sensibilidad.

No incidiré aquí más en la complicada delicadeza del estilo del autor, todo lo que soy capaz de decir ya lo recogí en mis comentarios a Un amor de Swann, una novela dentro de esta novela. Sirvan para ello, no obstante, las citas que aquí traigo. También me referí en aquellos comentarios a la importancia que para Proust tenía el poder evocador de los objetos y las sensaciones físicas, siempre ilustrado con el famosísimo momento magdalena pero que tiene en toda la novela incontables ejemplos. Aun así, traigo aquí justo ese momento porque también es una muestra de aquello de lo que me gustaría hablarles.
“Y muy pronto, abrumado por el triste día que había pasado y, por la perspectiva de otro tan melancólico por venir, me llevé a los labios una cucharada de té en el que había echado un trozo de magdalena. Pero en el mismo instante en que aquel trago, con las migas del bollo, tocó mi paladar, me estremecí, fija mi atención en algo extraordinario que ocurría en mi interior. Un placer delicioso me invadió, me aisló, sin noción de lo que lo causaba. Y él me convirtió las vicisitudes de la vida en indiferentes, sus desastres en inofensivos y su brevedad en ilusoria, todo del mismo modo que opera el amor, llenándose de una esencia preciosa; pero, mejor dicho, esa esencia no es que estuviera en mí, es que era yo mismo. Dejé de sentirme mediocre, contingente y mortal.”
Parto de la base de que Proust es veraz en las descripciones que hace de sus arrebatos, de sus pasiones, de sus éxtasis ante las cosas más nimias, por mucho que a mí, de sensibilidad infinitamente menos exaltada, me parezca casi inverosímil y ciertamente extravagante gran parte de su relato por grande que sea el poder evocador, maravilloso lo evocado y soberbia la expresión de todo ello.
“… de pronto un tejado, un reflejo de sol en una piedra, el olor del camino, hacíanme pararme por el placer particular que me causaban y además porque me parecía que ocultaban por detrás de lo visible una cosa que me invitaban a ir a coger, pero que, a pesar de mis esfuerzos, no lograba descubrir… cerrando los ojos, empeñado en acordarme exactamente de la silueta del tejado o del matiz de la piedra, que sin que yo supiera por qué, me parecieron llenas de algo, casi a punto de abrirse y entregarme aquello de que no eran ellas más que vestidura.”
Ciertamente, esas experiencias espirituales me han producido siempre, superada la estupefacción, una mezcla de envidia y alivio sin poder saber qué es lo que más pesa en mi ánimo. Uno tiene la sensación de que personas así, capaces de sentir con tal intensidad parecen vivir, no una, sino dos o tres vidas al tiempo, con el corolario ineludible, y de ahí mi alivio, de las dos o tres muertes correspondientes. Debe ser tan maravilloso como demoledor la intuición de tanto misterio oculto, la lucha interna y constante de esos estados de ánimo tan ajenos y desacordes entre sí, lidiar con esa sensibilidad tan entremezclada con la enfermedad que esta es capaz de acentuar y despertar aquella mientras que ciertos estímulos vividos o simplemente anhelados o prometidos pueden provocar estados febriles. Indiscutiblemente, los padecimientos por tan extremada sensibilidad serían insoportables, pero también los momentos de éxtasis, numerosos si creemos al autor, serían indescriptibles… excepto para él, naturalmente.

Por otro lado, es también llamativo, al menos lo es para mí, la profundidad de reflexión y de sentimiento que Proust representa en el niño que fue, la pasión por su madre capaz de provocarle el llanto ante la primera señal temprana de su vejez, la fuerza de su pensamiento y sensibilidad con la que sustituye y sublima sus mediocres incidentes cotidianos con las vívidas aventuras de los libros, con el análisis psicológico de la vida de sus “vulgares” convecinos, con los colores, los olores, los sonidos y las formas de su estrecho mundo.
“Queremos buscar en las cosas, que por eso nos son preciosas, el reflejo que sobre ellas lanza nuestra alma, y es grande nuestra decepción al ver que en la Naturaleza no tienen aquel encanto que en nuestro pensamiento les prestaba la proximidad de ciertas ideas; y muchas veces convertimos todas las fuerzas del alma en destreza y en esplendor, destinados a accionar, sobre unos seres que sentimos perfectamente que están fuera de nosotros y no alcanzaremos nunca.”
Me maravilla la exaltación que le provoca la soledad, el poder de su imaginación capaz de procurarle los mayores gozos al evocar lugares y personas desconocidas así como de agravar sus decepciones ante el contacto con esas realidades que tan mal se ajustan a sus evocaciones.

En fin, como ya me ocurrió con Pessoa, doy gracias a esa fructífera naturaleza capaz de dotar a algunas de sus creaciones con espíritus tan delicados e inmoderados como soberbias son sus capacidades de plasmarlos en textos tan bellos como este de Por el camino de Swann.
¡Costumbre, celestina mañosa, sí, pero que trabaja muy despacio y que empieza por dejar padecer a nuestro ánimo durante semanas enteras, en una instalación precaria; pero que, con todo y con eso, nos llena de alegría al verla llegar, porque sin ella, y reducida a sus propias fuerzas, el alma nunca lograría hacer habitable morada alguna!
Algo cuesta acostumbrarse a Proust, pero también es verdad que merece mucho la pena el empeño, realmente les llenará de alegría habitar su morada y él, insuperable anfitrión, les recibirá obsequioso.

Profile Image for Luís.
1,857 reviews511 followers
January 6, 2023
Criticize: sorry, but not this time!
"In Search of Lost Time" is one hundred and twenty-six posts on our favorite site. The net, libraries, and bookstores are full of studies, theses, biographies, analyses, etc. I feel like a bit of an ant, tiny in front of this monument. So, my post will be a testimony because I want to share a few crumbs of happiness!

"Swann's Way," first volume.

And then, the whirlwind of life, the rare moments of one's own, literary novels, etc. Still, I had to wait many years before finding the right moment to isolate myself from Marcel.
So there you have it. I was finally able to taste the delights of Combray, see the Swanns again, and let myself have carried away by the magnificence of the Proustian style. Of course, I would still be in bad faith if I forgot to mention the effort that must sometimes provide in the face of the density of specific passages, but everyone knows that.
On the other hand, what about the emotion aroused by the poetic intensity? I would be remiss if I forgot to mention the finesse of tongue-in-cheek humor punctuating the story. What spirit!
On the other hand, I was curious to read some biographical articles on the author; I wrote the text in the first person. I needed some clarification to situate better the situated characters, the family or social framework, or even the place names. Fiction and reality have mixed; they give a truncated biography and are sometimes confusing.
Thus, the young narrator places himself as an only child in the heart of his family, and Marcel Proust had a brother who was two years his junior. He has wholly obscured it; it does not appear anywhere. But, on the other hand, because of this, he perhaps gives us here, behind the scenes, one of the keys to his mental construction linked to unavoidable suffering. Troubling.
This mother-child relationship is also moving, illustrated by the famous "evening kiss" ...
I chose to read "La Recherche ..." in order. However, some emeritus Proustians do not make it a necessity. Until now, having arrived in the middle of the second volume, I remain convinced that it is easier to understand the evolution of the work and especially the impressive and abundant gallery of characters in this gigantic human comedy.
Thus, I am immersed in a great work of modernity in another century, tasting a compelling philosophical thought that it is delightful to let yourself have lulled by prose that sometimes touches the stars.
Profile Image for Florencia.
649 reviews1,912 followers
May 25, 2019
Proust so titillates my own desire for expression that I can hardly set out the sentence…
My great adventure is really Proust. Well—what remains to be written after that? I’m only in the first volume, and there are, I suppose, faults to be found, but I am in a state of amazement; as if a miracle were being done before my eyes. How, at last, has someone solidified what has always escaped—and made it too into this beautiful and perfectly enduring substance? One has to put the book down and gasp. The pleasure becomes physical—like sun and wine and grapes and perfect serenity and intense vitality combined.

– Virginia Woolf, The Letters of Virginia Woolf: Volume Two, 1912-1922

For a long time, I went to bed early. Thus begins the most challenging novel I have read this year, which I have been deliberately avoiding for a very long time, daunted by its renowned intricacy and sumptuous sophistication. With those simple words – to which I cannot relate since going to bed early and sleeping through the night is not something I am known for – a vast array of themes are brought to life by virtue of the magnificent and oh, lord, intellectually demanding pen of Marcel Proust; and this is hardly a complaint: it is difficult to express my gratitude, for this is the most beautiful and stimulating prose I have read in years, composed of sentences whose length left me awestruck at first but, after a while, became a familiar and endearing quality, since they are replete with charm, profundity, unparalleled versatility and an unflagging will to find the meaning of our existence in a world where time will never call a truce.
Being fully aware of this novel's complexity, I thought about getting a great Spanish edition in order to avoid overexertion and provide my brain with a chance at survival; then I reconsidered and decided to indulge my desire for a real literary challenge, ergo, I purchased this English edition brilliantly crafted by Lydia Davis, filled with helpful footnotes that enlightened me about many matters and informed me at once of some clever puns that unfortunately I wasn't in the position to comprehend due to obvious language restrictions. Clearly, I took my time... my mind, on many occasions, was somewhat dizzy with confusion which emanated from a plethora of words of all sizes and colors, trudging to the brink of linguistic fatigue, floral hallucinations and architectonic mirages; thus ended up seeking refuge in sitcoms, two TV series and articles on the Internet that ranged from Kierkegaard to the recipe for strawberry shortcake. I can't deny reading this novel was a bumpy ride, but the benefits it brought me far outweighed any benign bump or educational jolt that ultimately led me to sheer beauty and utter knowledge; for the best things in life – as the best kind of people – are not easy to find.
I need to rest for a couple of weeks, but I look forward to the time when I tackle the second volume that is already beckoning me, patiently waiting on my bookshelf (I would like to read them all with my current mind-set), that unexplored and exciting land in my hands, hoping to find again the same delightful and amusing prose that captivated me for so long.

This first part of the novel was the one I struggled with the most since it was my first contact with Proust's unusual writing style, a succession of words conveying incredibly evocative visualizations that became tangible objects and landscapes by the end of an everlasting sentence; a songbook bursting with candor, with a lofty, delicious language portraying the most vivid metaphors that elevated any ordinary situation and ringed it with pure sublimity; melodies speaking of sleep, an elusive companion; of habit, a despot whose whip is somehow needed; of art, one of the many realms in which one can find the long-awaited and rather fugitive meaning of life; of country walks and the shimmering beauty of nature; a goodnight kiss that keeps being postponed and left me here, in this pearl-colored room where the perfect blend of an andante spianato and a polonaise ignites the walls, where silence is eloquent and words are essentially needed and successfully eluded, in a state of indefatigable contemplation of my almost corporeal melange of emotions and thoughts, intoxicating the air with the scent of contradiction, extrapolating fears and disappointments as I see my own illogical detachment towards a motherly kiss that hardly ever arrives to a boy's door but I receive every single night; for memories strike the Narrator's mind and inoculate an early regret into mine, as I picture the day I no longer get that kiss once taken for granted and there is only night, a faint gleaming of distant stars and a taciturn memory inside a cup of tea, encapsulated in a madeleine, waiting to be reawaken.

