The final volume of a new, definitive text of A la recherche du temps perdu was published by the Bibliotheque de la Pleiade in 1989. For this authoritative English-language edition, D. J. Enright has revised the late Terence Kilmartin's acclaimed reworking of C. K. Scott Moncrieff's translation to take into account the new French editions.
About the Author
Date of Birth:July 10, 1871
Date of Death:November 18, 1922
Place of Birth:Auteuil, near Paris, France
Place of Death:Paris, France
Read an Excerpt
My mother, when it was a question of our having M. de Norpois to dinner for the first time, having expressed her regret that Professor Cottard was away from home and that she herself had quite ceased to see anything of Swann, since either of these might have helped to entertain the ex-ambassador, my father replied that so eminent a guest, so distinguished a man of science as Cottard could never be out of place at a dinner-table, but that Swann, with his ostentation, his habit of crying aloud from the house-tops the name of everyone he knew, however slightly, was a vulgar show-off whom the Marquis de Norpois would be sure to dismiss as--to use his own epithet--a 'pestilent' fellow. Now, this attitude on my father's part may be felt to require a few words of explanation, inasmuch as some of us, no doubt, remember a Cottard of distinct mediocrity and a Swann by whom modesty and discretion, in all his social relations, were carried to the utmost refinement of delicacy. But in his case what had happened was that, to the original 'young Swann' and also to the Swann of the Jockey Club, our old friend had added a new personality (which was not to be his last), that of Odette's husband. Adapting to the humble ambitions of that lady the instinct, the desire, the industry which he had always had, he had laboriously constructed for himself, a long way beneath the old, a new position more appropriate to the companion who was to share it with him. In this new position he revealed himself a different man. Since (while continuing to meet his own personal friends by himself, not wishing to impose Odette on them unless they expressly asked to be introduced to her) it was a second life that he had begun to lead, in common with his wife, among a new set of people, it would have been understandable if, in order to gauge the social importance of these new acquaintances and thereby the degree of self-esteem that might be derived from entertaining them, he had used, as a standard of comparison, not the brilliant society in which he himself had moved before his marriage, but former connections of Odette's. But, even when one knew that it was with uncouth functionaries and tainted women, the ornaments of ministerial ball-rooms, that he now wished to associate, it was still astonishing to hear him, who in the old days, and even still, would so gracefully refrain from mentioning an invitation to Twickenham or to Buckingham Palace, proclaim with quite unnecessary emphasis that the wife of some junior minister had returned Mme Swann's call. It will perhaps be objected here that what this really implied was that the simplicity of the fashionable Swann had been simply a more refined form of vanity, and that, like certain other Jews, my parents' old friend had contrived to illustrate in turn all the successive stages through which those of his race had passed, from the most naive snobbery and the crudest caddishness to the most exquisite good manners. But the chief reason--and one which is applicable to humanity as a whole--was that our virtues themselves are not free and floating qualities over which we retain a permanent control and power of disposal; they come to be so closely linked in our minds with the actions in conjunction with which we have made it our duty to exercise them that if we come to engage in an activity of a different kind, it catches us off guard and without the slightest awareness that it might involve the application of those same virtues. Swann, in his solicitude for these new connections and in the pride with which he referred to them, was like those great artists--modest or generous by nature--who, if in their declining years they take to cooking or to gardening, display a naive gratification at the compliments that are paid to their dishes or their borders, and will not allow any of the criticism which they readily accept when it is applied to their real achievements; or who, while giving away a canvas for nothing, cannot conceal their annoyance if they lose a couple of francs at dominoes.
