Marcel Proust

Marcel Proust

[proost; Fr. proost]
Proust, Marcel, 1871-1922, French novelist, b. Paris. He is one of the great literary figures of the modern age. Born to wealthy bourgeois parents, he suffered delicate health as a child and was carefully ministered to by his mother. As a young man he ambitiously mingled in high Parisian society and wrote his rather unpromising first work, Les Plaisirs et les jours (1896; tr. Pleasures and Regrets, 1948; new tr. Pleasures and Days, 1957). Troubled by asthma and neuroses, as well as by the deaths of his parents, he increasingly withdrew from external life and after 1907 lived mainly in a cork-lined room, working at night on his monumental cyclic novel, À la recherche du temps perdu (16 vol., 1913-27; tr. Remembrance of Things Past, 1922-32, rev. tr. In Search of Lost Time, 1992; new tr. 2002).

The first of the novel cycle, Du côté de chez Swann (1913, tr. Swann's Way, 1928) went unnoticed, but the second, À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (1919, tr. Within a Budding Grove, 1919), was awarded the Goncourt Prize. Proust's semiautobiographical novel cycle is superficially concerned with its hero's development through childhood and through youthful love affairs to the point of commitment to literary endeavor. It is less a story than an interior monologue. Discursive, but alive with brilliant metaphor and sense imagery, the work is rich in psychological, philosophical, and sociological understanding. A vital theme is the link between external and internal reality found in time and memory, to which Proust sees humanity's strivings subjugated—time mocks the individual's intelligence and endeavors; memory synthesizes yet distorts past experience. Most experience causes inner pain, and the objects of human desires are the chief causes of their suffering.

In Proust's scheme the individual is isolated, society is false and ruled by snobbery, and artistic endeavor is raised to a religion and is superior to nature. Only through the vision gained in works of art can the individual see beyond his or her subjective experience. Proust's ability to interpret innermost experience in terms of such eternal forces as time and death created a profound and protean world view and his work has influenced generations of novelists and thinkers. His vision and technique have come to be seen as vital to the development of modernism. Most of his correspondence has been published (21 vol., P. Kolb, ed., 1970-93), as has his draft of an early novel, Jean Santeuil (1952, tr. 1955), and Contre Sainte-Beuve (1954, tr. On Art and Literature, 1896-1919, 1958).

See biographies by A. Maurois (1950, repr. 1984), R. H. Barker (1958), G. D. Painter (2 vol., 1959-65), L. Bersani (1965), G. Brée (1966), R. Hayman (1990), J.-Y. Tadié (1996, tr. 2000), E. White (1998), and W. C. Carter (2000); studies by W. S. Bell (1962), P. Quennell (1971), S. L. Wolitz (1971), G. Deleuze (1972), J. M. Cocking (1982), B. J. Bucknall, ed. (1987), L. Hodgon (1989), A. Compagnon (1992), J. Kristeva (1996), and R. Shattuck (2000).

Marcel Proust, oil painting by Jacques-Émile Blanche; in a private collection.

(born July 10, 1871, Auteuil, near Paris, France—died Nov. 18, 1922, Paris) French novelist. Born to a wealthy family, he studied law and literature. His social connections allowed him to become an observant habitué of the most exclusive drawing rooms of the nobility, and he wrote social pieces for Parisian journals. He published essays and stories, including the story collection Pleasures and Days (1896). He had suffered from asthma since childhood, and circa 1897 he began to disengage from social life as his health declined. Half-Jewish himself, he became a major supporter of Alfred Dreyfus in the affair that made French anti-Semitism into a national issue. Deeply affected by his mother's death in 1905, he withdrew further from society. An incident of involuntary revival of childhood memory in 1909 led him to retire almost totally into an eccentric seclusion in his cork-lined bedroom to write À la recherche du temps perdu (1913–27; In Search of Lost Time, or Remembrance of Things Past). The vast seven-part novel is at once a kind of autobiography, a vast social panorama of France in the years just before and during World War I, and an immense meditation on love and jealousy and on art and its relation to reality. One of the supreme achievements in fiction of all time, it brought him worldwide fame and affected the entire climate of the 20th-century novel.

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Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust (10 July 1871 – 18 November 1922) was a French novelist, essayist and critic, best known as the author of À la recherche du temps perdu (in English, In Search of Lost Time; earlier translated as Remembrance of Things Past), a monumental work of twentieth-century fiction published in seven parts from 1913 to 1927.

Biography

Proust was born in Auteuil (the southern sector of Paris's then-rustic 16th arrondissement) at the home of his great-uncle, two months after the Treaty of Frankfurt formally ended the Franco-Prussian War. His birth took place during the violence that surrounded the suppression of the Paris Commune, and his childhood corresponds with the consolidation of the French Third Republic. Much of In Search of Lost Time concerns the vast changes, most particularly the decline of the aristocracy and the rise of the middle classes, that occurred in France during the Third Republic and the fin de siècle.

