Saturday, September 30, 2006

Art and Life and Proust

Cross-posted at Of Books and Bicycles

I have recently come across a beautiful passage from Proust on the relationship of art and life. It is a passage on Vinteuil's sonata, the famous sonata from which comes the "little phrase" that was so important to Swann as he fell in love with Odette. Now it's the narrator who is thinking about its significance.

This is what he thinks: upon encountering a new work of art -- "new" meaning something recent that departs from established methods and schools -- we can't understand it immediately. We don't have the background to make sense of it; it seems foreign and chaotic, and maybe ugly. We can't analyze it -- break it into parts -- because we can't get a grasp of the entire thing in order to understand its structure. When we do begin to appreciate the new work of art, we don't appreciate the right things:

Not only does one not immediately discern a work of rare quality; but even within such a work, as happened to me with the Vinteuil sonata, it is always the least precious parts that one notices first.

When we finally understand the work more fully, those things we valued at the beginning of the process, we have now forgotten. And here is his conclusion:

Because it was only in successive stages that I could love what the sonata brought to me, I was never able to possess it in its entirely -- it was an image of life.

If we were to possess life entirely, it would have to be from the perspective of death, wouldn't it? Otherwise, we are always changing and so can't possess a thing in flux. But because we are changing constantly, our understanding of art is constantly changing, so we can't possess the work of art either. Art isn't so much a way of getting life to stand still as it is a way of charting its movement.

Proust elaborates:

But the great works of art are also less of a disappointment than life, in that their best parts do not come first. In the Vinteuil sonata, the beauties one discovers soonest are also those which pall soonest, a double effect with a single cause: they are the parts that most resemble other works, with which one is already familiar. But when those parts have receded, we can still be captivated by another phrase, which, because its shape was too novel to let our mind see anything there but confusion, had been made undetectable and kept intact; and the phrase we passed by every day unawares, the phrase which had withheld itself, which by the sheet power of its own beauty had become invisible and remained unknown to us, is the one that comes to us last of all. But it will also be the last one we leave. We shall love it longer than the others, because we took longer to love it.

I like what this says about art; I'm not sure I like what it says about life. About art, this tells me that some of the greatest pleasures to be had are those I have to wait and work for. It tells me, as I think about my post from a couple days ago, that pleasure and effort and patience are not opposed. If I stick with a difficult and bewildering work of art, it will begin to reveal beauties to me.

About life, Proust implies that the best parts come first, that we have the greatest access to beauty when we are young. I'm not sure I like this because I find it depressing, and also because I'm not sure it's true. Perhaps we have more intense experiences of life when we are young -- perhaps -- but surely the nature of one's experiences become deeper and more complex. Surely there is beauty in life that witholds itself until we have been patient long enough to see it revealed.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Happy Birthday Scott Moncrieff!

My Writer's Amanac email for today informs me that it is Scott Moncrieff's birthday. He was born in Scotland in 1889. His translation of Swann's Way was first published in 1922, not long before Proust died. Moncreiff spent the rest of his life translating the remaining volumes of Proust's novel and died before he could finish the last one. His translation was the only one in English for most of the 20th century.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

High praise for Proust

The praise is from Colette: According to her, Swann's Way was:

everything one would have wished to write, everything one neither dared nor knew how to write.

I agree.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Cross-posted at So Many Books

My mind feels rather dull today. I don't know if it is due to the weather--cold and rainy--or the stressful week at work I've been having (I'm beginning to think it might be time to look for a new job), or maybe my brain really is dull and I'm just now coming to the realization. Whatever the case, I have been meaning to write about Proust all week but have been putting it off hoping that tomorrow I will figure out what to say. Since I finished Swann's Way and am into In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, I am inclined to sum up my reading experience thus far.

But how does one sum up Proust? Maybe the Pythons can do it, or maybe not since I have not had the pleasure of seeing that particular episode, but I cannot seem to grab onto any words that are adequate.

This was my second time through Swann's Way. I first read it a couple of years ago. I was determined to get through the entirety of In Search for Lost Time but, alas, after four months of struggling with Swann, I couldn't do it. This time it only took me two months. I enjoyed the book much more too. It certainly helps having others reading Proust at the same time.