As for Professor Cottard, we shall meet him again, at length, much later, with the 'Mistress,' Mme Verdurin, in her country house La Raspeliere. For the present, the following observations must suffice: first of all, whereas in the case of Swann the alteration may indeed be surprising, since it had been accomplished and yet was not suspected by me when I used to see Gilberte's father in the Champs-Elysees, where in any case, as he never spoke to me, he could not very well boast to me of his political connections (it is true that if he had done so, I might not at once have discerned his vanity, for the idea that one has long held of a person is apt to stop one's eyes and ears; my mother, for three whole years, had no more noticed the rouge with which one of her nieces used to paint her lips than if it had been invisibly dissolved in some liquid; until one day a streak too much, or else some other cause, brought about the phenomenon known as super-saturation; all the paint that had hitherto passed unperceived now crystallised, and my mother, in the face of this sudden riot of colour, declared, in the best Combray manner, that it was a perfect scandal, and almost severed relations with her niece). In the case of Cottard, on the other hand, the period when we saw him in attendance at Swann's first meetings with the Verdurins was already fairly remote; and honours, offices and titles come with the passage of the years. Secondly, a man may be illiterate, and make stupid puns, and yet have a special gift which no amount of general culture can replace--such as the gift of a great strategist or physician. And so it was not merely as an obscure practitioner, who had attained in course of time to European celebrity, that the rest of his profession regarded Cottard. The most intelligent of the younger doctors used to assert--for a year or two at least, for fashions change, being themselves begotten of the desire for change--that if they themselves ever fell ill Cottard was the only one of the leading men to whom they would entrust their lives. No doubt they preferred the company of certain others who were better read, more artistic, with whom they could discuss Nietzsche and Wagner. When there was a musical party at Mme Cottard's, on the evenings when--in the hope that it might one day make him Dean of the Faculty--she entertained the colleagues and pupils of her husband, the latter, instead of listening, preferred to play cards in another room. But everyone praised the quickness, the penetration, the unerring judgment of his diagnoses. Thirdly, in considering the general impression which Professor Cottard must have made on a man like my father, we must bear in mind that the character which a man exhibits in the latter half of his life is not always, though it often is, his original character developed or withered, attenuated or enlarged; it is sometimes the exact reverse, like a garment that has been turned. Except from the Verdurins, who were infatuated with him, Cottard's hesitating manner, his excessive shyness and affability had, in his young days, called down upon him endless taunts and sneers. What charitable friend counselled that glacial air? The importance of his professional standing made it all the more easy for him to adopt. Wherever he went, save at the Verdurins', where he instinctively became himself again, he would assume a repellent coldness, remain deliberately silent, adopt a peremptory tone when he was obliged to speak, and never fail to say the most disagreeable things. He had every opportunity of rehearsing this new attitude before his patients, who, seeing him for the first time, were not in a position to make comparisons, and would have been greatly surprised to learn that he was not at all a rude man by nature. Impassiveness was what he strove to attain, and even while visiting his hospital wards, when he allowed himself to utter one of those puns which left everyone, from the house physician to the most junior student, helpless with laughter, he would always make it without moving a muscle of his face, which was itself no longer recognisable now that he had shaved off his beard and moustache.
Who, finally, was the Marquis de Norpois? He had been Minister Plenipotentiary before the War, and was actually an ambassador on the Sixteenth of May;1 in spite of which, and to the general astonishment, he had since been several times chosen to represent France on special missions--even, as Controller of Debts, in Egypt, where, thanks to his considerable financial skill, he had rendered important services--by Radical cabinets under which a simple bourgeois reactionary would have declined to serve, and in whose eyes M. de Norpois, in view of his past, his connexions and his opinions, ought presumably to have been suspect. But these advanced ministers seemed to be aware that, in making such an appointment, they were showing how broadminded they were when the higher interests of France were at stake, were raising themselves above the general run of politicians to the extent that the Journal des Debats itself referred to them as 'statesmen,' and were reaping direct advantage from the prestige that attaches to an aristocratic name and the dramatic interest always aroused by an unexpected appointment. And they knew also that, in calling upon M. de Norpois, they could reap these advantages without having to fear any want of political loyalty on his part, a fault against which his noble birth not only need not put them on their guard but offered a positive guarantee. And in this calculation the Government of the Republic was not mistaken. In the first place, because an aristocrat of a certain type, brought up from his cradle to regard his name as an innate asset of which no accident can deprive him (and of whose value his peers, or those of even nobler birth, can form a fairly exact estimate), knows that he can dispense with the efforts (since they can in no way enhance his position) in which, without any appreciable result, so many public men of the middle class spend themselves to profess only orthodox opinions and associate only with right-thinking people. Anxious, on the other hand, to enhance his own importance in the eyes of the princely or ducal families which take immediate precedence of his own, he knows that he can do so only by complementing his name with something that it lacked, something that will give it priority over other names heraldically its equals: such as political influence, a literary or an artistic reputation, or a large fortune. And so what he saves by ignoring the ineffectual squires who are sought after by his bourgeois colleagues, but of his sterile friendship with whom a prince would think nothing, he will lavish on the politicians who (freemasons, or worse, though they be) can advance him in diplomacy or support him in elections, and on the artists or scientists whose patronage can help him to 'break into' the branches in which they are predominant, on anyone, in fact, who is in a position to confer a fresh distinction or to help bring off a rich marriage.
