makes for lost time

In Search of Lost Time

In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past (À la recherche du temps perdu) is a semi-autobiographical novel in seven volumes by Marcel Proust. His most prominent work, it is popularly known for its extended length and the notion of involuntary memory, the most famous example being the "episode of the madeleine". The title In Search of Lost Time has gained in popularity since D.J. Enright's 1992 revision of the classic translation of C.K. Scott-Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, but it is also widely referred to by its original English title Remembrance of Things Past.

Begun in 1909, finished just before his death in 1922, and published in France between 1913 and 1927, many of the novel's ideas, motifs, and scenes appear in adumbrated form in Proust's unfinished novel, Jean Santeuil (1896–99), and in his unfinished hybrid of philosophical essay and story, Contre Sainte-Beuve (1908–09). The novel has had a pervasive influence on twentieth-century literature, whether because writers have sought to emulate it, or attempted to parody and discredit some of its traits. In it, Proust explores the themes of time, space, and memory, but the novel is above all a condensation of innumerable literary, structural, stylistic, and thematic possibilities.

Proust died before completing his revisions of the drafts and proofs of the final volumes. His brother Robert edited the last three volumes, which were published posthumously.

Initial publication

Although different editions divide the work into a varying number of tomes, A la recherche du temps perdu or In Search of Lost Time is a novel consisting of seven volumes.

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

Volume 1: Du côté de chez Swann (1913) was rejected by a number of publishers, including Fasquelle, Ollendorf, and the Nouvelle Revue Française (NRF). Proust eventually arranged with the publisher Grasset to pay for the costs of publication himself. When published it was advertised as the first of a three-volume novel (Bouillaguet and Rogers, 316-7).

Du côté de chez Swann is divided into four parts: "Combray I" (sometimes referred to in English as the "Overture"), "Combray II," "Un Amour de Swann," and "Noms de pays: le nom." A third-person novella within Du côté de chez Swann, "Un Amour de Swann" is sometimes published as a volume by itself. As it forms the self-contained story of Charles Swann's love affair with Odette de Crécy and is relatively short, it is generally considered a good introduction to the work and is often a set text in French schools. "Combray I" is also similarly excerpted.

In early 1914, André Gide, who had been involved in NRF's rejection of the book, wrote to Proust to apologize and to offer congratulations on the novel. "For several days I have been unable to put your book down.... The rejection of this book will remain the most serious mistake ever made by the NRF and, since I bear the shame of being very much responsible for it, one of the most stinging and remorseful regrets of my life" (Tadié, 611). Gallimard (the publishing arm of NRF) offered to publish the remaining volumes, but Proust chose to stay with Grasset.

Volume 2: À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (1919), scheduled to be published in 1914, was delayed by the onset of World War I. At the same time, Grasset's firm was closed down when the publisher went into military service. This freed Proust to move to Gallimard, where all the subsequent volumes were published. Meanwhile, the novel kept growing in length and in conception.

À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs was awarded the Prix Goncourt in 1919.

Volume 3: Le Côté de Guermantes originally appeared as Le Côté de Guermantes I (1920) and Le Côté de Guermantes II (1921).

Volume 4: The first forty pages of Sodome et Gomorrhe initially appeared at the end of Le Côté de Guermantes II (Bouillaguet and Rogers, 942), the remainder appearing as Sodome et Gomorrhe I (1921) and Sodome et Gomorrhe II (1922). It was the last volume over which Proust supervised publication before his death in November 1922. The publication of the remaining volumes was carried out by his brother, Robert Proust, and Jacques Rivière.

Volume 5: La Prisonnière (1923), first volume of the section of the novel known as "le Roman d'Albertine" ("the Albertine novel"). The name "Albertine" first appears in Proust's notebooks in 1913. The material in these volumes was developed during the hiatus between the publication of Volumes 1 and 2, and they are a departure from the three-volume series announced by Proust in Du côté de chez Swann.

