Pleasures and Regrets, Marcel Proust
Pleasures and Regrets Marcel Proust
(Full name Valentin-Louis-Georges-Eugène-Marcel Proust) French novelist, short-story writer, poet, critic, essayist, and translator.
The following entry presents criticism on Proust's short-story collection Pleasures and Regrets (1896) from 1928 through 2001.
Regarded as the greatest French novelist of the twentieth century, Proust is best known for his masterpiece A la recherche du temps perdu (1954; Remembrance of Things Past). Although he is not recognized as a short fiction writer, early in his career he published Les Plaisirs et les jours (1896; Pleasures and Regrets), a collection of short stories, sketches, poetry, and criticism that had originally been published in periodicals. These short fictional pieces are usually discussed for their thematic concerns, which are eventually revisited and expanded in his renowned autobiographical novels.
Plot and Major Characters
Pleasures and Regrets is comprised of five short stories that feature volatile love affairs, shameless social climbers, and heartbroken lovers. The first story in the collection, “La Mort de Baldassare Silvande” (“The Death of Baldassare Silvande”), chronicles the death of Silvande as viewed through the eyes of his thirteen-year-old nephew, Alexis. When Alexis visits his sick uncle on his birthday, Silvande gives him a horse and promises to give him another horse and a carriage over the next two years. When he eventually gives Alexis the promised gifts, the reader realizes that Silvande does not expect to live out the year. As his health deteriorates, he is able to reflect on his life and his relationships. Critics draw parallels between this story and Leo Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich.” In “La Mélancolique Villégiature de Mme de Breyves” (“The Melancholy Summer of Madame de Breyves”), a young widow, Françoise, is convinced by her friend Genevieve to attend a snobby salon so that she can hear her favorite singer, Rezké. At the party she meets Monsieur de Laléande and begins a flirtation with him. As the evening draws to a close, he propositions her by inviting her to his apartment alone. Tempted by his offer, she digresses into introspection and misses her chance. In “La Confession d’une Jeune Fille” (“A Young Girl’s Confession”), a young girl is driven to suicide when her promiscuity causes her mother’s fatal heart attack. “Violante, ou la Mondanité” (“Violante; or, Worldly Vanities”) explores the repercussions of high-society life and sexual indulgence. In the final story in the collection, “La Fin de la Jalousie” (“The End of Jealousy”), sexual possessiveness intrudes on the secret relationship of Honoré and the young widow, Françoise. When Honoré is told by an unreliable source that Françoise is sexually promiscuous, he begins to doubt their relationship and becomes convinced that she is cheating on him. Increasingly obsessed with the matter, he dies when he walks into the path of an oncoming carriage.
Thematically, Pleasures and Regrets has been linked to Proust’s more celebrated work, Remembrance of Things Past. Both works include brazen social climbers, disappointed lovers, and capricious personalities. Both works are imbued with the themes of jealousy, forbidden loves, sensuality, confessions, yearning, and regret. The stories in Pleasures and Regrets are also concerned with the dissolute nature and often damaging repercussions of high-society life and sexual indulgence. Another recurring subject in Proust’s work is that of matricide, which appears in “A Young Girl’s Confession” as well as Proust’s later fiction. Critics identify other central themes of the stories in Pleasures and Regrets to be vanity, sensuality, illness, selfishness, suffering, and death.
Upon its publication, Pleasures and Regrets met with unfavorable critical reviews and mediocre book sales. Even Proust himself did not favor the volume. At the time, reviewers derided Proust's style as precious, immature, and convoluted—charges that echo with critics and readers today. Yet after the publication of his later masterpiece Remembrance of Things Past, commentators asserted that Pleasures and Regrets foreshadows the main thematic concerns of that volume, particularly the themes of jealousy and sexual transgression. Critics have also discussed the book as a structured, unified whole rather than a series of disparate, unrelated pieces. They also examine the intertextuality of the stories, identifying numerous influences—particularly classical literature, Tolstoy, and Charles Baudelaire—on the stories collected in the volume. Moreover, Pleasures and Regrets has also been compared to Hesiod’s Works and Days and James Joyce’s Dubliners.
Les plaisirs et les jours [Pleasures and Regrets; also translated as Pleasures and Days, and Other Writings] (short stories, sketches, poetry, and criticism) 1896
Oeuvres complètes de Marcel Proust. 10 vols. (novels, criticism, short stories, sketches, poetry, parodies, and essays) 1929-36
The Complete Short Stories of Marcel Proust (short stories) 2001
Portraits de peintres (poetry) 1896
*Du côté de chez Swann [Swann's Way] (novel) 1913
*A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs [Within a Budding Grove] (novel) 1919
Pastiches et mélanges (parodies and essays) 1919
*Le côté de Guermantes [The Guermantes Way] (novel) 1920
*Sodome et Gommorrhe [Cities of the Plain] (novel) 1922
*La prisonnière [The Captive] (novel) 1923
*La fugitive [The Sweet Cheat Gone] (novel) 1925
*Le temps retrouvé [The Past Recaptured; also published as Time Regained] (novel) 1927
Correspondance générale de Marcel Proust (letters) 1930
Jean Santeuil [Jean Santeuil] (novel) 1952
†A la recherche du temps perdu. [Remembrance of Things Past] 3...
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SOURCE: France, Anatole. “Preface to Les plaisirs et les jours, by Marcel Proust.” In Prefaces, Introductions and Other Uncollected Papers, translated by J. Lewis May, pp. 223-28. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1928.
[In the following essay, France provides a laudatory assessment of Pleasures and Regrets.]
