Marcel Proust (essay date 1921)
SOURCE: A preface to Fancy Goods, in Fancy Goods; Open All Night: Stories by Paul Morand, edited by Breon Mitchell, translated by Ezra Pound, New Directions, 1984, pp. 3-12.
[Proust's multivolume novel À la recherche du temps perdu (1913-27; Remembrance of Things Past) is among literature 's works of highest genius. Renowned for its artistic construction, this masterpiece has been widely praised by readers and critics for conveying a profound view of human existence from the perspectives of social history, philosophy, and psychology. In the following excerpt taken from a preface that was originally published in Tendres Stocks (1921), Proust commends Morand's ability to "join things by new relationships" and lauds his portrayal of the women in Fancy Goods, but faults his imagery.]
The Athenians are slow in execution. As yet only three young damsels, or dames, have been given up to Morand our Minotaur ["Clarissa," "Delphine," and "Aurora"—the title characters of the three stories collected in Tendres Stocks]; seven are specified in the treaty. But the year is not yet over. And many unavowed postulants still seek the glorious destiny of Clarissa and Aurora. I should like to have undertaken the useless labor of doing a real preface for these charming brief romances, which bear the names of these beauties. But a sudden intervention forbade me. A stranger has taken her abode in my mind. She goes, comes, and soon despite her mobility her habits are become familiar to me. And moreover, she has tried like a too long-sighted boarder to establish a personal relation with me. I was surprised at her lack of beauty. I had always thought Death beautiful. How otherwise should she get the better of us? However . . . she seems to be absent for the day, this day. Doubtless a brief absence, if one can judge by what she has left me. There are more prudent ways of profiting by the respite accorded me than to spend it writing a preface for an author already known and who has no need of my prefaces.
Another reason also should have deterred me. My dear master Anatole France, whom I have not, alas, seen for twenty years, has just written in La Revue de Paris that all "singularity of style should be rejected." Now it is certain that Morand's style is singulier, personal. If I were to have the pleasure of seeing M. France, whose past...
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