Proust's father, Achille Adrien Proust, was a prominent pathologist and epidemiologist, responsible for studying and attempting to remedy the causes and movements of cholera through Europe and Asia; he was the author of many articles and books on medicine and hygiene. Proust's mother, Jeanne Clémence Weil, was the daughter of a well-off and cultured Jewish family. She was a literate and well-read woman. Her letters demonstrate a well-developed sense of humour, and her command of English was sufficient for her to provide the necessary impetus to her son's later attempts to translate John Ruskin.

By the age of nine, Proust had his first serious asthma attack, and thereafter he was considered by himself, his family and his friends as a sickly child. Proust spent long holidays in the village of Illiers. This village, combined with aspects of the time he spent at his great-uncle's house in Auteuil became the model for the fictional town of Combray, where some of the most important scenes of In Search of Lost Time take place. (Illiers was renamed Illiers-Combray on the occasion of the Proust centenary celebrations).

Despite his poor health, Proust served a year (1889–90) as an enlisted man in the French army, stationed at Coligny Caserne in Orléans, an experience that provided a lengthy episode in The Guermantes' Way, part three of his novel. As a young man, Proust was a dilettante and a social climber, whose aspirations as a writer were hampered by his lack of application. His reputation from this period, as a snob and an amateur, contributed to his later troubles with getting Swann's Way, the first part of his large-scale novel, published in 1913.

Proust had a close relationship with his mother. In order to appease his father, who insisted that he pursue a career, Proust obtained a volunteer position at the Bibliothèque Mazarine in the summer of 1896. After exerting considerable effort, he obtained a sick leave which was to extend for several years until he was considered to have resigned. He never worked at his job, and he did not move from his parents' apartment until after both were dead (Tadié).

Proust, who was homosexual, was one of the first European novelists to treat homosexuality openly and at length.

His life and family circle changed considerably between 1900 and 1905. In February 1903, Proust's brother Robert married and left the family home. His father died in September of the same year. Finally, and most crushingly, Proust's beloved mother died in September 1905, leaving him a considerable inheritance. (In today's terms, a principal of about $6 million, with a monthly income of about $15,000.) His health throughout this period continued to deteriorate.

Proust spent the last three years of his life largely confined to his cork-lined bedroom, sleeping during the day and working at night to complete his novel. He died in 1922 and is buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

Early writing

Proust was involved in writing and publishing from an early age. In addition to the literary magazines with which he was associated, and in which he published, while at school, La Revue verte and La Revue lilas, from 1890–91 Proust published a regular society column in the journal Le Mensuel (Tadie). In 1892 he was involved in founding a literary review called Le Banquet (also the French title of Plato's Symposium), and throughout the next several years Proust published small pieces regularly in this journal and in the prestigious La Revue Blanche.

In 1896 Les Plaisirs et les Jours, a compendium of many of these early pieces, was published. The book included a foreword by Anatole France, drawings by Mme. Lemaire, and was so sumptuously produced that it cost twice the normal price of a book its size.

That year Proust also began working on a novel which was eventually published in 1954 and titled Jean Santeuil by his posthumous editors. Many of the themes later developed in In Search of Lost Time find their first articulation in this unfinished work, including the enigma of memory and the necessity of reflection; several sections of In Search of Lost Time can be read in first draft in Jean Santeuil. The portrait of the parents in Jean Santeuil is quite harsh, in marked contrast to the adoration with which the parents are painted in Proust's masterpiece. Following the poor reception of Les Plaisirs et les Jours, and internal troubles with resolving the plot, Proust gradually abandoned Jean Santeuil in 1897 and stopped work on it entirely by 1899.

Beginning in 1895 Proust spent several years reading Carlyle, Emerson and John Ruskin. Through this reading Proust began to refine his own theories of art and the role of the artist in society. Also, in Time Regained Proust's universal protagonist recalls having translated Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies. The artist's responsibility is to confront the appearance of nature, deduce its essence and retell or explain that essence in the work of art. Ruskin's view of artistic production was central to this conception, and Ruskin's work was so important to Proust that he claimed to know "by heart" several of Ruskin's books, including The Seven Lamps of Architecture, The Bible of Amiens, and Praeterita (Tadié 350).

Proust set out to translate two of Ruskin's works into French, but was hampered by an imperfect command of English. In order to compensate for this he made his translations a group affair: sketched out by his mother, the drafts were first revised by Proust, then by Marie Nordlinger, the English cousin of his friend and sometime lover Reynaldo Hahn, then by Proust again finally polished. Confronted about his method by an editor, Proust responded, "I don't claim to know English; I claim to know Ruskin" (Tadié). The Bible of Amiens, with Proust's extended introduction, was published in French in 1904. Both the translation and the introduction were very well reviewed; Henri Bergson called Proust's introduction "an important contribution to the psychology of Ruskin" and had similar praise for the translation (Tadié 433). At the time of this publication, Proust was already at work on translating Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies, which he completed in June 1905, just prior to his mother's death, and published in 1906. Literary historians and critics have ascertained that, apart from Ruskin, Proust's chief literary influences included Saint Simon, Montaigne, Stendhal, Flaubert, George Eliot, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy.

