Reading Proust

I haven’t posted on Proust in a while (which Stefanie’s post reminded me of); I’m not sure why I haven’t, except perhaps laziness — it feels like a lot of effort to pull together a post on In Search of Lost Time. But I have been reading steadily away, and have reached the middle of The Fugitive, the second to last volume. I plan on finishing the entire thing by the end of the summer, assuming nothing unexpected gets in the way.

To be honest, I don’t think I’d be able to keep reading this if I didn’t have a steady pattern of reading 50-60 pages a week. I mean, if I read now and then, stopping and starting, picking it up as I have time and am inspired, I probably would have stopped for good at some point. I would have piled other books on top of it and would have eventually given up. But a regular schedule keeps me going; reading Proust is just one of the things I do every week. When I’m finished reading Proust I will feel a sense of loss, I think. He’s been a constant companion for a year now.

Oh — I just remembered that it’s almost exactly one year since I began reading Proust. Involuntary Memory, the group blog devoted to reading Proust began last July. I wonder how the other members are doing with the book? That blog has languished of late.

I don’t want to imply that reading Proust has not been enjoyable — it certainly has. It’s just that … well, one doesn’t keep reading it for the plot. It’s beautiful and thought-provoking and brilliant, but not exciting. So a little bit of discipline helps me out.

I found the first two volumes Swann’s Way and In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower to be the best so far (I’ve heard wonderful things about the last volume, though, so I don’t know which ones will turn out to be my favorites). The third and fourth volumes, The Guermantes Way and Sodom and Gomorrah are a bit slower going. They still have much that’s wonderful — those long passages where the narrator analyzes his thoughts and feelings in such wonderful depth and detail and that say so many wonderful and true things about life and existence — but they also have long passages describing parties and social intrigues and gossip that aren’t quite as fascinating. (This is one advantage of reading through the volumes slowly — I never feel that bogged down when things get slow, since I’m only reading 10-20 pages at a time.)

I’ve felt that in The Prisoner and The Fugitive the book is closer to what it was in the first two volumes. There are fewer party scenes and more passages of introspection and analysis. These are the Albertine volumes, where the narrator describes his ever-changing feelings toward her — and believe me, they are ever-changing.  Nobody captures the vicissitudes of feeling better than Proust.  I have just finished a section of The Fugitive, about half the volume, where the narrator describes his feelings in response to a big plot event — which I won’t give away here, although someone gave the event away to me a while back, so I’ve spent a long time wondering when this big thing would happen.  It’s a little like reading Clarissa, where big events don’t happen very often, so you learn to treasure the ones that do.

I’m far enough along in the book now that I’m quite sure I’ll finish it, and I know I will be happy that I did.  The world will never look quite the same again after reading Proust.

If we went to Mars or Venus while keeping the same senses, everything we might see there would take on the same aspect as the things we know on Earth.  The only real journey, the only Fountain of Youth, would be to travel not towards new landscapes, but with new eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them can see, or can be …


Filed under Books, Fiction

8 responses to “Reading Proust

  1. I admire your reading of Proust. You have done so well sticking to it! I would like to at least read the first couple of books–maybe next year. Have you read the same translator for each book? What will you work on after this? I think when you read so much by one author, it can be a letdown to be finished!


  2. Cam

    great price. need by Jul 6.


  3. Your post makes me feel like giving Proust a go, but I have a feeling I’d struggle. I certainly admire your discipline though and it does sound like interesting reading.

    Have you read Alain de Botton’s ‘How Proust Can Change Your Life’ by any chance? I’ve just read his book on travel and noticed that he’d also written on Proust…


  4. It’s interesting to note that Proust wrote the first and last volume almost at once, and then fleshed in the middle after. If the last resonates with the first, if it has the same verve and energy, than that’s probably why. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the final volume!


  5. Oh, love that quote! I admire your discipline of keeping at it week after week. I’ve not been so very disciplined as you know since I am only on Guermantes Way. The Involuntary Memory blog has languished, hasn’t it? I think it’s because we are all reading but just don’t necessarily know what to say about it. Your comment about not reading Proust for the plot gave me a good laugh. So true!


  6. Thanks Danielle! I’m reading the Penguin edition — the new one — but they have a different translator for each volume, so I’m not reading the same person. But I haven’t noticed any difference — I’m curious about whether other people have? Jess, I haven’t read Botton’s book, but I own a copy — I hope to pick it up sometime soon. I’ve read his book on travel, too, and I liked it. Phil, I didn’t know that about Proust’s writing process — very interesting. Stefanie, I think you’re right about people not knowing what to say about it — I’ve felt that way myself at times. I’m preferring to just soak it in and not talk a whole lot about it.


  7. I’m impressed too with the way you have stuck it out – I agree, Proust is literary magic, but nothing happens. I really came to recommend Phyllis Rose’s book The Year of Reading Proust. I loved it when I read it and it might resonate with your experiences!


  8. Thanks, Litlove, for the book recommendation — it sounds great and like something I’d really enjoy.


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