But in the case of M. de Norpois there was above all the fact that, in the course of a long career in diplomacy, he had become imbued with that negative, methodical, conservative spirit, a 'governmental mind,' which is common to all governments and, under every government, particularly inspires its foreign service. He had imbibed, during that career, an aversion, a dread, a contempt for the methods of procedure, more or less revolutionary and at the very least improper, which are those of an Opposition. Save in the case of a few illiterates--high or low, it makes no matter--by whom no difference in quality is perceptible, what brings men together is not a community of views but a consanguinity of minds. An Academician of the Legouve type, an upholder of the classics, would have applauded Maxime Du Camp's or Meziere's eulogy of Victor Hugo with more fervour than that of Boileau by Claudel. A common nationalism suffices to endear Barres to his electors, who scarcely distinguish between him and M. Georges Berry, but not to those of his brother Academicians who, with the same political opinions but a different type of mind, will be more partial even to enemies such as M. Ribot and M. Deschanel, with whom, in turn, the most loyal Monarchists feel themselves more at home than with Maurras or Leon Daudet, who nevertheless also desire the King's return. Sparing of his words, not only from a professional habit of prudence and reserve, but because words themselves have more value, present more subtleties of definition to men whose efforts, protracted over a decade, to bring two countries to an understanding are condensed, translated--in a speech or in a protocol--into a single adjective, colourless in all appearance, but to them pregnant with a world of meaning, M. de Norpois was considered very stiff, on the Commission, where he sat next to my father, whom everyone else congratulated on the astonishing way in which the ex-ambassador unbent to him. My father was himself more astonished than anyone. For, being generally somewhat unsociable, he was not used to being sought after outside the circle of his intimates, and frankly admitted it. He realised that these overtures on the part of the diplomat were a reflection of the completely individual standpoint which each of us adopts for himself in making his choice of friends, and from which all a man's intellectual qualities or his sensibility will be a far less potent recommendation to someone who is bored or irritated by him than the frankness and gaiety of another man whom many would consider vapid, frivolous and null. 'De Norpois has asked me to dinner again; it's quite extraordinary; everyone on the Commission is amazed, as he has no personal relations with anyone else. I'm sure he's going to tell me some more fascinating things about the 'Seventy war.' My father knew that M. de Norpois had warned, had perhaps been alone in warning the Emperor of the growing strength and bellicose designs of Prussia, and that Bismarck rated his intelligence most highly. Only the other day, at the Opera, during the gala performance given for King Theodosius, the newspapers had all drawn attention to the long conversation which that monarch had had with M. de Norpois. 'I must ask him whether the King's visit had any real significance,' my father went on, for he was keenly interested in foreign policy. 'I know old Norpois keeps very close as a rule, but when he's with me he opens out quite charmingly.'
Reading Group Guide
This discussion guide will assist readers in exploring In Search of Lost Time. Hopefully, it will help create a bond not only between the book and the reader, but also between the members of the group. In your support of this book, please feel free to copy and distribute this guide to best facilitate the program. Thank you.
1. Time is a central concern for Proust, appearing first in the title and last as the final word of the novel. What is his vision of the past? Does he have a vision of the present? The future? Can the Narrator be said to be living in the past? Is he like the White Queen in Through the Looking-Glass, with "jam tomorrow and jam yesterday - but never jam today"?
2. The renowned translator of Proust, C. K. Scott Moncrieff, originally grouped the opening section of In Search of Lost Time under the title "The Overture," which includes two famous passages, the good night kiss and the evocative taste of the madeleine. Does this seem apt? If so, how might this fifty-odd page beginning prefigure what will transpire later? What would you expect to follow, given that an overture usually introduces the main themes of a musical work? What does it suggest about Proust's conception of literature and music?
