Marcel Proust Pleasures and Regrets Essay - Critical Essays

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.

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.

Principal Works

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 vols. (novel) 1954

Contre Sainte-Beuve [By Way of Sainte-Beuve] (criticism) 1954

Lettres à Reynaldo Hahn (letters) 1956

Marcel Proust: Selected Letters. 2 vols. (letters) 1983-89

*These works comprise the multivolume novel A la recherché du temps perdu and were first collected in Oeuvres complètes de Marcel Proust.

†This edition of A la recherche du temps perdu, compiled by Pierre Clarac and André Ferré for Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, is a corrected edition based on Proust's own notes and galley corrections. It is now considered the standard edition and is the text on which Terrence Kilmartin's 1981 revised translation of the novel is based.


Anatole France (essay date 1928)

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...

(The entire section is 535 words.)

Frank Rosengarten (essay date 2001)

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...

(The entire section is 7785 words.)

Frank Rosengarten (essay date 2001)

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...

(The entire section is 8588 words.)

Roger Shattuck (essay date 2001)

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...

(The entire section is 2352 words.)

Further Reading


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...

(The entire section is 297 words.)