Marcel Proust Pleasures and Regrets Introduction - Essay

Introduction

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.

Major Themes

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.

Critical Reception

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.