But, when nothing subsists of an old past, after the death of people, after the destruction of things, alone, frailer but more enduring, more immaterial, more persistent, more faithful, smell and taste still remain for a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, upon the ruins of all the rest, bearing without giving way, on their almost impalpable droplet, the immense edifice of memory. (51)


The second part of the novel speaks of a refined gentleman with an artistic disposition pulsating through his veins, a man already mentioned in 'Combray', Charles Swann and his overly complicated relationship with Odette de Crécy, a persistent source of intense yet minimal joy, stifling and omniscient misery; an unbearable, almost inhumane addiction from which vivid, ardent, passionate, irrational gusts of jealousy adulterating love's nature, palpitating with despair, throbbing with terror, spring up in the face of absolute indifference; a cold-hearted state in which once inhabited her unreserved love beaming with pretended grace and a dab of frivolous peculiarity, molded after the voluptuousness of a cattleya, a devoted chrysanthemum, an obscure book, an exquisite painting rationally observed; samples of affection that make him exhale unfaltering sighs desirous of reciprocity; tokens of a torrid love that have germinated in an ethereal-sounding violin accompanied by the gentle touch of a piano, both coexisting in a large salon where the mere fleeting essence of love has been sketched, crafted by a composer who will never be consigned to oblivion, where every pain inflicted by bare existence was mentally absorbed, physically assimilated, awakening inspiration and channeling those existential wounds – whose presence has been cursed with the countenance of eternity – placing them in the midst of a maelstrom of creativity; a whirlwind in front of my weary eyes, as I contemplate the melodious renaissance of the ‘little phrase’, like a phoenix blazing in the darkness, time and time again, triggering memories of passion and loss, obsession and self-pity, the absurdity of possession; wishing for love to recede, reveling in melancholy, harboring a hope for deliverance.

He apologized for his fear of new friendships, for what he had called, out of politeness, his fear of being unhappy. ‘You’re afraid of affection?’ (223)


Unravel every mystery, reader.

...helped me better understand what a contradiction it is to search in reality for memory's pictures, which would never have the charm that comes to them from memory itself and from not being perceived by the senses. The reality I had known no longer existed. (481)


Anesthetized beings seem to have lost the ability to see beauty in life, in people, as they continue to watch the days go by, one after another, impassively, resignedly, like a medieval prisoner gazing up at a small window that helps him realize the presence of the sun and the coldness of the moonlight – that perennial, pale glow that is whitening forlorn skyscrapers at this moment – while holding the keys to the dungeon where he has been dwelling for years but, unable to move due to some uncanny force, perhaps a comfortable fear, could never manage to open. Those days will never cease to pass, days teeming with books, music, windows, soothing memories and distant dreams, instilling life in despondent bodies; brimful of ideas, reflections, beauteous words belonging to this novel, the efflorescence of Proust’s brilliance and generosity, that furnished me with a sense of solace which helped me sleep through an entire night, after the last page was turned. Pages. Words. Words involving goodbyes when love becomes agony. Existence attached to impossibility. Childhood made of beloved places and reminiscences of diverse textures and flavors. An everlasting waiting that will remain so when facing unwavering reluctance. A purpose in life. A wretched alchemist grasping love and art, cutting through their shells in the hope of finding a droplet of essence: a hopeful distillation, a futile attempt at turning existence to meaning; a combination of both. Traces of beauty. The beauty around us. The scent of freshly brewed coffee. A pile of books. The contradiction of my emotions on paper. Staccato lines, disjointed thoughts, scribblings without any light. The sun seeping through the cracks in the blinds. Breakfast in bed. A flowering garden. The fragrance of jasmines. A motherly kiss. A nonexistent immutability which involves not only blissful times but, fortunately, ages of sorrow. Memories, madeleines; lazy Sundays in my hometown. A sonata echoing through the years. The art of appreciation in a single dewdrop, before everything withers away.


June 2, 16
* Also on my blog.
** Photo credit: Tea cup and madeleine / Patrick Forget via tourisme28.com
Madeleine de Scudery, "Le Pays de Tendre" / CC
Les Champs-Élysées / via Pinterest
Water Droplets / via Nevsepic
Profile Image for فؤاد.
1,056 reviews1,719 followers
September 23, 2017
پديدار شناسى
پديدار شناسى را مى توان توصيف دقيق تجربه هاى زندگى دانست. بسيارى از تجربه ها كه ما به سادگى از كنارشان رد مى شويم، در حقيقت تجربه هايى پيچيده هستند. از تجربه هاى عام مثل ديدن يك صندلى يا خواندن زمان ساعت عقربه دار، تا تجربه هاى خاص مثل لحظات فراموشى و گيجى پس از بيدار شدن يا دژاوو. از تجربيات شناختى، تا تجربيات احساسى. پديدارشناس مى خواهد بداند وقتى ما يك صندلى را مى بينيم، دقيقاً چه تجربه اى را از سر مى گذرانيم؟ وقتى دچار دلتنگى مى شويم دقيقاً چه احساساتى را تجربه مى كنيم؟

پديدارشناس كارى به علل فيزيكى و زيستى و فلسفى ديدن ندارد. نمی خواهد ساز و کار نور و شکست آن در عدسیۀ چشم را بررسی کند، نمی خواهد طرز انتقال پیام در سلول های عصبی به مغز و طرز کار مغز را بررسی کند، نمی خواهد ارتباط مغز با آگاهی را تحلیل کند، او اصولاً به هيچ علتى كار ندارد. وقتى كسى به عقربه هاى ساعت نگاه مى كند، بدون اين كه متوجه علل فيزيكى و زيستى و فلسفى شود، ساعت را مى خواند. پديدارشناس هم فقط مى خواهد همین تجربۀ خواندن ساعت را از نگاه خود فرد مطالعه كند، نه از نگاه يك محقق علت ياب.

به بيانى ديگر، علوم به دنبال توصيف پديده ها از ديدگاه "سوم شخص" هستند، به اين ترتيب كه خود را در خارج از جهان قرار مى دهند و به مطالعۀ ساز و كار جهان مى پردازند. اما پديدارشناسى به دنبال توصيف پديده ها از ديدگاه "اول شخص" است، يعنى نمى خواهد خود را خارج از جهان قرار دهد، بلكه مى خواهد خود را درون ذهن فرد قرار دهد و ببيند خود فرد در يك تجربه دقيقاً چه حسى دارد.

در جستجوى زمان از دست رفته
در جستجوى زمان از دست رفته به عبارتی، پديدارشناسى تجربه هاى خاص زندگى است. تجربه هايى كه در خط مستقيم وقايع زندگى نوسانى ايجاد مى كنند: عشق، نوستالژى، دژاوو، الهام و... تجربه هايى كه هويت فرد را شكل مى دهند: فراموشى و يادآورى (لحظه اى كه با خوردن شيرينى مادلن تمام كودكى راوى در برابر چشمش حاضر مى شود)، بيم و اميد (ماجراى بوسه هاى شب به خير مادر راوى، كه آن اندازه به آن ها محتاج است تا بتواند شب را بگذراند)، عشق و نفرت (سوان و اودت، و تمام لحظات آن ها) و... تجربه هایی گاه آشنا و گاه بی اندازه نامأنوس و همان قدر واقعی.

هر چند در اين ميان لحظاتى هم هستند كه گرچه با ريزبينى استادانه توصيف شده اند، اما چندان خاص نيستند، مانند توصيف گل هاى مراسم عيد كليسا و برگ های پاییزی جنگل و... اما آن چه "در جستجوى" را تبدیل به شاهکار مى كند، اين بخش ها نيست. بلكه آن تجربه هاى خاصى است كه آدم از سر گذرانده اما هيچ گاه راجع به آن ها فكر نكرده و در هيچ كتابى هم راجع به آن ها نخوانده، و وقتى توصيف دقيق شان را از زبان پروست مى خواند شگفتزده مى شود و با ذوقزدگی فکر می کند: من هم این حالت را داشته ام!

رمان (حداقل تا اينجا) كليت واحدى ندارد. پى در پى از اين موضوع به آن موضوع سرک مى كشد و شخصيت ها و مكان هاى مختلف را داخل صحنه مى كند و بیرون می برد (هر چند شاید بعدها دوباره سراغ شان بیاید). اما نبايد در اين رمان به دنبال كليت بود. بايد كليت را فراموش كرد. اين رمان رمان جزئى نگرى است. زندگى با تمام آشفتگى هايى كه در لحظۀ حاضر وجود دارد.

آثار هنرى
يكى از بخش هاى مهم رمان نقدها و تحليل هايى است كه گه گاه از آثار هنرى مى كند. بعضى از اين آثار هنرى (مانند نقاشى فضائل و رذائل، و سونات ونتوى) گاه مرتب در رمان حضور پيدا مى كنند و نقشى مهم در توصيف ذهنيت هاى اشخاص دارند. اما به غير از اين ها رمان پر است از ارجاعات هنرى، مثلاً براى توصيف حالت يكى از شخصيت ها او را به فلان مجسمه تشبيه مى كند، يا گفتگوى راوى و دوستانش راجع به نثر فلان نويسنده. بعضى از اين آثار را با جستجوی اينترنتى مى توان يافت، و تماشايشان به هر چه لذت بخش تر شدن و غنى تر شدن تجربۀ خوانش اين رمان كمك مى كند.
Profile Image for Kenny.
494 reviews862 followers
August 7, 2022
Always try to keep a patch of sky above your life.
Swann's Way ~~ Marcel Proust

It has been said, "In Search of Lost Time is the most famous and least read French novel." How unfortunate since it is a beautiful read, & Proust has amazing insights into the human condition. As with the greatest works of Joyce, Woolf, Dickens, Twain, Chekhov and Dostoevsky, Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time is a memoir disguised as a novel. And what a novel it is. It is a monumental achievement.

" The sad thing is that people have to be very ill or have broken a leg in order to have the opportunity to read it ,” said Doctor Robert Proust, the author’s brother.

I first wanted to read Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time since my early teens. Truman Capote wrote of Proust's magnus opus in glowing terms. He was, himself, working on an American homage to Proust, Answered Prayers. What survives of Answered Prayers, sadly, is nowhere near as brilliant as In Search of Lost Time.

I actually tried reading Proust around age 14, and I gave up pretty quickly, on one of those long sentences Proust is famous for. Through the years the goal of reading this lingered in my mind. Tonight I finished the first volume.

The first volume of In Search of Lost Time is Swann's Way.


Swann's Way begins with one of the most famous incidents in all of literature ~~ the taste of a Madeleine and tea that reawakens the elusive childhood memories of the narrator, Marcel. The taste of a small cake conjures up the village of his childhood holidays. " No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin .”