3. The episode of the good night kiss strikes some readers as odd or contradictory: the Narrator's need for a kiss seems almost infantile, while his power of observation seems extraordinarily precocious. Considering that he is sent to bed at eight o'clock, how old do you think the Narrator is? Is it significant that his father suggests the Narrator be given the kiss he craves, whereas his mother is reluctant, saying "We mustn't let the child get into the habit . . ."? Is the fact that the Narrator succeeds in getting the kiss he wants a good thing or a bad thing? Why?
4. "The whole of Proust's world comes out of a teacup," observed Samuel Beckett. Indeed the episode of the madeleine dipped in tea is the first (and most famous) of numerous instances of "involuntary memory" in the novel. A recognized psychological phenomenon triggered by smells, tastes, or sounds, involuntary memory vividly reproduces emotions, sensations, or images from the past. Why do you think readers and critics universally consider this scene to be pivotal? What does the Narrator think about the experience of involuntary memory? What might its function be in the scheme of In Search of Lost Time?
5. Another emblematic theme involves the recurring "little phrase" of music by Vinteuil that catches the ear of Swann at the Verdurin's salon and steals into his life. How do Vinteuil's compositions stir both Swann and the Narrator? In Proust's scheme of things, is music a higher art than painting or writing because it can produce involuntary memories? How does involuntary memory affect writing and painting? Is it unrelated to art except as a necessary catalyst?
6. In "Combray" we are introduced to the Narrator's family, their household, and their country home. Since Paris is the true heart of upper-class France, why do you think Proust chose to begin In Search of Lost Time elsewhere? What do we learn from the Narrator's description of his family's life and habits? Is the household dominated by men or by women? Does the Narrator's account seem accurate, or is it colored by his own ideas and preoccupations?
7. A madeleine dipped into a cup of tea first impelled Proust into the "remembrance of things past." Though Proust was a gourmet in his youth, in the final years of his life he subsisted mainly on fillets of sole, chicken, fried potatoes, ice cream, cakes, fruit, and iced beer. Consider how food and culinary happenings - from meals at the restaurant in the Grand Hotel in Balbec to dinners at La Raspelière and the Guermantes's in Paris - form an integral part of the work.
8. Swann's Way and the Guermantes Way are presented as mutually exclusive choices for promenades, with Swann's Way given primacy of place at the novel's outset. Where, metaphorically speaking, does Swann's Way seem to lead? What are the aesthetic signposts and milestones the Narrator points out? What does the landscape around Combray represent?
9. "I want my work to be a sort of cathedral in literature," Proust once said. In his description of the area around Combray - and in many other places in the novel - the Narrator describes churches, and particularly steeples. Indeed, Howard Moss cites the steeple as one of Proust's most important symbols. In religious architecture, the steeple represents man's aspiration toward God, and by inference toward Art, the Proustian religion. What else might it suggest? Does it have a counterpart in nature?
10. Proust and the Narrator share an appreciation of gardens and flowers - Proust himself was eager to visit Monet's celebrated garden - and in a sense, all Combray can be seen as a garden. What associations does this evoke? How does the Narrator respond to natural beauty? What do flowers mean to him? How do we know?
11. Proust's work is filled with "doubling" - the most obvious being the identification of the author with a fictional self of the same name but with somewhat different characteristics. Is Swann a double of the Narrator? What qualities do they share? In what ways do they seem different? What is the importance of the fact that Swann is a Jew?
12. Louis Auchincloss questions the use of a fictional first person named "Marcel," who is but isn't Proust. Marcel claims that he is neither a snob nor a homosexual, yet he is obsessed with both. Would Proust have strengthened Marcel's viewpoint by making it that of the young social climber that he himself so clearly was? Did he enhance or detract from Marcel's credibility by casting him as one of the few heterosexuals in the book? Does it matter that Marcel regards "inversion" as a dangerous vice? Did Proust?
13. "Swann in Love" might be thought of as a dress rehearsal for the Narrator's own performance, and Swann's passion for Odette establishes a model for various other love relationships that appear later in the book. Proust believed that all emotions and behavior obey certain psychological laws. E. M. Forster maintained that "Proust's general theory of human intercourse is that the fonder we are of people the less we understand them - the theory of the complete pessimist." Do you agree? How does Swann's love affair reflect this? What conclusions does the Narrator draw from his perception of Swann's experience? In what way does this differ from Swann's own view?