Maybe instead of trying to sum up, I will just mention a theme that moved through Swann's Way and is now appearing in In the Shadow of Young Girls. Desire. It's everywhere from the young narrator desiring his mother's kiss before bed, to Swann desiring Odette, to the narrator desiring to see the great actress La Berma. What I have noticed is that for Proust, desire is often at its height when the thing desired is unavailable. The more obstacles there are to possession, the more intense the desire grows. Swann is frantic when he can't find Odette; the narrator is unconsoled when he is unable to see Gilberte in the park; and again, the narrator is whipped into a frenzy over the actress La Berma who he has never seen her except in a photo on a playbill. When the obstacles are taken away and the desire is finally fulfilled, there seems always to be a disappointment.

At this point in the game I don't know what Proust is getting at. Is he saying that desire is always better than the fulfillment? That fulfillment is never completely satisfying? Are our desires for a person, event or thing always unrealistic in some way? Is what we desire most to possess simply unpossessable? Did I just make up a word? And if our desires can never truly be met, should we stop? Or at least desire lesser things so we won't be disappointed? Or is disappointment an inherent part of desire?

Perhaps Proust answers some of these questions later. Or maybe my desire for answers will be only be partially fulfilled and I will be able to share some disappointment with the characters in the book.

Proust and inconsistency of emotion

Cross-posted at Of Books and Bicycles

One of the things I'm enjoying in my Proust reading is the way he captures the waywardness of the mind and emotions, the manner in which a person can feel one thing in one moment and then the opposite in the next. He describes the contrariness of emotion and desire so excruciatingly well; I recognize my own shifts and variations and inconsistencies in Proust's characters.

Towards the beginning of In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, the narrator talks a lot about his desire to be a writer and his confidence, or lack of confidence, in his ability to write. And his feelings change constantly. When the narrator's father says about the narrator's desire to write that "The main thing is to enjoy what one does in life. He's not a child anymore, he knows what he likes, he's probably not going to change, he's old enough to know what'll make him happy in life," he has a strange response. He knows he should be happy because his father had wanted him to be a diplomat, and now, instead, he's getting permission from his father to do what he's dreamed of -- be a writer. But instead:

On this occasion, much as an author, to whom his own conceptions seem to have little value because he cannot think of them as separate from himself, may be alarmed at seeing his publishers putting themselves to the trouble of selecting an appropriate paper for them and setting them in a typeface that he may think too fine, I began to doubt whether my desire to write was a thing of sufficient importance for my father to lavish such kindness upon it.

Now that his father is taking his desire to be a writer seriously, he's not so sure that he's worthy of it. And this proclamation from his father makes him nervous for other reasons; his father's statement that he's old enough to know what he likes and that he won't change has made him realize that his life has truly begun. He is no longer on the threshold of life, full of possibility, but instead is already living, and, what's worse, his life may not change all that much. Isn't it often true that when we finally get the thing we've been longing for, we realize it's a disappointment, or that we didn't really want it, or that getting what we want just creates a whole new set of problems?

Near the above passage, Proust offers another example of the inconsistency of our minds and emotions:

Think of the travelers who are uplifted by the general beauty of a journey they have just completed, although during it their main impression, day after day, was that it was a chore.

He talks about the "promiscuity of the ideas that lurk within us." Isn't that a great way to describe what living in one's mind is like? It's true for me, certainly. That example of the traveler works particularly well for me, because I'm reminded of my backpacking trips, which I have fond memories of, many great memories, and yet when I try hard to remember what each moment actually felt like when I was backpacking, I have to admit that it was a lot of pain, misery, boredom, and unhappiness.

So which is it? Are my backpacking trips wonderful or terrible? Does the narrator want to be a writer or not? The answer depends on the moment you are asking the question.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

a quick note on Time Regained

This is another film version of Proust. I picked it up and set it aside after about thirty minutes. It also is in French, and unfortunately the subtitles are in white and often do not stand out against the scene. Still, I enjoy French spoken, and that didn't make me put it aside. What did, is it seems to be a film treating more the final volume of Proust's novel, and I didn't want to be exposed to it until after reading it. And the first thirty minutes were not linear, so at least it seemed to be attempting to capture the feeling of involuntary memory. The actor playing Marcel captured my impression of the author almost too well, and scenes depicting the writing of the novel made it difficult to view it purely as fiction, which is much easier done while reading. And Emanuelle Beart is luminous as usual. We will definitely watch it when all this reading is complete.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Introductions and Uncertainties

In a previous posting the issue of negative Introductions to Proust was addressed and I toyed with the idea of inaugurating a competition to find the "worst" or most hilarious such introductions- I would lead off with this from Joshua Landy:

If someone were to suggest that the texture of Proust's novel resembles nothing quite so much as molasses, it would be difficult to dissent with any great conviction. The over-long book, with its over-long sentences, over-long paragraphs, over-long sections and over-long volumes, is as thick and viscous as treacle, and little more transparent.