The opening pages deal with young Marcel's dreaming, the power of dreams to transport us to different times and places, and how magical this all seems.

Soon he recalls memories of Charles Swann, a wealthy and fashionable neighbor, and Swann's marriage to Odette de Crécy, a beautiful, manipulative woman considered to be far beneath him in social standing.

Swann’s obsessive, jealous love for Odette, a cocotte who was kept by her lovers, illustrates Proust’s belief that everyone is irrevocably alone; that there is no real communication between human beings. The pattern is repeated in the narrator’s love for Gilberte, the daughter of Swann and Odette.


I've barely scratched the surface here. We learn of young Marcel's parents, his great aunts, his playmates, love of music, literature and theatre. He writes of the moods Chopin, Wagner, Beethoven and Franc elicit in the Salons of the wealthy. He suffers insomnia when denied his nightly kiss from his mother and blames Swann for this. Swann is seen as someone who separates Marcel from motherly love.

Much of Swann In Love is concerned with the revelation of secrets to Marcel, the boy. He discovers his uncle’s affair with an actress ~~ this leads to a rift between his uncle and the family, Swann’s daughter, Mlle. Vinteuil’s lesbianism, seeing Madame Guermantes, and finally seeing the town of Martinville, for so long only known as another steeple in the distance.

Proust is a writer for the patient reader. He is able to extract meaning from scenes and situations that other writers would pass over as unimportant, and the reader is richly rewarded in return.


And what did I learn from Proust in my first encounter? He reminds me that love is painful, torturous, brutal, cruel, nightmarish, and bleak. Love drives us to do crazy, out-of-character things ~~ things we know are crazy ~~ and years later will still be embarrassed of ~~ and we do it them neurotic compulsion. And all in the mistaken belief that we know what will be.

Whether it’s romantic or familial, love is something we all crave, and when denied us, our world comes crashing down. Look at little Marcel ~~ he believes a kiss before bed to be a matter of life and death, & when denied him, the anxious child's world comes crashing down around him.

Profile Image for Gaurav.
148 reviews1,137 followers
January 22, 2023
Those consumed by the wasting torments of merciless love/ Haunt the sequestered alleys and myrtle groves that give them
- Virgil

At first, you avoid it as if nothing is happening- the prose is so dense that you feel anxious that initial pages are just about the narrator’s issues with sleeping- For a long time, I went to bed early. Sometimes, my candle scarcely out, my eyes would close so quickly that I did not have time to say to myself: ‘I’m falling asleep.’ But then as you brave through the first few pages, you start liking it and by the time you end up reading the book, you feel tempted to have more of it. That’s Proust for you. It is like a strange pool which initially you are not sure about, but after you jump into it and dive deep into the recess of your memory and consciousness, the bliss you get is second to none and you want to be there but then reality struck and pull you up all the way to the banality of everyday affairs. There are obvious challenges of reading Proust as his prose is quite dense and wrapped up in intricacies of love, jealousy, loss, grief, sexuality, childhood, and wiles of memory, the ways in which these all lead to a passionate quest to know, which is like some old wine which has to be drunk slowly to enjoy as much as it could have been. When I was in the nascent phase of developing the hobby to read, I could not understand why some books have to be read multiple times but after reading The Way by Swann’s, it came upon me that this is one of those books which may require more than one attempts. Proust’s prose is like some painting, with the architecture and natural landscape in and around Combray and the references to water lilies and flowered fields, it feels as if it is a product of some other form of art- painting, and we know about Proust’s fascination about Clonet. Here is an exhibition so condensed, so distilled, and in some ways so abstract, that unless you arrive properly prepared, you might leave bewildered. And however compressed and difficult this exhibition is, it gradually creates an effect.

With Swann’s Way, one of the greatest literary achievements- In Search of Lost Time- begins with the narrator’s efforts to recapture and understand his past, efforts set in motion by the taste of a madeleine soaked in tea. The narrator's contemplations about his very own life lead him ineluctably to the past of Charles Swann, a family companion the narrator knew as a kid. By recalling and inventively occupying Swann's relationship with the teased Odette, the narrator picks up knowledge about his life and the idea of affection itself. The narrator's analytical subtlety in clarifying what he feels and considers while yearning for his mom's goodnight kiss sets us up for the novel's accentuation on investigating blended feelings and thoughts. The anguish, Marcel encounters because of this apparently straightforward occasion—he is sent to bed without a kiss from his mom—is a sort of prelude to the successive frustrations and inversions of human love that structure such a large amount of the novel's substance. The long sentences of Proust seem to contain a whole, complex thought but in a condensed form. And those long and complex sentences (which may look tiring initially) of Proust are flowing like a river, which contains so much beneath the muddy layer and beyond which only a few could see, full of human emotions intertwined and pounding on the door of life through wounds of existence but which has artistic beauty in it; the beauty you may feel when you see someone playing a musical instrument whose every note expresses the pain of the musician however, you enjoy it overwhelmingly as it strikes a chord with your heart and its deep recesses.

And once the novelist has put us in that state, in which, as in all purely mental states, every emotion is multiplied tenfold, in which his book will disturb us a might a dream but a dream more lucid than those we have while sleeping and one whose memory will last longer, then see how, for the space of an hour, he sets loose in us all possible happiness and all possible unhappiness, just a few of which we would spend years of our lives coming to know and the most intense of which would be never be revealed to us because the slowness with which they occur prevents us from perceiving them; (thus our heart changes, in life, and it is the worst pain; but we know it only through reading, through our imagination: in reality, it changes, as certain phenomena of nature occur, slowly enough so that, even if we are able to observe successively each of its different states, we are still spared the actual sensation of change).

The evocation of childhood of the narrator, who was utterly shy and sensitive though highly observant for his age, was so eloquently described in the book. The narrator had been a great student of art and nature since his early days and which perhaps is the reason for his sensitivity. . Proust uncovers human instincts, life designs, the value of authenticity, the purpose behind craftsmanship/ his art, and the role of involuntary memory in his work. He demonstrates to us the enchantment of metaphor, the unbound states of sentences, the delight of full, unhurried portrayal, and how a writer's perspicacity can incite epiphany in readers. He outlines in treacherous detail and crowns with an engaging and heart-wrenching picture of one Aunt Léonie, an old and eccentric invalid who acknowledges all of the upsides of wiped-out prosperity with few of the horrible after effects. All this is merely preparation for the novel’s main action investigating a malady of a different kind, which comes into view in the second part of the novel, a self-contained novelette titled “Swann in Love.”

The story of Swann and his relationship with Odette acts as a prelude to the narrator’s relationship with Gillbertte. The complicated relationship of Charles Swann and Odette portrays the complexity of human emotions which, as we peel off layer by layer, throw us into a deep soup of intense love, underlined with ardent jealousy, which as we further peel off transforms the affectionate emotion to great anguish about the very nature of human existence. The pain we feel as we traverse this turmoil seems to scrape our own wounds which are situated deep in the recesses of our memory but brought to life by this outstanding amalgamation of human emotions. The contrast, between the beauties of the day of the narrator’s childhood and the banality of his present, seems to be somehow our own reflection.

We have our own ways of visualizing the agonizing love affair and the narrator’s youthful infatuation with Swann’s daughter Gilberte. The power of love for an elusive object, the perversity with which one’s passion is intensified by the danger of one’s beloved gives birth to jealousy. And love and jealousy may not exist independently of each other, they are wrapped around each other so intricately as if they are expressions of one single emotion.

For what we believe to be our love or jealousy, is not one identical and continuous passion, indivisible. They are composed of an infinity of successive loves, of different jealousies which are ephemeral but by their uninterrupted multitude give the impression of continuity, the illusion of unity.

The story is told in first person, though, is freely abandoned from time to time in favor of what seems to be an omniscient narrator, as when in Combray, we witness conversations between his Aunt Leonie and the servant Francoise which the boy could not have heard; and most remarkably during the whole of ‘A love of Swann’s. The book is filled with characters closely resembling those of Proust’s own life, yet this novel is not autobiography wearing a thin disguise of fiction but, rather the opposite- fiction in the guise of autobiography. The style of Proust is essentially natural and unaffected, free from preciosity, archaism, and self-conscious elegance, yet at the same time, he used a wealth of metaphorical imagery, layer upon layer of comparisons, and had a tendency to fill a sentence to its utmost capacity. The prose may be demanding and exhausting but is worth the effort and blissful, it is one of the trips which you take through unknown wards but as you move forward, this mystery perhaps become the most enticing part about the journey, and as soon as you finish the trip you take a deep breath and you wonder if you really did it. And you went to deep solitude after it where you just want to enjoy its reminiscences out of memory, which was just sown during this ultimate sojourn.

On the point of knocking the shutters, he felt a pang of shame thinking that Odette was going to know he had been suspicious, that he had come back, that he had posted himself in the street. She had often told him what a horror she had of jealous men, of lovers who spied. What he was about to do was very uncouth, and from now on she would detest him, whereas now, for the moment, so long as he had not knocked, perhaps, even while deceiving him, she loved him. How often we sacrifice the fulfillment of a possible happiness to our impatience for an immediate pleasure!

The Way by Swann’s is a great profusion of human emotions which are expressed through explorations of memory, having a sheath of art around them but each of their expressions and manifestations is about the great questions of existence. We see the outstanding juggling of recesses of memory to form an addictive creation, around emotions, carefully crafted through wisely chosen words, which one can only marvel at, and which may be said as the epitome of literature. And how amazing is to think that we may express our despair, our turmoil, our anguish, and the angst we feel about life (in fact by expressing ourselves through art we may actually get rid of that anguish which keeps on tormenting our souls and which perhaps this way great pieces of art have been produced and probably will continue to be produced), about our existence through the subtle arrangement of words, the bliss conjured up from it is like watching green leaves in the morning after overnight pouring of rain wherein every drop of water, falling from the tip of a leaf, seems to contribute in the orchestra onset by songs of birds and rivers; and the emotions, places, people craved out of those words become immortal through a cycle of time as we know it. But then how many have been able to do it the way Proust has done? Probably it requires more than just that- the ability to see beauty in mundane events (seemingly though) put them apart from the rest. And perhaps that’s why we marvel at the creations of those artists. And therefore we may profoundly say that Proust is the artist who escapes the tyranny of time through art.

You are only a formless stream of water running down whatever slope it finds, a fish without a memory, without a thought in its head, living in its aquarium, mistaking the glass for water and bumping against it a hundred times a day

*edited on 22.4.19
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,043 followers
September 12, 2020
Proust is probably the author I most pretend to love more than I do. In certain company to admit preferring dozens of other authors can feel like acknowledging some strain of mediocrity in one's intellect and critical faculties. Joyce is the other one. Though I don't often make any pretence of loving Joyce, except his story The Dead and parts of Ulysses. Proust and Joyce - the two sacred cows of 20th century literature. That said, Proust had a huge influence on two of my favourite writers - Woolf and Nabokov - so I've never questioned his genius even if I couldn't always connect with it. So rereading Proust twenty years after my first experience of him felt, to some degree, as though I was putting my intellect to a test.