Volume 6: La Fugitive or Albertine disparue (1925) is the most editorially vexed volume. As noted, the final three volumes of the novel were published posthumously, and without Proust's final corrections and revisions. The first edition, based on Proust's manuscript, was published as Albertine disparue to prevent it from being confused with Rabindranath Tagore's La Fugitive (1921). The first definitive edition of the novel in French (1954), also based on Proust's manuscript, used the title La Fugitive. The second, even-more-definitive French edition (1987-89) uses the title Albertine disparue and is based on an unmarked typescript acquired in 1962 by the Bibliothèque Nationale. To complicate matters, after the death in 1986 of Proust's niece, Suzy Mante-Proust, her son-in-law discovered among her papers a typescript that had been corrected and annotated by Proust. The late changes Proust made include a small, crucial detail and the deletion of approximately 150 pages. This version was published as Albertine disparue in France in 1987.

Volume 7: Much of Le Temps retrouvé (1927) was written at the same time as Du côté de chez Swann, but was revised and expanded during the course of the novel's publication to account for, to a greater or lesser success, the then unforeseen material now contained in the middle volumes (Terdiman, 153n3). This volume includes a noteworthy episode describing Paris during the First World War.

Publication in English

The first six volumes were first translated into English by the Scotsman C. K. Scott-Moncrieff between 1922 and his death in 1930 under the umbrella title Remembrance of Things Past, a phrase taken from Shakespeare's Sonnet 30. The final volume, Le Temps retrouvé, was initially published in English in the UK as Time Regained (1931), translated by Stephen Hudson (a pseudonym of Sydney Schiff), and in the US as The Past Recaptured (1932) in a translation by Frederick Blossom. Although cordial with Scott-Moncrieff, Proust grudgingly remarked in a letter that Remembrance eliminated the correspondence between Temps perdu and Temps retrouvé (Painter, 352). Terence Kilmartin revised the Scott-Moncrieff translation in 1981. An additional revision by D.J. Enright published by the Modern Library in 1992, based on the latest and most authoritative French text (1987–89), rendered the title of the novel more accurately as In Search of Lost Time.

In 1995, Penguin undertook a fresh translation of In Search of Lost Time by editor Christopher Prendergast and seven translators in three countries, also based on the authoritative French text. 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 US under the Viking imprint and in paperback under the Penguin Classics imprint.

Both the Modern Library and Penguin translations provide a detailed plot synopsis at the end of each volume. The last volume of the Modern Library edition, Time Regained, also includes Kilmartin's "A Guide to Proust," an index of the novel's characters, persons, places, and themes. The Modern Library volumes include a handful of endnotes, and alternative versions of some of the novel's famous episodes. The Penguin volumes each provide an extensive set of brief, non-scholarly endnotes that help identify cultural references perhaps unfamiliar to contemporary English readers.

Reviews which discuss the merits of both translations can be found online at the Observer, the Telegraph, The New York Review of Books (subscription only), The New York Times, and TempsPerdu.comEnglish-language translations in print

  • In Search of Lost Time, General Editor: Christopher Prendergast. Translated by Lydia Davis, Mark Treharne, James Grieve, John Sturrock, Carol Clark, Peter Collier, & Ian Patterson. London: Allen Lane, 2002 (6 vols). Based on the most recent definitive French edition (1987–89), except The Fugitive, which is based on the 1954 definitive French edition. The first four volumes have been published in New York by Viking, 2003–2004, but the Copyright Term Extension Act will delay the rest of the project until 2018.
    • (Volume titles: The Way by Swann's (in the U.S., Swann's Way) ISBN 0-14-243796-4; In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower ISBN 0-14-303907-5; The Guermantes Way ISBN 0-14-303922-9; Sodom and Gomorrah ISBN 0-14-303931-8; The Prisoner; and The Fugitive — Finding Time Again.)
  • In Search of Lost Time, Translated by C. K. Scott-Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin and Andreas Mayor (Vol. 7). Revised by D.J. Enright. London: Chatto and Windus, New York: The Modern Library, 1992. Based on the most recent definitive French edition (1987–89).
    • (Volume titles: Swann's Way — Within a Budding Grove — The Guermantes Way — Sodom and Gomorrah — The Captive — The Fugitive — Time Regained.)
  • Remembrance of Things Past, Translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin, and Andreas Mayor (Vol. 7). New York: Random House, 1981 (3 vols). ISBN 0-394-71243-9
    • (Published in three volumes: Swann's Way — Within a Budding Grove; The Guermantes Way — Cities of the Plain; The Captive — The Fugitive — Time Regained.)