Landy goes on to quote a 1912 review by Jacques Normand:

Reading cannot be sustained for more than five or six pages, one can set down as a positive fact that there will never be a reader hardy enough to follow along for as much as a quarter of an hour, the nature of the author's sentences doing nothing to improve matters.

Landy is of course a Proust supporter, and he notes that it is the author's style which, though idiosyncratic, and labyrinthine, given to logical confusion and an overwhelming sense of uncertainty, is the reflection of a particular vision of existence. The style maps or models:

the structure of the self as Proust sees it, namely as an entity divided not only from the outside world but also from within, into discrete temporal segments, which each contain, in turn, a plurality of faculties and drives.

So, reflecting on the previous posting unless we slavishly record every occurrence and thought in the novel, we should not be surprised that here and there we miss or forget something.

I feel I too should comment on how not just my sentences are becoming longer and longer but it also seems to affect writers on Proust such as Landy!!

Friday, September 15, 2006

A Few Questions

As I contemplate Swann's Way and try to grasp it in its entirety, I have a couple of detail questions.

In the "Combray" section Swann is married to Odette, right? But at the end of the "Swann in Love" section Swann is no longer in love with Odette and it appears that they are through. So how and why did they get married? Do we know this and I missed it?

In the final sections, "Place Names," the narrator has been playing with Gilberte for weeks before Swann comes on the scene. The narrator mentions that Swann doesn't visit his family anymore since they quarreled. Is there ever mention of this quarrel and what it was about? This was a surprising detail to me especially since Swann pretended he didn't recognize the narrator and it isn't that long between "Combray" and "Place Names." I wonder what could have been so bad to keep Swann from visiting the narrator's family?

And here's another question, what was the point of Swann's dream about Odette? I've been trying to figure out if there is some significance to it. Swann dismisses it when he wakes up, but he thinks about it again later that day so it obviously had an effect on him. Is Proust using Freudian dream symbolism to say something that I'm not getting because I'm not up on Freud?

Did Swann exasperate anyone else? I wanted to do him bodily harm to make him come to his senses.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Cross-posted at Of Books and Bicycles

Yesterday I wrote about the odd introduction to my edition of Dracula; today I read the introduction to Proust's In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, written by James Grieve, the volume's translator and editor. This introduction was a little more traditional and less amusing than the Dracula introduction, but it had some odd moments too. Grieve tells us in the first paragraph that "Inclined to see this volume as a 'listless interlude,' Proust was surprised that 'everyone's reading it.'" Well, that's going to get readers excited about the book, isn't it? I'm guessing that the book won't feel like a "listless interlude" -- the first ten pages certainly don't feel that way, which is what I've read so far -- but I do wonder what made Proust see it that way.

But much odder is Grieve's rather-too-intense focus on Proust's shortcomings as a storyteller. In a short introduction, about 8 pages, he spends 3 or 4 describing Proust's inconsistencies and carelessness with detail. Part of the point, I think, is to discuss the troubles a translator faces when trying to figure out whether to correct an obvious and glaring error or to leave it there. Here is a passage on Proust's weaknesses:

Among the great novelists, as a bungler of basics Proust has no equal, save perhaps Henry James ... [James] seems unskilled in introducing his characters to his reader, and in enabling characters to converse. In similar things, Proust too seems incompetent, or perhaps an improviser ... His composition was not linear; he wrote in bits and pieces; transitions from one scene to another are sometimes awkward, clumsy even. He can make heavy weather of simple movements: characters get stood roughly into position so that the next demonstration may take place; action must be performed perfunctorily, so that protracted analysis of it may ensue; the narrator seems to say farewell to Elstir at his front door, yet two pages later is walking him home. Proust shows, it has been said, "utter nonchalance" about "loss of fictional verisimilitude."

Now it makes perfect sense to me than an introduction-writer might point out some of the author's flaws, but Grieve emphasizes them too much I think. After the above passage, he proceeds to offer pages of Proust's errors and lapses and inconsistencies, things that could have been left to the footnotes. So maybe Grieve doesn't need to work to convince us that Proust is great -- we already know he is -- but on the other hand he doesn't need to work so hard to convince us that Proust is sloppy!