Pretty quickly I remembered the problems I had with him. Firstly the way he structures sentences, his dissonant syntax. For someone who loves music so much it's odd how eccentric his relationship with rhythm is. As happened the first time I read him I found myself losing the thread half way through one of his clunky estranging labyrinthine sentences. Proust takes pleasure in snatching one thread from you mid-sentence and handing you another one. Then you find you're holding both and sometimes they've been beautifully embroidered together, sometimes they still seem raggedly disparate. And he forces you to read more slowly than you're accustomed to. This, too, can be tiresome until he finally succeeds in subverting your rhythms to his more laborious discordant cadences. I also quickly learned to be wary of anything in parentheses. In essence I don't much like the way he writes, his style. And then of all the great writers Proust can be more boring than most. I suppose Woolf eventually got a bit boring in The Years and Between the Acts. Tolstoy was boring at the end of War and Peace. But Proust is often boring in the midst of his brilliance. With Proust you can get one of the best pages in the history of literature followed a few pages later by what I could only feel was purple prosed whimsy.

But then, one also has to acknowledge the human mind often works how Proust writes it. He captures some essence of the mind's mechanics in any given moment. Proust perhaps has more to say about the workings of consciousness, the timelessness of the human mind, than any other writer. No one has ever anatomised the swarm of sensibility active in each passing moment like him. He makes us aware of how time happens on many different levels. And how mutable and ongoing is all experience. There are no full stops in the human mind. There is no final draft.

And he also, through Swann, makes us realise how much of our time we waste on misguided pursuits.

Swann is a brilliant depiction of the disparity between inner man and social persona. Something Woolf tried less successfully in Mrs Dalloway. (No surprise she read Proust just before writing Mrs Dalloway.) He forces us to ask questions about authenticity, the notion of a true self. All Swann's diligently earned accomplishments to represent himself to the world as erudite, cultured, eloquent and dignified are torn to shreds by his slavish and rather pathetic obsession with the unworthy Odette. The sense of self he had constructed is revealed as a sham. There's a great quote by Hilary Mantel about the authenticity of self in her book about her experience of surgery. "Illness strips you back to an authentic self, but not one you need to meet. Too much is claimed for authenticity. Painfully we learn to live in the world, and to be false. Then all our defences are knocked down in one sweep. In sickness we can't avoid knowing about our body and what it does, its animal aspect, its demands. We see things that never should be seen; our inside is outside, the body's sewer pipes and vaults exposed to view, as if in a woodcut of our own martyrdom." Odette is Swann's sickness.

The last few pages made me laugh where Proust as an old man is horrified by the vulgarity of the fashions now prevalent compared to the elegance of the aesthetic he remembers as a young man. If he thought that was bad - 1920 - heaven only knows what level of disgust he'd reach at how we choose to clothe ourselves nowadays. It occurred to me then that for more than a century now you could argue fashion gets more garish and vulgar with every new decade. It's perhaps one of the reasons historical fiction/cinema is so popular - people were a lot more beautiful to look at in the past. How we dress is an example of how, in the evolution of the species, practicality has almost completely eclipsed poetry as the touchstone.

I'm tempted to give this 4 stars because that would reflect my level of enjoyment but it's miles better than any other book I've given four stars to so it has to be five, despite the problems I encountered.
Profile Image for Renato.
36 reviews142 followers
January 28, 2016
Reading a book for the first time is a great, exciting experience that packs a myriad of emotions and sensations: you’re happy because of the joy of starting another journey, anxious because of your expectations, curious because of the reviews you've read or things you’ve heard about the story… it’s something similar to going out on a first date, where everything is novelty and - if the book (the person) proves to be interesting indeed - you want to find out more and more. Once the initial excitement is over and the euphoria settles down, once you know the story and you’re serious about your - and their - intentions, it’s time to find out whether you can see yourself marrying that person, less enchanted by what have come so far than by the valuable promises of what’s yet to come. Do you want to commit (and not commitment in the sense of obligations or compromising, but as an alignment of expectations, convergence of desires and companionship)? Yes? Then you can re-read the book: you know the story, you know the characters, you know what it has given you so far, but you feel there’s more to absorb, to learn. That was my feeling when I decided to re-read Swann's Way: I wanted to extend my experience with it, I needed to go through it all again.

Meeting the characters for (a second) first time made it possible for me to observe certain traits in them that, perhaps by not being sure of which of those characters would become important in the narrative - like when you meet someone and you not always can tell if they’re gonna be in your life for more than that brief moment, so you don’t pay them the deserved attention -, I didn’t register in my mind or that I never truly noticed and now, after knowing and caring for them, re-reading their first words and the first time they were described had that same sensation you feel when opening a photo album from long ago and looking at the old pictures, where you see how younger your friends were, how they were thinner and had a different haircut.

Du côté de chez Swann was first released in 1913, with publications costs paid by Proust after it had been turned down by leading editors who had been offered the manuscript in longhand.

Upon the release of this first volume of the Recherche, Marcel Proust was commanded for his wonderful effort - I should say accomplishment, really - but his work was questioned for having no structure at all. Another positive aspect that reading Swann's Way for a second time provided me - and that brought me great satisfaction - was to note how there are no loose ends in Proust’s narrative and how it all comes together - but only eventually and once you read it completely. Sections that apparently I didn’t make much sense of in the first time, or just imagined were there because of the writer’s recognized taste for digressions and lengthy inner monologues now appear clear to me as being essential to the work, as being active and important parts of his story and giving me a sense of how well planned - even from the conception - and greatly executed everything was. It’s all connected and bound together, but I do agree it’s merely perceptible at first.

The general themes of the book are all mentioned in the first part (Combray, pt. 1 or Overture, in some editions), in those glorious opening pages about the confusions one might feel between sleeping, dreaming, and being awake. The section was masterfully inserted in the beginning of the book, as Proust’s calling card, for it works perfectly as a introduction to the marvelous, unknown world, outside of time, that we’re about to enter. Besides the innumerable meanings it has to the continuation of the story, which was only accessible to me on this re-read, what I most appreciated about those first pages (and I can remember the same sensation back when I first read them, although the feeling was then wrapped by another, even a stronger one, that of the complexity it was for me to read, to ‘decipher’ his long sentences and the meanings of his prose), was how that confusion of falling asleep is something simple, that everyone can relate to, that everyone has felt at least a couple of times, and yet it was so skillfully written that he was able to isolate, to perfectly put into words such an ethereal, volatile moment, as if he gave a proper form to something that’s been known and felt, but never seen - like he painted the wind.

In addition to being such a beautiful overture and a perfect writing lesson, that passage also stands strongly as a decisive metaphor for everything that’s yet to come: as the drowsy narrator falls asleep and wakes up, getting lost in between and trying to find himself, to locate his whereabouts, completely adrift in time and space, so he will remain that way throughout most of the narrative of his life: trying to find himself, to know who and what he is, resorting to numbing philosophical observations and deep self-reflections on various subjects and his relations. All the confusion of that seemingly regular moment also serves as a parallel to the work itself: what is À la recherche du temps perdu: an autobiography, a romance, a novel? And does it have to be - or become - one or any of those? Is it Proust speaking directly to me - and if not, who is this person saying “I”? With all of this uncertainty taking place at the beginning, one might feel that the writer gathered all possible puzzles and doubts in the palm of his two hands and threw them in the air, as if he was trying to pick them up in whatever order it was in which they landed on the floor; what is not clear just yet is that all of these riddles are interconnected - like a spider web is - and that instead of making a mess, he only enlarged the scope so the connecting lines would become discernible and placed it all precisely as he needed things to be.

During one of the nights where the narrator reminisced about his past in bed, trying to remember it voluntarily, one outstanding scene came to him: the goodnight kiss drama that would forever scar his life and alter his identity. What Proust does in that renowned episode - that speaks wonders about character presentation - is to introduce us to the narrator’s personality, to his nervous ways and delicate, susceptible nature. In that moment, we witness an important discovery he makes about himself: he becomes aware that he can’t resist or control his nervous impulses, that he is oversensitive - and the fact that his parents abdicated their authority only came as confirmation to his diagnosis. This originated in him the paralyzing fear that he would never have any will or strength to achieve whatever he needed to or planned in his life. What seems to be nothing more than a simple moment where a spoiled child, a brat, disobeys and challenges his parents is indeed the beginning of a long lasting disorder that will be pivotal to the comprehension of the path the narrator walks in life up to the last moments of Time Regained.

For obvious reasons, this piece was one he could easily remember, but the remaining of his past experiences didn’t come to him as naturally. Enter then the celebrated madeleine episode. The sumptuous moment where the taste of a madeleine dipped in tea rekindles inside of him all the details from a lost time, as if he was able to relive, to grasp them, is probably the part for which Proust and the Recherche are most known and recognized because of the involuntary memory incident; but it is, in my opinion, only a detail (a pretty one, that changes everything in the painting, no doubt), but still only a drop in the vast ocean he opens before us, inviting us to sail away - not that the episode isn’t, once again, wonderfully written: it receives life while being read, it comes alive out of the book, just like the flowers, the good folk of the village, the parish church, and the whole of Combray came out of his cup of tea. But there is still so much to be explored, to be appreciated and that equally deserves recognition: this is one in a series of perfect, brilliant moments in the first of seven volumes of a work’s life. It is not the apex, the climax, although it brings the narrator - and to his readers - such a sense of happiness; but to single out this passage, without what’s to come, is to miss the point of Proust’s entire work, as the narrator tells us, quietly between parenthesis, that ”[he] did not know yet and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made [him] so happy”. Just like him, we must also wait to understand what this passage really meant in his life.

With all of his remembrances at hand thanks to that singular taste of madeleine dipped in tea, the narrator then unveils the enchanting, alluring times he spent with his family in the small town of Combray. This section (Combray, pt. 2) is so ravishing - and carries such a lovely, warm feeling, perhaps because of the importance that we attribute to those times, because we know the impact it had on us, so it’s completely relatable - that even though, of course, my childhood memories does not correspond to those remembered and told, I could still feel the magical aura and dive into the book as if I was his best friend visiting at Easter-time, listening to aunt Léonie’s talking with Françoise and trying to reassure her of her ultimate recovery; reading with him in the garden; and ultimately glimpsing his ambitions of becoming a writer. My favorite part of my vacation was, however, walking with him both on the Méséglise and the Guermantes ways - these two paths, these two sides, so separated from each other that they even require different doors to be accessed - and beginning to understand the implications they would later have in the narrator’s fate.