The role of memory is central to the novel, hence the famous episode with the madeleine in the first volume. When the narrator's grandmother dies, her agony is depicted as her seeming to fall apart; particularly, as her memories seem to flow out of her, she loses contact with it. In the last volume, Time Regained, a flashback similar to the madeleines episode is the beginning of the resolution of the story. The narrator is transported back to an earlier time by sensory experiences of memory, triggered by smells, sights, sounds, or touch.

A large part of the novel has to do with the nature of art. Proust sets forth a theory of art in which we all are capable of producing art, if by art we mean taking the experiences of life and transforming them in a way that shows understanding and maturity. Music is also discussed at great length. Morel, the violinist, is examined to give an example of a certain type of "artistic" character. The artistic value of Wagner's music is also discussed.

Homosexuality is a major theme in the novel, especially in Sodom and Gomorrah and subsequent volumes. Though the narrator himself is heterosexual, he invariably suspects his lovers of liaisons with other women. Similarly, Charles Swann, the central figure in much of the first volume, suspects his mistress Odette (whom he later marries) has had such encounters, something she subsequently admits to him is true. Several lesser characters are forthrightly homosexual, like the Baron de Charlus; while others, like the narrator's good friend Robert de Saint-Loup, are only later revealed to be closeted.

In 1949, the critic Justin O'Brien published an article in the PMLA called "Albertine the Ambiguous: Notes on Proust's Transposition of Sexes" which proposed that some female characters are best understood as actually referring to young men. Strip off the feminine ending of the names of the Narrator's lovers — Albertine, Gilberte, Andrée — and one has their masculine counterpart. This theory has become known as the "transposition of sexes theory" in Proust criticism, which in turn has been challenged in Epistemology of the Closet (1992) by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.

Proust wove World War I into his story, including an aerial bombardment of Paris; the narrator's boyhood haunts have become a battlefield, with 600,000 Germans lost in the struggle for Méséglise, and Combray itself divided between the opposing armies.

Although Proust wrote contemporaneously with Sigmund Freud, neither author read a word of the other's work (Bragg). Dr. Howard Hertz of Pasadena City College has compared Proust with the work of the Freudian theorist Melanie Klein.

Main characters

The Narrator's household

  • The narrator: A sensitive young man who wishes to become a writer, whose identity is kept explicitly vague. In volume 5, The Prisoner, he addresses the reader thus: "Now she began to speak; her first words were 'darling' or 'my darling,' followed by my Christian name, which, if we give the narrator the same name as the author of this book, would produce 'darling Marcel' or 'my darling Marcel.'" (Proust, 64)
  • Bathilde Amédée: The narrator's grandmother. Her life and death greatly influence her daughter and grandson.
  • Françoise: The narrator's faithful, stubborn maid. The Guermantes
  • Palamède de Guermantes (Baron de Charlus): An aristocratic, decadent aesthete with many antisocial habits.
  • Oriane de Guermantes (Duchesse de Guermantes): The toast of Paris' high society. She lives in the fashionable Faubourg St. Germain.
  • Robert de Saint-Loup: An army officer and the narrator's best friend. Despite his patrician birth (he is the nephew of M. de Guermantes) and affluent lifestyle, Saint-Loup has no great fortune of his own until he marries Gilberte. The Swanns
  • Charles Swann: A friend of the narrator's family. His political views on the Dreyfus Affair and marriage to Odette ostracize him from much of high society.
  • Odette de Crécy: A beautiful Parisian courtesan. Odette is also referred to as Mme Swann, the woman in pink/white, and in the final volume, Mme de Forcheville.
  • Gilberte Swann: The daughter of Swann and Odette. She takes the name of her adopted father, M. de Forcheville, after Swann's death, and then becomes Mme de Saint-Loup following her marriage to Robert de Saint-Loup, which joins Swann's Way and the Guermantes Way. Artists:
  • Elstir: A famous painter whose renditions of sea and sky echo the novel's theme of the mutability of human life.
  • Bergotte: A well-known writer whose works the narrator has admired since childhood.
  • Vinteuil: An obscure musician who gains posthumous recognition for composing a beautiful, evocative sonata. Others
  • Charles Morel: The son of a former servant of the narrator's uncle and a gifted violinist. He profits greatly from the patronage of the Baron de Charlus and later Robert de Saint-Loup.
  • Albertine Simonet: A privileged orphan of average beauty and intelligence. The narrator's romance with her is the subject of much of the novel.
  • Sidonie Verdurin: A poseur who rises to the top of society through inheritance, marriage, and sheer single-mindedness. Often referred to simply as Mme. Verdurin.