But when Grieve writes about Proust's strengths, he does so very well. I like this explanatory passage:

Proust was intermittently unsure whether he was writing an essay or a novel. Here is a novel written by a critic and literary theorist, both a novel in the form of an essay and an essay on the novel. Proust must not only show but tell, tell rather than show, tell at the expense of showing; he must make the reader, who may wish only to revel in the fiction, admit the truthfulness of its fictionality.

This sounds exactly like the kind of book I like (although I like more traditional sorts of novels too -- very much so), with its mix of essayistic and storytelling modes, and it helps me understand what Proust is up to -- telling a story and meditating on stories both. And this passage might make you want to read the novel, although then again it might just depress you. I liked it anyway:

Proust's real strengths lie in his analysis of the ordinary, his close acquaintance with feelings, the pessimism of his examination of consciousness, his diagnosis of the unreliability of relationships and the incoherence of personality, his attentiveness to the bleak truths he has to tell of time, of its unrelenting wear and tear, its indifferent outlasting of all human endeavor, its gradual annulment of our dearest joys and even our cruelest sorrows, voiding them of all that once made them ours. Life, as Proust tells it, is disappointment and loss -- loss of time, as his title says, and loss of youth of course; loss of freshness of vision, of belief, of the semblance it once gave to the world; and loss of self, a loss against which we have only one safeguard, and that unsure: memory.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Swann's Way

Cross-posted at Of Books and Bicycles

So I’ve now finished the first volume of Proust’s novel (and I’m counting each volume as a separate book!). It’s taken me about two months to read the entire thing; I’ve been reading in small chunks of about 10 pages or so, and read about 50 pages a week. For me, that’s the perfect way to read it; regularly enough to keep the story and ideas fresh in my mind, but at a slow enough pace to absorb it and to keep from feeling bogged down. This is most definitely not a book to rush.

And I’ve found it so very rewarding. Proust’s sentences are beautiful, long and digressive and convoluted, but they do yield their meaning, even if I have to read them a couple of times and turn the pages back and forth and back and forth to piece everything together. The book has sections that read quickly as well, particularly in the long middle section that tells the story of Swann and Odette. Here I found myself getting caught up in the story and the pages flew by. But best of all are Proust’s insights into consciousness, into what it’s like to be a young boy, for example, a very intense, intelligent, yearning young boy. We see him as both a little ridiculous – one of the things I liked was how I could imagine exactly why his parents found him exasperating – and as completely sympathetic and awe-inspiring and wonderful. His longing for his mother, and later for Gilberte, is moving; we know that such an intense, emotional child is bound to experience much struggle and pain.

This volume does have a carefully-wrought structure, although one entirely of Proust’s own devising; we begin with the unnamed narrator and a story of longing, and we end with that same narrator, a little older, longing still. All through the novel, Proust explores the way the mind mediates our experiences, shaping them through memory or desire; he considers how art affects his characters – the crucial role music and painting play in Swann’s love affair with Odette, for example. The novel is very much about reading; we learn a little about the narrator’s reading habits and desires in the first section, but also characters attempt to read one another, Swann desperately trying to understand Odette, the narrator reading much into everything his mother says, and then at the end turning the same attention toward Gilberte. The book trains readers to pay close attention, to their own minds and to other people and to the world. It contains some of most beautiful, detailed descriptions of nature I’ve read.

And the novel’s length strikes me as necessary, and not only because Proust needs the length to say what he wants to say about his characters and his ideas; there is something about living with this book for a long time, in much the same way that in reading Clarissa we come to feel like she is a companion, that we live with her, that we know her and she is a part of our lives. In Proust, we spend many, many hours luxuriating in the complexity of the mind and of emotion. We are forced – if we read carefully – to experience things slowly and to pay attention, to dig deeply into life.

And the way the narrative moves around in time, from the narrator as an older man describing himself as he is now, to the narrator telling stories from his childhood, to the narrator telling Swann’s story which took place before he was born, forces us to consider how our experience of time differs from “regular” clock time. In our minds, we move through time, back and forth, from past to present to future, easily and quickly. Proust’s central theme is memory, that capacity that holds us together and gives us a coherent identity. Except that our memories are not ours to control. A coherent identity may be an illusion, one fostered by memory, our ability to hold together disparate chunks of time, and undermined by memory too, since we can remember and forget involuntarily.