The next chapter, Un Amour de Swann is an extensive - and intensive -, comprehensive analysis of love and all of the feelings that come with it (or derive from it, or because of it). Proust analyses every aspect of this happy, glowing feeling that can turn into a malady, dissecting everything, putting every action under many different lights and observing them from different perspectives from the very beginning, the reasons love appeared, to how it grew, to how it went sour and faded away. It could easily and rightly be called Une étude de l’amour instead.

This narrative takes place years before the narrator was even born, and it shows us the poignant relationship between Charles Swann and Odette de Crécy - a relationship that will be paralleled by the narrator in years to come (mostly everything on Swann's Way is set for important future developments). I appreciate how realistic the approach for this love story was: like it’s happened time and again in many relationships, it begins with both parties involved going besides themselves to please each other, doing things they normally wouldn’t, in order to enchant the other, not realizing that they wouldn’t be able to act that way forever, to keep those promises and live up to that established pattern, to what has come to be the expected. It seems a common behavior to paint oneself in better colors, to be nicer, to be arranged in better lights while in the seduction phase and then, once the work appears to be done, once the goal has been achieved, the lights are dimmed, the cosmetics are off and enters the actor, the true person behind the character; while perhaps this actor without the personage wouldn’t be as charming and therefore not enough for the enchanting act, after love has happened, it seems he's sufficient to keep it going. The effort one made in order to seduce switches sides and becomes the effort the other has to make in order to break-up.], which seems to be equally as challenging, if not more.

After Odette landed Swann and he fell for her, she turns cold and distant, leaving him jealous and wary. His suspicions become so uncontrollable and consumes every little detail, like an animal who’s been hungry for days and, once being fed, eats as much as it can - less as a compensation for its starvation than to store food for not knowing when it would be able to eat again. Swann’s ultimate desire is to possess Odette. Possession not only physical but also psychological, of the mind, of the spirit and soul - the obsessed lover wants to be inside of Odette’s body, to know every single person she knew, talked to or simply met, from past and present times. He needs to know her every thought, as if it was possible to detach her scalp and pick up her brain like a woolen ball that, once disentangled, would become a long thread of readable sentences containing all of her opinions and ideas. Swann seems so caught up in Odette’s spell that freeing himself looks more and more as something impossible.

After shifting back years to the future (still in the past though, don’t lose yourself!), comes chapter 3, the last one: Place-Names: The Name. In this section, like in the previous ones, the narrator takes us on a journey through time, beginning with his infatuation for Gilberte (Swann’s daughter) and their play dates on Champs-Élysées, passing through another moment that displays his poor health and ending while visiting again the Bois de Bologne many years after he went there daily to cross paths with her mother, only this time he is disappointed and melancholic about the passing of time (not as much as another jump in time will make him feel though - but I’m getting too ahead in the narrative, as that only happens in the last volume) and the transformations he sees in the Bois and in the women’s dresses, their hats and even in the cars. What's interesting about this closing chapter is that it gives us, concomitantly, a taste of the past - as the book title suggests, the narrator seems to be really walking on Swann’s way, or wearing his shoes, for a clearer metaphor, as we can see glimpses of the obsessive, sick love Swann felt for Odette appearing on the young boy’s nervous nature, on his reflections about this feeling that are already borderline crazy - and also of the future, of what’s to become of him and his visions of love, of how he’ll evolve and deal with it all throughout his life.

Although it may seem we have nothing in common with a seemingly spoiled, nervous child, who lived and grew up in Paris more than a century ago, who breathed art and was constantly surrounded by paintings and classical music (and that’s the point where my life and his diverges the most, as I was not brought up with a strong art background and didn’t have a Swann to walk on his way), still his maxims and reflections are so universal and relatable - and one of the things that makes this possible is the fact that this almost anonymous narrator, of whom we have no physical descriptions and that expresses his thoughts by saying “I” to the point of when you read them out loud they become your own opinions, acting almost as a mirror to ourselves -, are so relevant and adaptable to our simple, ordinary, every day situations, that reading him is like reading myself. Proust’s writing produces recognition.

I thought this would be a much slower read; I planned to let the book dictate its own pace and take as much time as needed to get through this second read, for I had a feeling this was how it would go. However, the fluidity of the text - don’t laugh at me!, that does come once you get used to his style - and the familiarity with the themes, characters and places ended up speeding things up, even though this time around I made a point of re-reading more than once entirely my favorite passages and highlighting all of my favorite quotes. For having already read these 3,000 pages of the Recherche once - and precisely because of this intimidating length - the only promise I made was to re-read Swann's Way, although I did feel the lingering desire to re-read everything. But I imagined that I would be better equipped in making that decision after reading the first volume. And now I know: I can’t stop, I'll proceed with a full re-read.

There’s a film adaptation of Un Amour de Swann from 1984, directed by Volker Schlöndorff and starring Jeremy Irons and Alain Delon. Despite its name, it does borrow scenes, characters and episodes from the other volumes, not confiding itself strictly to chapter 2 of this book, so be advised of spoilers. As it frequently happens when books are adapted into films, especially ones we know so well, it wasn’t quite what I expected and had in mind - perhaps I’m too influenced by the narrator in finding out things don’t live up to my expectations and the real never quite compare to the imagined. M. Swann I had in mind suffered, struggled more than he did in the film, I missed the raw sentiment I felt while reading the narrative and, of course, many of his analysis and favorite quotes weren’t included.

Rating: I’m beyond ecstatic that even though Proust was immoderate with his money, he still had some funds to pay for the publication of this volume - that was at first overlooked by publishers but that later became the first part, the seed of many wonderful things yet to grow and delight readers all around the world in the subsequent volumes of this classic masterpiece of literature. For a magnificent first volume that I would - let’s be honest, that I will! - read yet one more time: 5 stars.


For my re-reading experience of the entire À la recherche du temps perdu:

Vol 1. Swann's Way: ★★★★★ review
Vol 2. In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower: ★★★★★ review
Vol 3. The Guermantes Way: review
Vol 4. Sodom and Gomorrah: review
Vol 5. La Prisonnière (The Captive): review
Vol 6. Albertine disparue (The Fugivite): review
Vol 7. Time Regained: review
Profile Image for Jason.
137 reviews2,296 followers
February 18, 2013
Memory is a slippery little sucker. It constitutes an elusive, transient cache of data, the reliability of which decreases in reverse proportion to the length of time it has been stored. It can even be a blatant liar! How often have we found ourselves convinced of the details a particular memory only to have those details called into question by some testimony or other of which we have been made newly aware? It is almost frightening how quickly and naturally the bytes of our mind can be removed and supplanted by ones more convenient, ones designed to soothe our psyche, thereby allowing us to live at peace with ourselves.

Marcel Proust was not a psychologist, but he may as well have been, what with his ridiculous understanding (the kids are using the word “ridiculous” to mean like, way amazing, these days) of the fluidity of memory, and more specifically, of involuntary memory, which may or may not be any more reliable than that which is conjured consciously. Though we believe a person or a place from our past remains stationary in our idea of them while its true-life counterpart adapts and progresses, Proust shows us how memory can have a life of its own, as well. And yet when his narrator bites into that famous piece of sponge cake and transports us back to the days of his French childhood, we go willingly, not hesitating to question the accuracy or the validity of his musings. Because it doesn’t matter. When in Proust’s world, it is the remarks on human nature and memory and social customs and relationships and whatever else comes with that trip that makes it so worthwhile.

The best part of Swann’s Way, by far, is the intricate portrayal, from beginning to end (), of the relationship between Swann and Odette. Their relationship is doomed from the start, being based on superficialities at its onset and becoming increasingly toxic as it progresses, yet by no means does its toxicity ever invalidate the love Swann has for Odette. That part of it is wholeheartedly genuine. For anyone who has ever been in such a relationship, it is kind of wild how realistically it is depicted. For anyone who has ever witnessed objectively a friend in such a relationship, it is kind of wild how recognizable the signs are of its toxicity, and how it seems to tap us on the shoulder, reminding us of the ease with which we must at the time have said, “I wonder why he doesn’t just leave her and move on with his life?”

This book really blew me away. For all the difficulties I anticipated reading Marcel Proust, I have to admit how pleased I was by its readability. I think what I enjoyed most, besides its perfectly constructed sentences, was that if I had been able to track the number of times I would encounter a passage that so exquisitely peels away the complicated layers of the human condition, exposing its unadulterated innards, I...well, I suppose I’d have reached a pretty high number. Having embarked on In Search of Lost Time in full ignorance, I have no idea what to expect next, but part of me wonders if “Swann in Love” isn’t meant to foreshadow the budding of a similar relationship between the narrator and Gilberte. I suppose we’ll find out.

          Main Review Page for In Search of Lost Time
Profile Image for Jessica.
593 reviews3,382 followers
January 21, 2008

Okay, well, I really screwed up my schedule this weekend, so now it's the latening am and nothing's happening for me in the sleep department. Honestly I can't think of a more appropriate time to review this book, which begins with insomnia.

This was great. It really was. Granted, it's not for everyone, but nor is it the rarified hothouse orchid cultured specifically and exclusively for an elite audience of fancy-pants dandies with endless supplies of Ritalin and time. This book is fascinating and accessible, and, as noted below, quite risqué. I adored it, though I'm a little worried about singing its praises too loudly, since my low expectations might've played a role in my love for it.

There are two main parts to this book. The first half is the narrator's first-person reminiscences of being a sensitive little rich boy in the French countryside (and, at the end, in Paris). This portion contained probably the most incredible writing on the subject of memory and nostalgia that I have ever read in my life.

When I was a kid myself, I, like the boy in this book, read a lot. This had the result that somewhere around first through third grade, I had an unending stream of first-person narrative running through my head at all times, describing all my actions and thoughts in the past tense, just as they happened: e.g., "I stalked out of the classroom and towards the playground's jungle gym, thinking furiously of Lindsay Kagawa and her treachery in turning the Girls Are Great club against me." During that period I often stopped in the middle of what I was doing to contemplate the completely unfeasible logistics of actually writing down the endless novel unfolding in my head in real time. Not only could I never remember all the mundane details of my life and thoughts, but this book, were it somehow to be written, would be impossibly long!

What I thought while reading Swann's Way is that Marcel Proust probably had a similar experience of a novel in his head, only he was a far more interesting child than I was and, much more importantly, he actually did the impossible and managed to remember all this stuff, and then, somehow, to write it all down. Proust's descriptions of the way he experienced and thought of the world as a boy are astonishing. He is not writing from a child's perspective, but from that of an adult remembering his childhood in spectacular detail, and the effect is incredible. I don't know much about brain science, really, but the vague rumors I've heard on the street on how they're now saying memory works could not be more clearly or gorgeously illustrated than they are in this book.