1908 was an important year for Proust's development as a writer. During the first part of the year he published in various journals pastiches of other writers. These exercises in imitation may have allowed Proust to solidify his own style. In addition, in the spring and summer of the year Proust began work on several different fragments of writing that would later coalesce under the working title of Contre Saint-Beuve. Proust described what he was working on in a letter to a friend: "I have in progress: a study on the nobility, a Parisian novel, an essay on Sainte-Beuve and Flaubert, an essay on women, an essay on pederasty (not easy to publish), a study on stained-glass windows, a study on tombstones, a study on the novel" (Tadié 513).

From these disparate fragments Proust began to shape a novel on which he worked continually during this period. The rough outline of the work centered on a first-person narrator, unable to sleep, who during the night remembers waiting as a child for his mother to come to him in the morning. The novel was to have ended with a critical examination of Sainte-Beuve and a refutation of his theory that biography was the most important tool for understanding an artist's work. Present in the unfinished manuscript notebooks are many elements that correspond to parts of the Recherche, in particular, to the "Combray" and "Swann in Love" sections of Volume 1, and to the final section of Volume 7. Trouble with finding a publisher, as well as a gradually changing conception of his novel, led Proust to shift work to a substantially different project that still contained many of the same themes and elements. By 1910 he was at work on À la recherche du temps perdu.

In Search of Lost Time

Begun in 1909, À la recherche du temps perdu consists of seven volumes spanning some 3,200 pages and teeming with more than 2,000 literary characters. Graham Greene called Proust the "greatest novelist of the 20th century", and W. Somerset Maugham called the novel the "greatest fiction to date." Proust died before he was able to complete his revision of the drafts and proofs of the final volumes, the last three of which were published posthumously and edited by his brother, Robert.

The book was translated into English by C. K. Scott-Moncrieff, appearing as Remembrance of Things Past between 1922 and 1931.

In 1995, Penguin undertook a fresh translation of the book by editor Christopher Prendergast and seven translators in three countries, based on the latest and most authoritative French text. Subsequently, the title of the novel was more accurately translated as In Search of Lost Time and is now often referred to as such. Its six volumes were published in Britain under the Allen Lane imprint in 2002. The first four (those which under American copyright law are in the public domain) have since been published in the U.S. under the Viking imprint and in paperback under the Penguin Classics imprint.

Bibliography

  • 1896 Les plaisirs et les jours ("Pleasures and Days")
  • 1904 La Bible D'Amiens; a translation of Ruskin's The Bible of Amiens
  • 1906 Sésame et les lys; a translation of Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies
  • 1913–27 À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time, also Remembrance of Things Past)

Vol. French titles Published English titles
1 Du côté de chez Swann 1913 Swann's Way
The Way by Swann's
2 À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs 1919 Within a Budding Grove
In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower
3 Le Côté de Guermantes
(published in two volumes)
1920/21 The Guermantes Way
4 Sodome et Gomorrhe
(published in two volumes)
1921/22 Cities of the Plain
Sodom and Gomorrah
5 La Prisonnière 1923 The Captive
The Prisoner
6 La Fugitive
Albertine disparue
1925 The Fugitive
The Sweet Cheat Gone
Albertine Gone
7 Le Temps retrouvé 1927 The Past Recaptured
Time Regained
Finding Time Again

  • 1919 Pastiches et mélanges ("Mixtures")
  • 1954 Contre Sainte-Beuve ("Against Sainte-Beuve")
  • 1954 Jean Santeuil (unfinished)

See also

Wikisource has original text related to this article:

References

  • Adorno, Theodor. "Prisms." The MIT Press: Cambridge, MA. 1967.
  • Aciman, André (2004) The Proust Project. New York Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Albaret, Céleste (Barbara Bray, trans.) 2003 Monsieur Proust. New York: The New York Review of Books
  • Bernard, Anne-Marie (2002) The World of Proust, as seen by Paul Nadar. Cambridge: MIT Press
  • Carter, William C. (2000) Marcel Proust: A Life. New Haven: Yale University Press
  • Davenport-Hines, Richard (2006) A Night at the Majestic. London: Faber and Faber ISBN 978-0-571-22009-0
  • De Botton, Alain (1998) How Proust Can Change Your Life. New York: Vintage Books
  • Deleuze, Gilles (2004) Proust and Signs: The Complete Text. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
  • Painter, George D (1959) Marcel Proust A Biography Vols. 1 & 2. London: Chatto & Windus
  • Shattuck, Roger (1963) Proust's Binoculars: A Study of Memory, Time, and Recognition in À la recherche du temps perdu. New York: Random House
  • Shattuck, Roger (2000) Proust's Way: A Field Guide To In Search of Lost Time, New York: W. W. Norton
  • Tadié, Jean-Yves: Marcel Proust: A Life. Viking, New York, 2000
  • White, Edmund (1998) Marcel Proust. New York: Viking Books

External links

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