14. The Balbec sequence of Within a Budding Grove gathers a group of the novel's principal characters, many for the first time: Robert de Saint-Loup, the Baron de Charlus, and Albertine, to name three of the most important. Others begin to emerge in their true significance, like Elstir the painter. Why do you think Proust chose to bring them together in Balbec? In what ways does Balbec echo or amplify Combray? Is the little "society" of Balbec a preview in microcosm of Paris?
15. While writing In Search of Lost Time Proust often rummaged through his vast photographic collection of Belle Époque luminaries as a means of stimulating his memory. "You could see that his thoughts were following a kind of underground track, as if he were organizing everything into images before putting them into words," recalled his maid Céleste Albaret. Indeed, the Baron de Charlus, in Within a Budding Grove, speaks of the special importance of photographs in preserving an unsullied moment of time past, before it has been altered by the present. Discuss how Proust used photographs in the story - just as he exploited the technology of trains, cars, and airplanes - as symbols of passing time.
16. In his landmark essay on Proust, Edmund Wilson praises the broad Dickensian humor and extravagant satire that animate vast sections of In Search of Lost Time, yet he goes on to call it "one of the gloomiest books ever written." Can you reconcile Wilson's remarks?
17. Critic Barbara Bucknall maintains that "no Proustian lover really cares at all for his beloved's feelings." Is this true? Would the Narrator agree? Would the author? Are there any happy or satisfied couples in In Search of Lost Time? Or is love in Proust inevitably a prelude to misunderstanding?
18. "Proust's stage [is] vaster than any since Balzac's, and packed with a human comedy as multifarious," said Edith Wharton. Discuss Proust's depiction of the elaborate hierarchy of French society - from the old nobility of the Faubourg to la haute bourgeoisie, from rich and cultivated Jews to celebrated artists - that forms the great backdrop to In Search of Lost Time. What cracks appear in the aristocratic world of the Guermantes that make us realize it is slowly crumbling? What forces stand ready to propel Mme. Verdurin and her bourgeois salon upward on the social ladder? In recording this change is Proust, in fact, chronicling the birth of modern society?
19. The title Sodom and Gomorrah functions on many levels. What does it suggest about the nature of society? What new areas does it open up? How does the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah relate to Proust's characters? Since the very nature of In Search of Lost Time involves looking backward, should we expect a parallel between the Narrator and Lot's wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt?
20. Critics agree that Sodom and Gomorrah opens a new phase of In Search of Lost Time. If the first three volumes represented the Overture and the first movement of Proust's great composition, with Balbec as an interlude, then the second movement begins here. What seems different? In what ways have the Narrator's preoccupations changed? Are these changes reflected in Proust's style or tone?
21. The Narrator's explicit initiation into the nature of homosexuality occurs while he is waiting in the courtyard of the Duchesse de Guermantes to observe the pollination of her orchid, from which he is distracted by Charlus and Jupien. What is the effect of this particular juxtaposition? Since flowers and insects have already been established as symbols of eros in nature, is this a veiled comment on the "unnatural"? Is the Narrator observing the two men in the same way as he observes the flower? Is his unconcern with being a voyeur connected to the writer's role as an observer of the world in all its aspects? Edith Wharton found the scene offensive and deemed it a lapse in Proust's "moral sensibility." Why?
22. Many crucial sexual scenes in Proust, including the one just mentioned, are witnessed through the "lenses" of windows, which become a commanding metaphor in the novel. Consider how Proust first introduces the window device by way of the magic lantern slides in Marcel's bedroom at Combray. How are windows analogous to Proust's notion of viewing life through a telescope, an instrument that propels images through dimensions of both space and time?
23. The Captive and The Fugitive show the Narrator acting out his own version of the grand passions he has observed so keenly and dispassionately in others. But when it comes to his own affairs, Howard Moss says that the Narrator's greatest lie is that he is objective with respect to Albertine. To whom is the Narrator lying, the reader or himself? Is he aware of his lack of perspective? If he is mistaken about one of the most important relationships in his life, can readers trust his observations about other subjects and people?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
One of the wonders of Proust, I begin to realize now, is his ability to reproduce the powers of insight and reflection of which his books are made of in the minds of his readers, so that their lives are transformed by his touch.