If you're not fascinated by the processes of memory, sensation, aesthetics, identity, social relationships, and desire, this book will bore you out of your skull, unless you're really interested in fancy Belle Epoque French people, in which case, my friend, you are in for a real treat. The second part of the book recounts a love affair between the little boy's adult neighbor, M. Swann, and the woman of dubious reputation with whom Swann becomes infatuated. Maybe there is nothing especially new here -- it's almost 100 years old, what do you want? -- but I place this novel in an elite class with Anne Carson's Eros the Bittersweet for its absolutely excruciating depiction of desire and love. If you're not madly in love right now and are feeling any regrets about that, reading this book will clear that right up, and you'll feel the relief of a clean bill of health after testing for a particularly gruesome disease. This "Swann in Love" portion of the book also is very immersive, in the sense I think Natalie meant in her comment below, in that if you've never had any idea what it might be like to wear a monocle and have a bazillion francs and footmen and a carriage with horses that takes you around to fashionable Parisian parties where you hang out with princesses and a bunch of other rich French guys also wearing monocles, this book will get you so much closer to that experience than you are likely ever to get, even if you do happen to be insanely wealthy and live in Paris, because as Proust observes -- I won't quote him here, ya gotta read it yourself -- the time described in this book is lost, and it is impossible now to return to it.

This book did strange things to me, actually. It made me crave what I didn't know I had the capacity to want; for example, it made me yearn to be outrageously wealthy, preferably in France. I've realized I have all these latent francophilic tendencies I've never acknowledged to myself, and now all I really want in the world is to go to Paris and stay in an obscenely fancy hotel for a few years and have fabulous clothes and all my every whim catered to immédiatement. And unlimited access to money. And suitors. And it would be good if it could be the nineteenth century, and I were super hot-looking. And helpful also if I could actually speak some French.... Anyway, a visit to the Frick, or the Met, or wherever I can look at some paintings of these ladies who never interested me so much until I heard what they were really up to, is definitely in order. Also, I bizarrely enough happened to find myself briefly at Les Halles, Anthony Bourdain's brasserie on Park Avenue, on Friday night, which is definitely not my usual habitat, and the influence of this book was such that I fell into a swoon there while imagining an alternate life for myself in which I spent all my time in Paris, perambulating along the Champs-Elysées with violets attached to my bosom, with everything about me and around me extraordinarily beautiful and slow and outrageously expensive....

But anyway, well, I'd say I'm digressing, but in discussing this particular book I suppose there is no such animal. Were parts of this slow? Parts of this book were reminiscent of the principles of Buddhist mindfulness practice, which is to say, they could be pretty awesome but not necessarily lively, and at times a thoroughly painful bitch to slog through. Yes, I cannot tell a lie: there were times I'd realize I'd been stuck on the same paragraph for twenty minutes while my mind wandered off to something totally unrelated, and sometimes I'd have to set the thing down and come back to it later. This book does require some patience, and it's not a cover-to-cover thrillfest, no, okay, fine, it isn't. HOWEVER, its reputation as a total snooze, or as something just for the heroically literary-minded is, IMO, undeserved. I see plenty of valid reasons why someone would not get into this book, but if you have any interest in this type of stuff, don't be scared off by discouraging things you might've heard. Yeah, you might not like it, but you might also be pleasantly surprised. I sure was! I get bored very easily, and I have a hard time sticking with a lot of books, but this one sucked me right in, and was fascinating and satisfying on so many levels. The salacious sensory-candy-munching Jessica who loves Valley of the Dolls had a lot to savor here, as did the slightly brainier one who enjoys thinking about the mechanics of time and memory, and there was besides those things more more more, enough going on here for many of my multiple warring and confused personalities. I liked that.

So yeah, in closing, I guess I should address the inevitable part-versus-whole question: Swann's Way is a satisfying novel by itself, only not really. It did have a very lovely ending and could stand up on its own, except for the fact that I'm hooked now, and want more. I'm not going to begin the next episode anytime soon, because I've got a bunch of other stuff I'd like to read and it can't just be Proust Proust Proust all the time, but I'm definitely planning to return to this famously overlong novel at some point in the not-too-distant future.... though I'm admittedly a bit nervous about this new desire for luxury, especially with the dollar and our economy being what they are. If anyone knows a hopelessly wealthy, balding Parisian gentleman who is easily led by boorish, uncouth, immoral women, please feel free to provide me with an introduction at your next salon!

This is one of those books I'd never really heard of and definitely never thought about until I joined Bookface. I mean, I'd heard the name "Proust" and the word "madeleines," but I'd never thought too much about all that, and I think I'd always sort of gotten Proust mixed up with Borges (different, different, yeah, I know) as a guy I'd never read with a name I wasn't sure how to pronounce. More recently, though this novel's acquired a kind of mystique in my mind based on people's reviews on here of it. Last night I noticed that my roommate happened to have a copy on her bookshelf, and out of some idly morbid curiosity picked it up, to see if it could possibly be half as dreadful as I imagined.

But actually, so far it's incredible. So far (I'm on page 26), this book is AMAZING. Reading the first few pages was like doing yoga, except some kind of turn-of-the-last-century Frenchish kind of style, which of course is vastly preferable to the normal way. Beginning this book is also like inhabiting somebody else's half-awakened mind. Cool!

Maybe the problem with it isn't really this book so much as the idea that it's supposed to be the beginning of a million and a quarter page novel, which is a pretty unappealing thought. On its own, though, so far this particular installment seems surprisingly awesome. Though, let's be honest here, I am not renowned for my patience, especially in affairs of the page, so let's see how long this infatuation lasts.

Anyway, though, v promising beginning. Now, of course, I'm just waiting for the ACTION to start.... stay tuned!
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,532 followers
December 19, 2020
"Longtemps je me suis couché de bonne heure."
This phrase and the title of La Recherche has - in my opinion - been butchered many times as people have tried to translate Proust into English. I read it all in French - most French people do not even get past this first volume - and so I cannot really tell you whether the Moncrieff's translation is better than the Kilmartin's. I am not trying to be a snob, I am just saying that, like Ulysses, this work is so subtle and uses such a wide range of idioms and obscure grammatical forms in French that do not exist in English that, my few glances at English translations have been as disappointing to me as when I tried to read Stuart Gilbert's French translation of Ulysses. Now, all that put aside, I am sure that it is still an amazing voyage in English (I know several people and close friends that have made it through all 2500+ pages), but if you can read in French, you must read this in French. That first line is usually translated "For a long time I went to bed early" but the original French in my estimation is more limpid, the word "longtemps" invokes almost a fairy tale atmosphere, "once upon a time", but not quite because immediately we are hit with the "je" so we know it is the narrator speaking. The form "me suis couché" is the passé composé which, unlike the imperfect which would have been "je couchais", refers to a specific moment in time. "De bonne heure" means early but is quite unspecific as well. So, this one phrase contains much of the complexity of La Recherche, the ambiguity between the narrator Marcel and the real Marcel Proust, the vagueness of time, and of course the eternal limpidity of his prose that is almost untranslatable. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful phrase that evokes the past, the present, and childhood all at the same time.

De Coté de Chez Swann contains several chapters which introduce the protagonist, Marcel the sleepyhead mentioned above, his friend Gilberte, and many images which have become inseparable from Proust's legend - in particular the madeleine. This is a French pastry with the bottom shaped like a clamshell and the top rather round. You could imagine the moud almost like the shell in Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" in which Venus is standing in her full beauty with her long hair blown by Zephyr's breath was she hides her breasts with her hands. This image reminds us of the how Mary Madeleine is portrayed in ancient portraiture and thus the name of the sweet pastry. Well, that is my interpretation, officially no one knows where the name came from to be honest. In any case, the them of eating a madeleine and sending Marcel into a 2500-page reverie about his entire life is one of sensuality and how the senses are intimately connected to our unconscious memory. Proust had read Freud and was quite influenced by Schopenhauer whose ideas fed Freud and thus it is one of the first literary representations of Freud's theories about the subconscious.

Another image that I found unforgettable was the spire of the church of Chartres as Marcel on the back of a carriage sees moving across the horizon back and forth as the wagon bounces along the curvy country roads. This idea that solidity is relative pervades Proust's work: looks are nearly always deceiving.

Admittedly, it took me probably three or four attempts to finish this first book of La Recherche. I had just learned French two years before, diving through endless newspapers (including all 32 pages of the depressing, but erudite Le Monde Diplomatique faithfully every month) and I had read some Balzac, Flaubert, Dumas, and Hugo before attempting Proust. Several false starts occurred because I was probably not ready for the complex grammar and the scale of time which seems to stretch infinitely from one minute to the next took a lot of getting used to. I kept returning to it and finally around 1999, I got past the first 75 pages and did not stop until I had consumed the entire work including the thousands of footnotes. The notes of the Folio edition are identical to those of the most expensive and precious Pleiades edition and are by Proust biographer and expert Jean-Yves Tadié. They provide essential insight into the latest research into Proust and the thousands of cultural references scattered across La Recherche.

One thing to note as you undertake this voyage is that Proust wrote this book in "cahiers" or notebooks frequently while he was in bed (another nuance of that first sentence) and that there is still debate on various parts where the manuscript is unclear. It is also astounding to think that Proust could hold together a story and narrative over 2500 pages using just these 50-100 page notebooks without Google or Ctrl+F - that is one of the magic elements of this work is how well woven together it is, how real and authentic the characters are as they evolve from book to book, and how Proust pulled this off despite his bad health and his extensive socialising.

My apologies to those who expected a review of just the first volume, but I felt it was important to place it in the context of the entire Recherche because pity the reader who limits him/herself to just this first book which is merely the gates through which one must necessarily pass to enter the vast garden of Proust's mind and the infinite richness of detail with which he renders the scenes. It is like if you only saw the outside doors of Bosch's tryptic The Garden of Pleasure and never bothered to open the doors to discover the wonders that lie beyond.

I am rereading Proust again, but taking my time. I also tried my hand at translating the first few paragraphs. Anyone interested to read my translation? I would title the series, “Making Up for Wasted Time” because “Temps Perdu” has that sense of time lost or time wasted (“J’ai perdu un temps fou dans ce tâche!” and with so little action and the life of a dandy being rather sedentary, Proust certainly wasted a lot of time. But that is all to our benefit because as a result we get this monumentally amazing work!
Profile Image for Seemita.
180 reviews1,583 followers
February 10, 2017
"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." - Albert Einstein

I made acquaintance with Sir Einstein’s above observation more than two decades ago. It was precisely after the conclusion of my study-hour one evening, during which my father shared this quote with me, that I was struck by the uniqueness of such an expansive statement. For some fabulous reason, it stayed with me. As I grew up and began gaining the privilege of reading world literature, I was bestowed with eyes that scanned not just a patch of land at one time but a universal landscape of mind-boggling ramifications across multiple filters of historical, social, cultural, political and emotional tints. And slowly, but firmly, I realized how true, how very true, is that quote of Sir Einstein. Perhaps now, today, if someone asks me to prove this thought, I would, without blinking, thrust this book into their hands and say, 'here lies the proof'.

