Monday, August 20, 2007

On finishing In Search of Lost Time

I want to write just a few words about finishing Proust’s In Search of Lost Time; I don’t feel up to writing a big long summing-up post that tries to say smart things about what it all means, but I do want to say something. I am happy to have finished, but I do miss reading Proust a bit; I’ve been used to a near-daily dose of the narrator’s slow-moving, contemplative voice, and now I don’t have that.

It’s hard to see how a 3,000-page book without all that much plot, relatively speaking, could cohere, but I think it does. I found the ending, say, that last couple hundred pages, really did wrap things up; it provides an answer to the question that has haunted the whole book — will Marcel ever write his masterpiece? This is a question that has lingered from the very first volume when it becomes clear that Marcel has an interest in, and perhaps a talent for, writing. The answer the book provides is satisfying, and realistic, given everything that has happened up until that point.

My favorite volumes were the first two and the last one; the third and fourth, The Guermantes Way and Sodom and Gomorrah, got a little long, but then the fifth volume, which contains The Prisoner and The Fugitive begins to pick up a bit in preparation for the grand ending. It’s the long party scenes in some of the middle volumes that got tiresome. What I loved about the book are the insights into the mind, art, time, and love, but the novel is also obsessed with society and rank and how people behave at parties, topics that didn’t thrill me quite as much. But even here there are things to interest; Proust captures snobbery and hypocrisy and the deadness that can lie behind the glittering masks of high society beautifully well.

But mostly this novel is worth reading because of what it can teach about observing the world around you and in you. Proust has a meticulous eye for how the mind perceives input from the world around it and for how we make sense of our experiences, and, of course, he has a beautiful way with a sentence to capture all that insight. I love how there can be so much wisdom and experience in one of those long sentences — how they can take in so much.


Anonymous stefanie said...

Woo hoo! You should get a prize or something for being first to finish!

7:27 PM  
Blogger Dorothy W. said...

Thank you Stefanie! I look forward to hearing other people's thoughts as they finish.

4:01 PM  
Blogger LK said...

I can't believe you read the WHOLE thing. I need to tackle Guermantes Way next. Good going, Dorothy W!

6:35 PM  
Blogger shane said...

I just started reading it myself and found this site. Interesting idea for a blog. I can't wait to read more.

10:34 AM  
Anonymous djakomo said...

Hello All,

forgive my intrusion. I was hoping that some of view could help me locate a passage in the Recherche:

A young charming Prince and an older Countess reach an intersection from different directions. The Countess lets the Prince pass first. Bourgeois folks observing the scene are shocked at the lack of manners of the young man who passes before the older woman. The Narrator explains that because of social conventions it would be unthinkable for the Countess to walk before a Prince.

does this ring a bell? (maybe some of the details are inaccurate, e.g. they're not a prince and a countess etc., but the gist of the passage is the one i describe above)


10:44 AM  
Anonymous In Silence Traveling said...

Today, the recherche of our own time is the result of a continuous and dialectic dialogue with themselves and with the others. To prepare a Post, for example, is a harmonious, as opposed way of searching, copying / pasting, editing / comparing its own repository of images, video, text with that immense world of the Net collective memory. Then, everything must be arranged by using its own feelings, emotions and the ability to express them. Developing this sense can give you "the all-powerful joy" mentioned by Proust. I wrote a Post about on my Blog, by linking your very interesting Blog.

greetings AF In Silence Traveling

5:16 AM  
Blogger alan said...

Thus, if you imagine getting into the jead of the arist. Let's look for the post of Raph that demonstrate that Proust was also in other countries of mind.

10:35 AM  
Anonymous Bob Estes said...

Now you can think about reading it again in few years. One has a different perspective at different points in one's life. I recently finished my third time through, which I have written about in a post called Reading Proust for the Last Time that might interest you.

2:22 PM  
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7:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, congratulations and well done. I don't agree with you, though, that the social gathering scenes are boring. They are the bits of the book I most enjoyed, as the author, layer upon layer, highlights the contradictions and uncertainties that underly all our social interactions. I have just completed reading the 'new' Penguin translation, having previously enjoyed the Kilmartin version.

It is all glorious.

8:47 AM  

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