Author: Marcel Proust, 1913. Translated by Scott Moncrieff & Terence Kilmartin; revised by D J Enright, 1992.
Genre: Modern Classic. Literary. Comedy of Manners.
Other Details: 2005 Vintage Proust Edition. Paperback. 536 pages.
In the opening volume of Proust's great novel, the narrator travels backwards in time in order to tell the story of a love affair that had taken place before his own birth. Swann's jealous love for Odette provides a prophetic model of the narrator's own relationships. All Proust's great themes - time and memory, love and loss, art and the artistic vocation - are here in kernel form. - from Vintage website.
Since reading 'The Uncommon Reader' by Alan Bennett in which HMtQ decides to read 'In Search of Lost Time', I rather fancied addressing this gap in my own appreciation of classic literature. This desire was further encouraged last year when I read Edmund de Waal's The Hare with the Amber Eyes and learned that the author's ancestor Charles Ephrussi, an art collector in Paris during the latter part of the 19th Century, had been one of the inspirations for the character of Charles Swann. So I bought some of the books in the attractive Vintage Proust editions. However, when I peeked inside they seemed so formidable that I put off starting. I understand that I am not alone in being somewhat intimidated by this novel.
Then in early February I learned of a Goodreads Group '2013: The Year of Reading Proust' and thought this was an excellent incentive. I joined aware that I was coming in late and that many group members were more than halfway through the first volume. Still I figured that it would not be that difficult to catch up. It did take me longer than expected as I found that I had to be in the right frame of mind to read it. As the print in my edition was quite small and given Proust's style of long convoluted sentences, I found it easier to read it aloud, usually to my cats who seemed to enjoy the sound of my voice.
Once begun I found this a deeply rewarding experience. The writing is exquisite especially in the descriptions of nature and art. In the Introduction to Marcel's Proust's Search for Lost Time: A Reader's Guide by Patrick Alexander, a work that I am reading in conjunction with the novel, he writes: "In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust's great novel, is like a beautiful garden filled with delights but hidden behind a forbidding wall. The wall is too high to scale and the gate jealously guarded. Prospective readers who know of the book's fame and status are frightened away by the sheer length of the novel - and by its daunting academic reputation".
This felt an apt description of the novel as it is full of the beauty one would find in such a hidden garden with observations about life, literature and art that make an impact upon the heart, mind and soul. His remarks also encapsulates well why people don't read it as it is not a novel that offers the kind of instant gratification so prevalent in our culture these days and it can seem very formidable.
It is very slow in its pace yet elegant, which is why I found the right frame of mind was very necessary for me to read it. It also is very much a comedy of manners as Proust captures with great insight the glittering, privileged world of French high society of the late 19th Century and is certainly not afraid to poke fun at those who inhabit it and also slipped in some quite bawdy humour that came as a surprise.
My intention is to continue reading along with using the Patrick Alexander Guide and his amusing 'Marcel Proust on Twitter', which again I am reading alongside the actual Proust.
Now for something completely different: here is YouTube video of Monty Python's very funny 1972 sketch: The All-England Summarize Proust Competition. There are no spoilers for the novel!