Everything magnifies under the lens of retrospection. And if the lens happens to have the name ‘Marcel Proust’ inscribed over it, the magnified images purport to embrace untamed beauty. Proust cast the net of his observation across the turbulent sea of nostalgia and patiently collected the shimmering philosophical pearls in small urns of beauteous expressions. Embroidering the urns with souvenirs from the French bourgeoisie society and sewing them delicately with the indigenous threads, he set a benchmark for all wannabe explorers to aim for.

In this momentous work that resembled a sparse theatre bearing a lonely child and a compassionate lover, he provided priority seats to every prop and every emotion. The transition of inanimate props into lyrical jewels happens in such natural, noiseless rhythm that as a spectator, one is forced to don a momentary mask of surprise, followed by a considerable bout of awe. In the reluctance of a room from shedding its nocturnal skin and in the reticence of a bud from espousing its youth, in the insistence of trees to accompany a running carriage and in the persistence of rain to block a springy day, hordes of artistic voices croon, at once, their hearts out, bequeathing us with a palpable slice of life.
"A little tap on the window-pane, as though something had struck it, followed by a plentiful light falling sound, as if grains of sand being sprinkled from a window overhead, gradually spreading, intensifying, acquiring a regular rhythm, becoming fluid, sonorous, musical, immeasurable, universal: it was the rain."
The young narrator and the mature M Swann, the two protagonists, reflect two different pictures painted from the same palette. Possession of this mesmerizing, identical chord seals their reactions to negligence and rebuttal, indulgence and dismissal. Both emerge men who swap bounty and dullness like the two sides of the same coin, who keep distance and proximity as alternate remedies to extend love’s term. Both love without remorse, offering their heart to be plucked like a harp till it broke; both avow to blissful solitude, surrendering their memories to dissolve in its vicious depth. Both live to compose panegyric for memories and perhaps both would volunteer to drown into them.
"The places we have known do not belong only to the world of space on which we map them for our own convenience. They were only a thin slice, held between the contiguous impressions that composed our life at that time; the memory of a particular image is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years."
Proust leaves me in a sparkling rivulet, promising to direct me to its bigger cousins in due time. He also promises me that the ingredients of life can, at the most, be discoloured but not toxic if tended with an eye pouring beauty and forgiveness. Like an artist, who imparts contentment to his soul by creating a painting justifying his notion and not by subjecting it to an external validation, we should, too, scrap at the rough edges of life should they turn up, without besieging attendance of an audience, and unleash our net at the first sight of beauty.

He was a man who discovered beauty in everything, and who delightfully dwindled under the intoxication of drinking this elixir from every tap of life.
"You are afraid of affection? How odd that is, when I go about seeking nothing else, and would give my soul to find it!"
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
778 reviews
March 24, 2020
Easter 2013.

When I reached the final pages of Du Côté de chez Swann, I knew that I hadn’t finished a book but that I’d simply begun one, that what I’d read were only the first chapters of a much longer work, and that reading through the entire seven volumes of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu would be, to borrow one of Marcel Proust’s favourite images, like travelling on a very long and very beautiful train.
I realised that what I had done so far was simply to wander through the first few carriages of this train where I met with some intriguing passengers and overheard some curious conversations. I admired the different decor in each carriage while recognising the common elements that recurred from one to the next. I encountered some of the passengers more than once as they moved about from one section of the train to another, backwards and forwards as they pleased. I gazed from the windows of each carriage and spotted familiar landmarks, now on the left, now on the right. I noticed that the landscape seemed unchanging at times and yet the passengers sometimes wore different clothing. At other times, it was the scenery that was different while the preoccupations and conversations remained the same.
I found myself wondering if the train were not on some hugely complex orbit around a central point, passing over and back, revolving in both space and time, because, although Proust loved the precision of railway timetables, the chronology of this narrative is very, very mobile. At the beginning, I found this distracting but now I’ve accepted the fact that alongside clock time and calendar time, there is Proust time and that there may be many more meanings to Temps Perdu than the obvious one of ‘lost time’.

I find it significant that many episodes in the early sections of this work occur around Pâques or Easter. When we remember that Easter is not a fixed date in the calendar, that it is a mobile feast, falling on the Sunday following the full moon which itself follows the Spring equinox and which in turn depends on the earth’s orbit around the sun, then the series of Easter times in the narrative become as difficult to pin down on a calendar as the resurrection of memories from a wafer of tisane-soaked cake.
But Proust has such a keen sense of how nature responds in each season that while we rarely know the exact date of any particular episode, we do know exactly where the episode is situated in nature’s calendar. During the many Easters of the narrative, the weather is remarkably consistent even though it may be March in one and April in another. Proust returns frequently to the types of flowers which bloom around Easter, and refers often to the miracle of the renewal of nature. Aubépine or hawthorn is a favourite plant, the thorns of the new growth tinged with pink in a subtle Good Friday analogy. Boules de neige or viburnum are mentioned too for their parallel with Easter weather when snow showers can occur as easily as sunshine. In this way, we are reminded that Easter has more than religious significance, that plants too are influenced by the equinox, that the earth has its own renewal calendar, and that Proust time is cosmic time.
Profile Image for Riku Sayuj.
653 reviews7,015 followers
September 7, 2017
“As we, or mother Dana, weave and unweave our bodies, Stephen said, from day to day, their molecules shuttled to and fro, so does the artist weave and unweave his image.”

~ James Joyce, Ulysses

“The Universe is the externalization of the soul.”

~ Emerson

To attempt to review this now would be like trying to review a book after finishing the first couple of chapters. There is no way to do justice to it, or to even be sure of what one is prattling on about. So seasoned readers, please do excuse any over-eager generalizations or over-enthusiastic missteps.

Poetry in Proust

There is an atmosphere of grandness that is felt as one reads this initial book, everything is charged with a sense of premonition, as if these are all musical notes that are being played for us now in a subdued key, and exquisite as they are, they are all going to reappear in grander forms later.

There is a sense throughout of stage being set, themes being set forth and of being invited to an extremely long composition that could last a lifetime if the reader is engaged enough.

On the other hand, every paragraph I read seemed to me self-contained, like understated poetry; like a leaf so brilliantly illuminated that it outshines the whole tree, until you move your gaze to the next, when the same magic is repeated again.

Proust as Teacher

There is greatness in this work and it is beyond the obvious literary value or aesthetic pleasure that it provides. Proust also liberates literature in a way, in being so unapologetically, irrepressibly romantic about everything in life!

Thus the narrative runs on with undisguised romanticism and wide eyed enthusiasm for every detail of life. There is no attempt to tone anything down. There is none of that tendency for manly acceptance of the drollness life or of a skeptical indifference to its inevitable ugliness.

Everything is lived to its fullest and described as it should be lived. It almost feels like a fairyland, so fully heightened are the colors and emotions of Marcel’s life. Until we realize that that is exactly how rich inner lives always are, if we only surrender to the sense of wonder that drives our lives. If only we could recapture the color and the poetry.

Proust teaches us how to live.

Reading Notes:

Some of the notes (as in musical notes) that struck (a chord with) me the most, and which I know will leave a lasting impact no matter how they are modified or reinforced in the later chapters (books) are:

Proust As Madeleine

The Proust experience opens a portal to one’s own childhood — to a re-creation of one’s entire life, in fact.

This re-creation enables one to embark on the path of one’s own memories as well - to resurrect one’s childhood paths and travel them, think of fears and of flames.

Like remembering the pond one used to walk by, rediscovering the beauty and the colors that surrounded our lives…

Memories come thick and fast as we savor the Madeleine that is Proust.

The Intimate Acts of Creation

“Our social personality is a creation of the minds of others”

Thus we no longer need to hunt for the memory-objects wherein our pasts are locked away. The reading itself serves that function. And as we recreate thus our internal world, Proust also teaches us how we created the external world around us:

Just as the world is constructed after dreaming, the whole structure of society is created anew from birth for each child. We all reinvent it and then propagate it. Unless we choose the other ‘way.’

Discovering slowly class and social barriers. Understanding now how we might have been indoctrinated unconsciously…

We come with freedom and then the ties slowly bind us — constraining us, showing us already defined paths. This crystallization of our future path is what we later call our life, the path we travelled. By which we define ourselves.

How we created and defined and imbibed social relations, including superiors and equals, in an intensely solipsistic fashion. Just as when Marcel meets an aristocrat, first sees her as an ordinary person, had expected to be more, is seen to be not, and is then recreated based on the expectations — invented in short.

One example by Proust is enough to call up a hundred more of our own.

Aesthetic Oneness with Proust

Thus, you find yourself drawn into the world Proust is sketching. The involvement deepens to an immersion where the ordinary, everyday world dims and fades from the center of attention, you begin to understand and even share the feelings of the characters on the page — under ideal conditions you might reach a stage where you begin to participate in some strange way in the love being evoked.

Now, if at that moment you were to ask yourself: “Whose love is this?” a paradox arises.

It cannot be Marcel’s love for Gilberte, nor Gilberte’s love for Marcel, for they are fictional characters. It cannot be your own love, for you cannot love a fictional character. Could it be memories evoked?

Could it be that both Marcel and Gilberte exist no longer in what you feel as love as you read about them? Could it be that the emotion exists at another plane of existence now?

In any case, it is a peculiar, almost abstract love without immediate referent or context — left to you, the reader, to actualize and bring to life.

A Sanskrit aesthete would ease your anxiety by explaining to you, probably with examples from Kathakali, that you are at that moment of paradox “relishing” (asvadana) your own “fundamental emotional state” (sthayi-bhava) called “passion” (rati) which has been “decontextualised” (sadharanikaran) by the operation of “sympathetic resonance” (hrdaya-samvada) and heightened to become transformed into an “aesthetic sentiment” (rasa) called the “erotic sentiment” (srngara).

This “aesthetic sentiment” that is so subtly wrought in us is a paradoxical and ephemeral thing that can be evoked by the novel but is not exactly caused by it, for many readers may feel nothing at all during the same instance in the book. You yourself, reading it again next month, under the same circumstances, might experience nothing.

It is, moreover, something that cannot be adequately explained on analytic terms, the only proof for its existence is its direct, personal experience.

The evocation of this intense personal experience is the highest function of art.

But there is one more aim that art can have — to not only evoke it but also make you aware of how it is done. This rarified level of achievement is what Proust reaches. Proust makes you one with his world but also makes your personal experience with a piece of art concrete, through his own narrator’s experiences coming alive in what he is to eventually create out of everything he (and now you) passes through in these pages.

Proust allows us to not only experience sublime art but also its very creation.

Proust as Meditation

There is a breathlessness for the reader in everything in Proust, as we try to squeeze out meaning from every word and expression, every chance direct address by the narrator. These meanings and themes we might squeeze out are charged with special gravity in Proust — since we know that we have to remember them, we have to take them along with us in the long journey that awaits us. We cannot afford to be careless in this first sojourn. If we miss any key now, we might encounter a beautiful door that will refuse to yield later.

This effect does not depend on truth, it does not matter whether what we get out of this early reading will be valuable in reality later or not. The possibility is enough to invest a special sort of magic into the reading. A stillness of expectation, of anticipation is created. That atmosphere can be stifling or it can be as expansive as a zen garden.