I’m looking forward to the other volumes; I’m curious about what Proust does with plot, oddly enough, perhaps. What will happen to these characters? Or will we even stay with these characters, or move on to others? But most of all, I’m looking forward to the company of Proust’s prose and his mind.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Two Swanns in Love

I wanted to do a wrap-up of Swann in Love now that I have seen the film version and found my lost copy of Milton Hindus' book. When we can see this first volume in relation to the entire novel, perhaps there will be more thoughts to post.

"Swann in Love" is a French film that offers a good example of how a story changes through point of view. Though Proust's novel uses a first person narrative, he is virtually omniscient, as well as telling his story from hindsight. This allows us to see and understand all the characters and their motivations clearly. In the film, people are introduced and events occur that simply cannot mean much when they are removed from the fullness of the novel's treatment.

The film also is a not very good adaptation of a good story. It shows how truly important a director is in translating a novel to film. The film begins after Swann has fallen in love with Odette, and he is now falling into jealousy. There are numerous scenes faithful to the novel. Between these are moments of flashback, when Swann recalls their first times together. Presented in this way his jealousy comes across not as strong, because we don't have the foundation of their early relationship to contrast. Perhaps the flashbacks were meant to give the impression of Proust's scenes of involuntary memory, but in the film they don't really work.

The film also attempts to convey the power of music over Swann. The sonata is begun and he suddenly stops walking, goes into a sort of mesmerized state, grips a chair back. Visually, though, this does not convey the sensations that the novel does.

We see in the film the detail of Botticelli's painting which first causes Swann to find Odette worthy of love. Here, then, is the face of Odette:

Odette comes across as a coquette from the start of the film, which, initial suggests to the contrary, she did not to me in the novel. (Perhaps I am too much like Swann!) I would have preferred the revelation to come more gradually, and still remain uncertain, until the end. The film also jumps ahead, beyond the end of the book, to show us Gilberte and Mme. Swann--quite unchanged in her beauty and bearing--and Swann near death.

The character of the Baron de Charlus is wonderfully fun. There is a brief scene in which he is rebuffed by a young man, which seems rather out of place in the story of Swann. One reason it stands out so is that it is not from Swann's point of view, as is the rest of the movie. A basic rule is that if one is going to break an established point of view, there had better be an overwhelming reason, because it generally always weakens the story. If the scene is meant to illuminate some aspect of Swann's love, I missed it. One of my favorite scenes is when Swann is in desperate search of Odette through the streets of Paris, and an attractive young lady asks him for a ride in his carriage, clearly offering herself to him. Swann completely ignores her, telling his driver to remind him to order more firewood or some such thing. True to the novel, it demonstrates without a doubt the grip of love which held Swann, that he would rather be in search for something that he might not find and was yet but a desire, than to partake of what is freely offered him. The film also does a good job of presenting the difference in the social gatherings of the Guermantes and Verdurins, though, again, snippets of conversation too often come from all directions and, without support from the rest of the novel, produce confusion. The film left me eager to return to Proust.

So, back to the novel.
My thoughts began insensibly to wander. The moonlight shining into the room reminded me of a certain moonlight night in England--the night after a picnic party in a Welsh valley. Every incident of the drive homeward, through lovely scenery, which the moonlight made lovelier than ever, came back to my remembrance, though I had never given the picnic a thought for years, though, if I had tried to recollect it, I could certainly have recalled little or nothing of that scene long past. Of all the wonderful faculties that help to tell us we are immortal, which speaks the sublime truth more eloquently than memory? Here was I, in a strange house of the most suspicious character, in a situation of uncertainty, and even of peril, which might seem to make the exercise of my recollection almost out of the question, nevertheless, remembering, quite involuntarily, places, people, conversations, minute circumstances of every kind, which I had though forgotten forever; which I could not possibly have recalled at will, even under the most favorable auspices. And what cause had produced in a moment the whole of this strange, complicated, mysterious effect? Nothing but some rays of moonlight shining in at my bedroom window.
Proustian as all; yet this comes from the 1852 short story "The Traveler's Story of a Terribly Strange Bed", by Wilkie Collins. Did Proust know it?