In Search of Lost Time is considered the definitive Modern novel by many scholars, and it had a profound effect on subsequent writers such as the Bloomsbury Group. "Oh if I could write like that!" marveled Virginia Woolf in 1922 (2:525). More recently, literary critic Harold Bloom wrote that In Search of Lost Time is now "widely recognized as the major novel of the twentieth century.

Since the publication in 1992 of a revised English translation by The Modern Library, based on a new definitive French edition (1987–89), interest in Proust's novel in the English-speaking world has notably increased. Two substantial new biographies have appeared in English, by Edmund White and William C. Carter, and at least two books about the experience of reading Proust have appeared, by Alain de Botton and Phyllis Rose.

Founded in 1997, the Proust Society of America now has three chapters: at The Mercantile Library of New York City, the Mechanic's Institute Library in San Francisco, and the Boston Athenæum Library.

In J. Peder Zane's book The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, which collates 125 "top 10 greatest books of all time" lists made by prominent living writers, In Search of Lost Time places eighth.

The French phenomenologist, Merleau-Ponty, frequently references Swann's Way to help elucidate his own ideas.



In popular culture

  • In Curtis Jean-Louis' 1957 novel À la recherche du temps posthume, Proust returns to earth and is instructed, by the cast of In Search of Lost Time, in how and why the "psychological novel" has been abandoned for the nouveau roman.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus parodied the novel in a 1972 sketch called "The All-England Summarise Proust Competition". Competitors had to summarize the book in 15 seconds.
  • Chapter 10 of Umberto Eco's 1988 novel Foucault's Pendulum contains several explicit references to In Search of Lost Time.
  • Georges Perec wrote an article entitled 35 variations sur un thème de Marcel Proust in 1974, in which he turned the novel's famous opening line into, among others, a version for athletes ('longtemps je me suis douché de bonne heure') and one for auto-erotomaniacs ('longtemps je me suis touché de bonne heure').
  • Russell Baker wrote a satiric editorial piece entitled "Crawling Up Everest" for his newspaper column, in which he and a trained reader attempt to read the novel.
  • Beat author and poet Jack Kerouac holds Proust as one of his crowning influences and refers to In Search of Lost Time in his works.
  • Italian director Fabio Capri has made two films loosely based on Proust's works: Quartetto Basileus (1982), which uses segments from Sodom and Gomorrah and Time Regained, and Le Intermittenze del cuore (2003), a film about a director working on a movie concerning Proust's life. (Beugnet and Marion Schmid, 206).
  • In the 2006 film Little Miss Sunshine, Steve Carrell's character is one of the world's leading Proust scholars, and the movie contains several allusions to In Search of Lost Time.
  • In the film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Cate Blanchett's character reads In Search of Lost Time aloud to her unborn child.
  • In Dan Simmons' duology Ilium, one of the main characters, a Moravec cyborg named Orphu of Io, quotes Proust on many occasions, primarily In Search of Lost time.
  • In episode seven of the Korean drama My Lovely Sam Soon, the main character eats a madeleine and makes a reference to In Search of Lost Time.
  • In the 2002 Korean movie entitled Madeleine, the character of Jo Insung makes a reference to the madeleine story of In Search of Lost Time.
  • In the pilot episode of the FX television series Dirt, main character Lucy Spiller encounters a young man reading a book. When he mentions the entire course of the novel is predicated upon a character dipping a cookie in some tea, she impresses him by replying that it is not just any cookie, but a madeleine.
  • In Gilmore Girls, Max lets Lorelai borrow his copy of Swann's Way; she is unable to read further than the first few pages, and her attempts to return the volume and break off the relationship form much of the plot of the episode "Paris is Burning." Rory also references the book in her valedictory speech at her graduation from Chilton.
  • In Duane's Depressed, part of Larry McMurtry's series that includes The Last Picture Show, characters in a book club read and discuss In Search of Lost Time.
  • In Dare the 2007 debut novel by BET host Abiola Abrams, a student on the train reads In Search of Lost Time while listening to Believe by Lenny Kravitz.
  • Two copies of Remembrance of Things Past appear in episode 7 of the CBS vampire/crime drama Moonlight, entitled "The Ringer."
  • Referenced by Dr. Melfi in The Sopranos season 3 episode where Tony is reminded of his childhood after biting into a capicola sandwich.
  • The title of Andy Warhol's 1955 book, A La Recherche du Shoe Perdu, glibly references Proust's novel. The publication marked Warhol's "transition from commercial to gallery artist".