One might feel lost in it or one might feel oneself in the presence of a literary holy grail. For me, I could not even tolerate the disturbance rendered by my own breathing when I read. I wanted total stillness.

It was meditation.
Profile Image for İntellecta.
199 reviews1,535 followers
January 24, 2022
I´ve read the book “Swann`ların Tarafı” (First Volume in “Search of Lost Time” written by Marcel Proust (* 10. Juli 1871 in Paris; † 18. November 1922 ebenda)

As the title suggests, it takes us some time to read. One has to get involved with it and accept the rhythm of the work. It is not a book, which you should spend hours on it or read straight through. I loved reading the book in the night.
The blooming gardens, the landscape in the sunshine are flooded with light. All of this is full of splendor.
This novel is a true education novel, after reading one has truly gained a life experience.

Absolutely recommendable!
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,685 followers
August 26, 2018
“One cannot change, that is to say become a different person, while continuing to acquiesce to the feelings of the person one has ceased to be.”
― Marcel Proust, Swann's Way


For years, I have put off reading Proust mainly because the size of In Search of Lost Time/Remembrance of Things Past seemed intimidating. Now, having finished Swann's Way: Vol 1. (440 pages of the 3365 total pages), I feel a compelling need to keep going.

This novel is preoccupied with all the details that surround time, desire, love, memory, happiness, life, truth, names and relationships. It is vivid, detailed and reminds the reader to look, feel, grab, smell, think, confess, and take big risks to grow that one perfect blossom of love. Proust's prose is beautiful, his imagery is brilliant and he seems to swing for the fence on every page. This is not a book one reads, but one inhabits and floats through. But first one must find and dip your own Madeleine.

Having read Proust now, I can see his gentle fingerprints everywhere. It is hard to pin down what it is exactly about his prose that is so transfixing, but like a dance or tune that just seems to float, Proust words and style aren't easy to contain in just his books. The edges bleed, the scent lingers.
Profile Image for Jibran.
224 reviews656 followers
September 27, 2017
Reality takes shape in the memory alone.

I do not claim a decent knowledge of world literature, being as I still am no more than half a decade old in my English-language readings, so my acquaintance with A-class writers remains, at best, sketchy; but I feel no hesitation in claiming that there are two writers - Marcel Proust and Vladimir Nabokov - who make all wannabes look like silly dilettantes, whose artistic range, sheer eloquence and fierce intelligence have such a deleterious effect on so many shining "bestselling" authors that they come across as little more than teaboys and bargirls in Café Littérature.

Having seen disappointing reviews of a couple of my friends whose opinions I value, I approached À la recherche du temps perdu prepared to dislike it eventually, to declare my inability to penetrate its thickly woven states of consciousness glimpsed through a multitude of roundabout analogies and metaphorical slants, to take issue with the elasticity of prose stretching, like an intricately designed arithmetic equation, into clauses and sub-clauses, one set within another, and another within yet another, so that when you read the last clause it's connection with the opening one appears precariously tenuous. This might be due to the inability of English to accommodate the original French. Even if it is not, as I read I discovered an easy solution to this mathematical construction of Proust's prose: if I lost the thread by the end of the paragraph-long sentence I could always go back and re-read it!

But this happened rarely. Proust for the most remains very accessible despite the sheer intricacies of his calligraphic writing, whose prose at first glance gives an impression of labyrinthine ruins of an excavated settlement from ancient times whose topography you're at great pains to decipher but, without much effort, you find yourself unraveling the hidden secret of the relic that once was a living, breathing place with souls in flesh and bones walking about the business of life, whose soft footfalls you hear in the dead of night as your eyes glide on the text, whose breath you feel on the nape of your neck as you scratch it with the tip of the lead pencil, whose cries of pain and desire spin your heart into an orbital motion around a simple question turned into a tangle of answers, and whose mental universes come alive in quantum-level struggle against the perennial questions of existence on the surface of the skeletal remains of temples and forgotten pleasure-houses that once were.

By the time I finished the first installment I understood very well that Marcel Proust is most certainly and most undoubtedly one of the finest artists known to us, a prose stylist like none other. I'd take this opportunity to sing a paean to French writers; the more I read French and their British counterparts of the 19th century the more I'm convinced of the artistic superiority of the former over the latter. Call it my bias, and so be it. Yes, Dickens is great, Mary Ann Evans too, and a few others, but if you only read British classics and nothing else. .

I realise I haven't said anything on "themes" and "content" of the novel. But does it matter? For me, nope, it doesn't. For me, it is the writing that suggests the themes and ideas not the other way round; and the ideas this piece of literature suggests resist any attempt at paraphrasing (All you can do is select moments of brilliance to discuss, and there are plenty of them at hand). If pressed, what would I say? First half is a recounting of the story of a perspicacious and insecure adolescent who tells us about his holidays with his immediate family at his aunt's country place in Combray and the second part involves a man called Swann on whom love has inflicted its violence despite his pretentious aloofness. Unimpressive? So simple? Yes, nothing to be excited about if you're looking for a formulaic story that caters to mass market tastes with its three-stepped start-middle-end sort construction held up by the myth of rounded characters and told with a minimal tweaking of the convention which is no more than a dull rehash of the popular novel.

July 2015
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,194 reviews9,455 followers
Shelved as 'reviews-of-books-i-didnt-read'
February 27, 2023
Note to all relevant parties : This book made me laugh and cry. I absolutely fell in love with the characters!



In series three of The Sopranos, Tony tells his therapist about his latest fainting spell which happened when he was cooking meat. Then he remembers his very first fainting spell, which happened a short time after he witnessed his father chop a guy's finger off with a meat cleaver. She says his very first attack happened when he short circuited after witnessing his parents’ sexuality, the violence and blood associated with the food he was about to eat, and the thought that some day he would have to, in the words of his father, bring home the bacon like his father. Classic dialogue then follows :

Tony: “All this from a slice of gabagool?”

Dr. Melfi: “Kind of like Proust’s madeleines.”

Tony: “What? Who?”

Dr. Melfi (getting excited) : “Marcel Proust. Wrote a seven-volume classic, Remembrance of Things Past. He took a bite of madeleine — a kind of tea cookie he used to have when he was a child — and that one bite unleashed a tide of memories of his childhood and, ultimately, his entire life.”

Tony : (building up to another dyspeptic outburst): "This sounds very gay."

Dr Melfi wisely drops the subject of Proust.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.6k followers
December 1, 2008
I think my original impetus for reading this was Thomas Disch's excellent short story "Getting into Death". Finding out that she probably only has a few weeks to live, the heroine immediately goes out, buys an edition of Proust, and starts reading. She's only able to relax once she's finished. Well, clearly, it had to be pretty good, and maybe I shouldn't wait until the last month of my life.

OK... it IS pretty good! Like all truly great novels, it's also very strange. Proust is just interested in doing his own thing, and if you don't like it, that's your problem. Everyone knows about the incredibly long sentences, which actually do have a certain charm once you've learned how to read them. This takes a while, to be honest, but you get there after a couple of hundred pages of acclimatisation. What's less well known is his extreme interest in what we would nowadays call the semantics of reference, in particular with regard to love. When you fall in love with someone you hardly know, what is actually going on? Who is it you love? What is the ontological status of the relationship? Proust manages to turn these musings into a fairly interesting story.

But it's psychology just as much as ontology. What makes people fall in love? How exactly does it happen? In the second part ("Un amour de Swann"), he puts Swann's relationship with Odette under the microscope and shows you, step by tiny step, how he falls for her, or she traps him, however you want to look at it. It's really fascinating. Needless to say, also rather depressing... probably not a good idea to read him when you're feeling too down. I find I can only read Proust at certain times of my life, but when I'm in that phase, there is nothing better.

Profile Image for Adam Dalva.
Author 8 books1,551 followers
June 2, 2019
My first time with this translation - I think that, in the end, it's an improvement on the Moncrieff (though I'm biased because Lydia Davis is my mentor). If you switch back and forth as you read, there's a power and directness and lucidity here that just doesn't exist in other translations of Proust. I'll continue experimenting with the alternative translations as I make my way through the seven volumes, though obviously the Moncrieff sets a high bar.

And what about Swann's way, itself? There are moments of such extreme insight and beauty here that it's impossible to rate it lower than 5 stars, but the meandering got to me this time through, as did some of the lengthier music/art essays, as did, most of all, the really striking anti-lesbian attacks. It is difficult to maintain focus, but it's supremely worth it for the highlights - the mother's kiss; Gilberte in the park; Monsieur Legrandin's rippling ass, the arrical of automobiles.

And most of all, if Proust had only ever written Swann in Love (an interpolated novel that makes up about 40% of this volume), he would still be considered an all-timer. What a hilarious, dancing, luminous confection! What insights on the full course of love! Or, as he himself would simply say - how delicious.
Profile Image for Piyangie.
517 reviews411 followers
February 23, 2023
Swann's Way, the first volume of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time is one of the rare books that come your way. After keeping in my TBR for nearly two years, I finally managed to become acquainted with it. This will not be a review in the strictest sense, for I don't consider me competent enough to review such an in-depth work. And also what the reading of this book does to you, the effect it produces on you, you can only feel; no express word in all justice can properly capture them.

In Search of Lost Time is a collection of past memories, and Swann's Way records the first part of this collection when the narrator was a child. This includes the narrator's own childhood recollections and the tormenting romantic experience of a family friend, Monsieur Swann. However, these records come in fragments of events, a description of objects, a piece of music, a work of art, or an in-depth analysis of thought. There is no plot, and if you are a plot-driven reader, this work will bore you to death. But on the other hand, if you are fond of abstract reading, and love to connect with thoughts and lives of others, to feel empathy and sympathy, this may be for you.

The forte of the work lies in its writing. The beauty of the writing cannot be fully captured in words, but it can be somewhat safely described as poetic, picturesque, and musical. Proust's narrative is a complete work of art. It is poetry that talks to your inner self arousing unknown feelings, it is a painting that thrills you and satisfies your senses, it is music that resonates with you. The reading transports you into space and time - perhaps not to the very thing the narrator describes, but to a similar experience from your own life. You hear the "Vintueil's Sonata", only that it is not exactly what you hear but a similar sonata that is stored in your memory. You see a picture - the colour and form of it, only it corresponds to something you've seen and collected in your memory. This was my reading experience - being transported into the narration and its surroundings and out of it to a parallel corresponding memory from my past. I have never experienced anything like that ever in my reading life.

Swann's Way tests the power of memory, and questions the identity of self, thoughts, and things against space and time. It is a very thought-provoking work. I truly have a mind to read the rest of the volumes, to re-experience those unique and exquisite feelings that were evoked by this reading. In an exclusive corner, undisturbed, isolating myself completely, I would love to plunge headlong to the words of Proust and enchant myself in the memories of his past and my past.
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