In A Reader's Guide to Marcel Proust, Milton Hindus calls Proust's novel the literary equivalent of Wagner's Ring cycle. I find this a particularly apt description. Both men were initially accused of not knowing how to create traditional works of art, because both were creating something new. Both works are internally connected through the whole by theme, or lietmotifs. Today we understand this, and often begin reading Proust's novel having some foreknowledge of it; yet what must it have been like for readers in 1913 who had only the first book, who had not yet seen or could even conceive of Proust's ultimate architecture?

There is so much to take in from this novel, already I am going back to reread sections, and finding key elements I had merely read through quickly without really comprehending what they meant. The novel seems to demand a second reading, and yet, having finally completed reading two thousand some pages, will the desire to reread them still exist?

Proust on Procrastination

I have now read about 150 pages of In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (James Grieve translation) and I am entranced. We hear about an older Swann and a slightly older Marcel -the latter who has now gained admittance to the Swann household. Here he has met and impressed Bergotte and resolved to write.

Given Marcel's already admitted laziness it is not too surprising that on page 155 we have a marvelous description of the process of procrastination.

If I had not been so determined to set to work, I might have made an effort to start at once. But given that my resolve was unbreakable, given that within twenty-four hours, inside the empty frame of tomorrow where everything fitted so perfectly because it was not today, my best intentions would easily take material shape, it was really preferable not to think of beginning things on an evening when I was not quite ready - and of course the following days were to be no better suited to beginning things. However, I was a reasonable person. When one had waited for years, it would be childish not to tolerate a delay of a couple of days..........
Unfortunately, tomorrow turned out not to be that broad,bright,outward-looking day that I had feverishly looked forward to.

Haven't we all been there!!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Colette and Proust meet

Cross-posted at Of Books and Bicycles

Stefanie recently wrote about commonplace books; I'm afraid I'll never be organized or energetic or diligent enough to keep one of those, so thank goodness for the blog, where I can at least keep track of some of the quotations I admire from my reading. Now why I can be organized and energetic enough to post on my blog every day but not enough to keep a commonplace book, I'm not sure, but, anyway, here's something I'd put in my commonplace book if I had one.

The quotation is taken from Colette's autobiographical novel Claudine en Menage (translated as Claudine Married), and it describes Claudine's meeting with a young man who is obviously Proust. I realize that calling it an autobiographical novel is complicated, but Judith Thurman, Colette's biographer, and others regularly look to the Claudine novels for information -- however difficult to sort out -- about Colette's life. Thurman describes the passage as Colette's "fictional version of her encounter with the young Proust at Mme Arman's [which] gives us a glimpse of the way she was beginning to project an exaggerated stage version of herself in public." What's cool about it for me is, simply, that it's a meeting between two of my literary heroes:

One Wednesday [she writes], at the house of old Ma Barmann[Mme Arman], I was cruised, politely, by a young pretty-boy of letters. (Beautiful eyes, that kid, a touch of conjunctivitis, but never mind ...). He compared me ... to Myrtocleia, to a young Hermes, to a Cupid by Proud'hon; he ransacked his memory and secret museums for me, quoting so many hermaphroditic masterpieces that ... he almost spoiled my enjoyment of a divine cassoulet, the specialty of the house ...

My little flatterer, excited by his own evocations, didn't let go of me .... Nestled in a Louis XV basket chair, I heard him, without really listening, parade his literary knowledge .... He contemplated me with his long-lashed, caressing eyes and murmured, for the two of us:

Ah, yours is the daydream of the child Narcissus; it's his soul, filled with sensuality and bitterness..."

"Monsieur," I tell him firmly, "you're delirious. My soul is filled with nothing but red beans and bacon rinds."

This strikes me as perfect, capturing both Colette and Proust -- or at least stereotyped, exaggerated, fictionalized versions of them -- with devastating accuracy. From the illness, to the ransacking of his memory, to the extensive literary knowledge, to the dreaminess, Colette seems to get Proust down pat. And Colette (Claudine) gets to have the attention of a famous person, and gets to condescend to him too, calling him her "little flatterer" quite dismissively, and getting the final, funny last word in.

But, lest we think these two figures will always be at odds, Thurman goes on to say:

The "young pretty-boy of letters" who wasn't yet "Proust" had recognized the true face and impure true feelings of the young misfit who wasn't yet "Colette" and understood the narcissism forced upon her by her imposture.

I shall see, as I read through the biography, where, if anywhere, this relationship goes.