Notes and references


  • Bouillaguet, Annick and Rogers, Brian G. Dictionnaire Marcel Proust. Paris: Honoré Champion, 2004. ISBN 2-7453-0956-0
  • Douglas-Fairbank, Robert. "In search of Marcel Proust" in the Guardian, 17 November 2002.
  • Kilmartin, Terence. "Note on the Translation." Remembrance of Things Past. Vol. 1. New York: Vintage, 1981: ix-xii. ISBN 0-394-71182-3
  • Painter, George. Marcel Proust: A Biography. Vol. 2. New York: Random House, 1959. ISBN 0-394-50041-5
  • Proust, Marcel. (Carol Clark, Peter Collier, trans.) The Prisoner and The Fugitive. London: Penguin Books Ltd, 2003. ISBN 0-14-118035-8
  • Shattuck, Roger. Proust's Way: A Field Guide To In Search of Lost Time. New York: W W Norton, 2000. ISBN 0-393-32180-0
  • Tadié, J-Y. (Euan Cameron, trans.) Marcel Proust: A Life. New York: Penguin Putnam, 2000. ISBN 0-14-100203-4
  • Terdiman, Richard. Present Past: Modernity and the Memory Crisis. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1993. ISBN 0-8014-8132-5
  • Woolf, Virginia. The Letters of Virginia Woolf. Eds. Nigel Nicolson and Joanne Trautmann. 7 vols. New York: Harcourt, 1976,1977.
  • Beugnet, Martin and Schmid, Marion. Proust at the Movies. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004.

Further reading

  • Alexander, Patrick Marcel Proust's Search For Lost Time. Booksurge 2007. ISBN 978-1-4196-7250-7
  • Carter, William C. Marcel Proust: A Life. New Haven: Yale UP, 2000. ISBN 0-300-08145-6
  • de Botton, Alain. How Proust Can Change Your Life. New York: Pantheon 1997. ISBN 0-679-44275-8
  • Deleuze, Gilles. Proust and Signs. (Translation by Richard Howard.) George Braziller, Inc. 1972.
  • O'Brien, Justin. "Albertine the Ambiguous: Notes on Proust's Transposition of Sexes" PMLA 64: 933-52, 1949.
  • Proust, Marcel. Albertine disparue. Paris: Grasset, 1987. ISBN 2-246-39731-6
  • Rose, Phyllis. The Year of Reading Proust. New York: Scribner, 1997. ISBN 0-684-83984-9
  • Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: U of California P, 1992. ISBN 0-520-07874-8
  • White, Edmund. Marcel Proust. New York: Penguin USA, 1999. ISBN 0-670-88057-4

External links

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