Marcel Proust

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In addition to his magnum opus, Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust (prewst) wrote a number of less well-known works. His first book, Les Plaisirs et les jours (1896; Pleasures and Regrets, 1948), a collection of stories and some verse, was published in 1896. Its primary value lies in its preliminary statement of themes that are developed more fully in Remembrance of Things Past, as Edmund Wilson has pointed out.

Proust’s fascination with John Ruskin led to prefaces for and translations of Ruskin’s The Bible of Amiens (1880-1885) in 1904 and of his Sesame and Lilies (1865) in 1906. Before turning his full attention to the novel, Proust also wrote a series of parodies of his favorite French writers, which were published in Le Figaro. Of considerable interest to Proust scholars is Contre Sainte-Beuve (By Way of Sainte-Beuve, 1958), written in 1908 but not published until 1954. In it, Proust uses a variety of essays, autobiographical pieces, and fiction to attack criticism that claims to be scientific and objective. Proust argues instead that only memory and the unconscious can break through the barriers of habit that impede art. Of somewhat less interest is Pastiches et mélanges, a volume of miscellaneous pieces published in 1919. Proust’s brother, Robert, collected magazine and newspaper articles written by Proust as late as 1921 and published them in Chroniques (1927).


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Marcel Proust’s monumental achievement in writing Remembrance of Things Past consists not simply in the work’s multivolume length or the complexity of the extended and intermingled lives of its characters, although these elements alone are impressive. It is above all the intense psychological realism with which the novel’s characters—particularly the author’s alter ego, Marcel—are rendered that has influenced other writers and has drawn critical acclaim. That “realism” is internal: Proust was fascinated by the interplay between external events and the mind, especially by the way human perception synthesizes and interprets events in time—by “the symbolic omnitemporality of an event fixed in a remembering consciousness,” as Erich Auerbach put it. These concerns are reflected in much of twentieth century literature—notably in the works of James Joyce, Thomas Mann, and Virginia Woolf—and Proust may be said to have introduced their fullexposition in his magnum opus.

Although, at the beginning of his writing career, Proust received little recognition outside his literary milieu, he was awarded the Prix Goncourt in 1919 for Within a Budding Grove. This recognition helped establish him as a serious and significant author, and since his death, his reputation and influence have continued to grow.

Discussion Topics

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Was Marcel Proust a snob? How is snobbery treated in Remembrance of Things Past?

It has been suggested that the title Remembrance of Things Past, alluding to a phrase in the thirtieth of William Shakespeare’s sonnets, is not as accurate a translation of Proust’s title as In Search of Lost Time. Do you agree?

What changes does Swann undergo during the course of the novel?

What aspects of Marcel’s character does his grandmother bring forth?

What portrait of pre-World War I Paris society does Proust give?

How did the war change Proust’s world?

What can a reader learn about reading from Remembrance of Things Past?

Proust wrote thousands of letters. What do they reveal about his habits of literary composition?


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Aciman, André, ed. The Proust Project. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004. This collection includes essays by twenty-eight authors writing about their favorite passages of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Marcel Proust . New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Essays by Proust’s most distinguished critics, including Germaine Brée, Samuel Beckett,...

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and Walter Benjamin. There are essays on Proust’s reading, on comparing him to James Joyce, and on his handling of time, narrative, and metaphor. Includes introduction, chronology, and bibliography.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Marcel Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past.” New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Overlaps somewhat with Bloom’s other volume but contains important essays by Georges Bataille on “Proust and Evil” and by Georges Poulet on “Proustian Space.” With an introduction, chronology, and bibliography.

Brady, Patrick. Marcel Proust. Boston: Twayne, 1977. A good introductory study, with chapters on voice, tone, selves, relationships, things, symbols, patterns, memories, and art. Includes chronology, notes, and an annotated bibliography.

Carter, William C. Marcel Proust: A Life. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000. A meticulous portrait of one of the twentieth century’s most original and complex writers, one who made a remarkable and permanent contribution to the novel through his depiction of a unique and poetic Parisian belle époque through the lens of evolving time.

Hodson, Leighton, ed. Marcel Proust: The Critical Heritage. New York: Routledge, 1989. This book carefully tracks the reception of the author’s work in a thorough introduction, in contemporary reviews, and in later critical essays. Includes a bibliography.

Kilmartin, Terence. A Reader’s Guide to “Remembrance of Things Past.” New York: Random House, 1983. A useful study guide, containing indexes of characters, persons, places, and themes.

Lamos, Colleen. Deviant Modernism: Sexual and Textual Errancy in T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, and Marcel Proust. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Examines Remembrance of Things Past, Ulysses, and Eliot’s poetry. Focuses on sexual deviation and masculinity in the works.

Painter, George. Proust: The Early Years. Boston: Little, Brown, 1959. Renowned not only as a great biography of Proust but also as an exemplary work of biography in and of itself. Painter is noted for his extraordinary grasp of the autobiographical materials from which Proust’s great novel evolved.

Painter, George. Proust: The Later Years. Boston: Little, Brown, 1965. The second volume of Painter’s distinguished biography.

White, Edmund. Marcel Proust. New York: Viking, 1999. An excellent, updated biography of Proust. Includes bibliographical references.


Critical Essays