Spoilers throughoutThe title A l¿ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs is translated various ways. Moncrief¿s Within a Budding Grove sucks. Seriously, where are the girls and the play of light? I prefer Nabokov¿s more natural In the Shade of the Blooming Young Girls. My doubts about whether I am reading what the author actually wrote normally steer me away from reading translations---but I make an exception for this vast, supremely intelligent novel.On the surface this part of the Recherche covers the beautiful, rich, stylish, asthmatic, and batty Narrator¿s youthful loves: Gilberte and her mother in Paris; the faces and voices of Albertine and the rest of the little band in Balbec; and Charlus (although the Narrator naively did not comprehend what was going on). They all end badly, Gilberte gets tired of him, Albertine calls for help to thwart his advances and Charlus even administers a salutary douche.I think the Narrator¿s love for Odette is the most profound of them all; it is her fragrance that intoxicates, her housecoats that delight, her chrysanthemums that have special significance. She is observed down to the lining of her jacket. The mauve vision of Odette in her slow procession through the Bois is for me the most enchanting part of the novel. Accompanied by her entourage who are awed by her beauty and wealth, saluted by Princes, she is more aristocratic than the aristocrats and singularly sums up the belle epoque. And Odette is important to Proust, for, despite her mediocre intelligence, she has invented ¿a physiognomy of her own¿---that is, she has invented herself. Proust is a subtle and penetrating psychologist and has superhuman powers of analogy. He has created images that impress themselves on my mind: the sea reflected in Balbec hotel's bookcases, the green dining room, Berma with her arm extended, the hawthorne, and of course the mauve image of Odette. As if it were an Elstir painting, Proust¿s novel has the feel of a mirage in a tinted haze; just so, the bit about the letters with Gilberte is recalled by me now as perhaps letters that the Narrator dreamed he wrote to Gilberte, or maybe wrote them and didnt send them, or maybe sent them and imagined her reply, or maybe he did receive an actual response. I cant tell. Very nice effect.The other thing that keeps me coming back to Proust is the brilliant observations that appear on virtually every page. To give but two instances: he dumps on Norpois ¿...to repeat what everybody else was thinking was, in politics, the mark not of an inferior but of a superior mind¿; and reflects on Bergotte¿s genius, ¿...the men who produce works of genius are not those that live in the most delicate atmosphere, whose conversation is the most brilliant or their culture the most extensive, but those that have had the power, ceasing suddenly to live for themselves, to transform their personality into a sort of mirror, in such a way that their life, however mediocre it may be socially and even, in a sense, intellectually, is reflected by it, genius consisting in the reflecting power and not in the intrinsic quality of the scene reflected.¿ There is simply a lot to chew on.I wont talk of Proust¿s larger themes (Time, Art, Memory, Self-Deception, Life¿s Irony, etc.) but I do want to recommend some criticism that I found enlightening: Pippin¿s essay Becoming who one is (and failing) and Landy¿s excellent Philosophy as Fiction.There are a couple things that continue to puzzle me: what is the actual relationship between Bloch and Odette? is Bergotte a homosexual? Perhaps the reader might leave me a message to help me out.
Amidst the meanderingly precise descriptions of faces, personalities, and internal states of near-delirium, the charming but endlessly frustrating characters, the incessant dithering, the sub-clauses atop of sub-clauses all the way down, the startling unexpected observations, and the sheer weight of sentence upon sentence, I always return to one further fact: Proust can be damn funny. His comic set-pieces, such as M. de Charlus¿ strange behaviour at Balbec, or M. de Norpois¿ equivocal reasoning, are worth the price of admission. Of course there is far more here than I have gathered in one reading. Wonderful ¿ I¿ll read it again, and again, and its value, for me, shall increase with time.
Very little action in this book- mostly descriptions of thoughts, emotions and types of people. The author doesn't idealize "his" characters behavior- he does some imperfect things and makes no excuses. Reminds me of Tom Jones because the ending is obvious hundreds of pages before it actually happens.
Challenging but rewarding. If you are patient enough to untangle those dauntingly long sentences, with their many subordinate clauses, and persist, your efforts will yield a rich harvest of entertaining insights into human behavior and psychology. Proust digs deeper into the fecund, inexhaustible, but commonly hidden or unexamined, soil of human truth than any other writer I have so far encountered..