Why did [Marcel Proust] ask me to stand sponsor to his book, and why did I promise to undertake that very pleasant but quite superfluous task? His book is like a young poet, full of rare and delicate charm. It bears with it its own commendation; it pleads its own cause and offers itself in its own despite.
Of course it is young. It is young with the author's own youthfulness. But it is old too, as old as the world. It is the leafage of springtime on the ancient branches of the age-old forest; yet it might be said that the fresh shoots sadden over the immemorial past of the woods and robe themselves in sorrow for so many dead springs.
To the goatherds of Helicon, the grave Hesiod sang the Works and Days. It would be a sadder task to sing The Pleasures and Days to the fashionable men and women of our times, if there be any truth in the saying of that English statesman who averred that “life would be tolerable were it not for its pleasures.” And so our young friend's book shows smiles tinged with languor, attitudes of fatigue which are not...
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SOURCE: Rosengarten, Frank. “Problems of Structure, Unity and Aesthetic Philosophy.” In The Writings of the Young Marcel Proust (1885-1900): An Ideological Critique, pp. 101-17. New York: Peter Lang, 2001.
[In the following essay, Rosengarten addresses the issue of whether the fiction and sketches in Pleasures and Regrets can be viewed as a “structured, unified whole rather than a mere patchwork of miscellaneous pieces.”]
Much of the critical debate about [Les plaisirs et les jours] has centered around the question of whether it can be considered a structured, unified whole rather than a mere patchwork of miscellaneous pieces. This is an important question inasmuch as the way a writer organizes and arranges the material of a fictional work often reflects the point of view from which s/he has embarked on the task of writing.
Proust always paid careful attention to how the parts of his writings related to the whole and the whole to the parts. Bernard Gicquel picks up on precisely this aspect of Proust's mind in pointing out the book's “circular” form, and others have noted its many “correspondences,” to which I shall return later in this chapter. With respect to the Recherche, Proust often felt misunderstood by those who failed to grasp the degree to which he had molded and shaped his material in accordance with well-established principles of...
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SOURCE: Rosengarten, Frank. “A Profusion of Intertextuality.” In The Writings of the Young Marcel Proust (1885-1900): An Ideological Critique, pp. 137-55. New York: Peter Lang, 2001.
[In the following essay, Rosengarten identifies several literary influences on Pleasures and Regrets.]
Proust's work is like a lens where all the tendencies of our literature converge.
—Simone Kadi, La Peinture chez Proust et Baudelaire
As a critical approach to various forms of literary appropriation by one writer of another writer's work—images, stylistic mannerisms, epigraphic passages, technical devices, even plagiarism, an example of which, according to Anne Henry, is Proust's use of Tolstoyan death scenes for several of the short stories in [Les plaisirs et les jours]—the study of intertextuality has become a staple of contemporary literary criticism. Julia Kristeva, who helped to popularize the term, considers it a key component of the poststructuralist view of writing as perpetually open to new readings and interpretations.1 But its usefulness to ideological criticism is just as important.
Intertextual references are pervasive in PJ [Les plaisirs et les jours] In the title itself Proust borrows playfully from a Greek classical work, Hesiod's Works and Days. The irreverent...
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SOURCE: Shattuck, Roger. “Proust's Own Sound.” In The Complete Short Stories of Marcel Proust, edited and translated by Joachim Neugroschel, pp. vii-xiv. New York: Cooper Square Press, 2001.
[In the following essay, Shattuck considers the central thematic concerns of the stories in Pleasures and Regrets and places the collection within the context of Proust's fictional oeuvre.]
Homer still suits us just fine. We turn to him for larger-than-life tales of bravery in battle and for the adventures of a resourceful hero finding his way home again after years of war. Odysseus' exploits will stay with us because Homer gave them the sturdy shape of epic. The Odyssey has come to look like part of the landscape we live in.
We tend to neglect Homer's principal rival, Hesiod, another great collector of stories. In Works and Days, Hesiod wrote both poetically and practically about the seasonal round of work on a farm. In the Theogony, he produced the first gathering of divine myths constituting Greek religious beliefs. Compared with Homer, Hesiod aimed either too low or too high to capture the stuff of epic poetry for the ages. Therefore, we are a bit surprised that in a moment of need Marcel Proust turned not to Homer but to Hesiod for help. Proust was just starting out.
Barely twenty and taking courses in law and philosophy at the Sorbonne, Proust...
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Hodson, W. L. “Proust's Methods of Character Presentation in ‘Les plaisirs et les jours’ and ‘Jean Santeuil’.” The Modern Language Review 57, no. 1 (January 1962): 1962.
Surveys the range of characters in Pleasures and Regrets.
Kingcaid, Renée A. “Thorns among the Roses: Representation and Narration in Proust’s ‘La mélancolique villégiature de Mme de Breyves’.” Cincinnati Romance Review no. 1 (1982): 29-42.
Analyzes the role of representation in Proust’s story “La mélancolique villégiature de Mme de Breyves.”
———. “Plotting the Fetish: Proust's Pleasures and Regrets.” In Neurosis and Narrative: The Decadent Short Fiction of Proust, Lorrain, and Rachilde, pp. 35-74. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992.
Provides a thematic and stylistic analysis of the short stories in Pleasures and Regrets.
LeSage, Laurent. “Proust and Henri de Régnier.” Modern Language Notes 68, no. 1 (January 1953): 8-13.
Compares Proust’s usage of narrative technique and thematic structure in Pleasures and Regrets to Régnier’s realistic novel La Canne de jaspe.
Paganini, Maria. “Intertextuality and the Strategy of Desire: Proust's ‘Mélancolique Villégiature de Mme...
(The entire section is 297 words.)