Remembrance of Things Past

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Proust’s narrator, Marcel, recounts the events in his life and the characters he has come to know up to the moment when he discovers that his long-awaited career as a writer is upon him. The subject he is to take up in fiction is more or less the novel we have just finished reading, which ends with Marcel’s resolve to tell his own story and the stories of the characters whom we have come to know in the preceding seven volumes.

Too intricate to recount in full, the plot turns around several major episodes: Marcel’s extortion of a good night kiss from his mother; Marcel’s walks in the country around his parents’ residence at Combray; the love affair between Marcel’s family friend Charles Swann and the cocotte Odette de Crecy; Marcel’s lengthy amorous involvement with a young lesbian, Albertine; Marcel’s entry into the social circle of the Duchess de Guermantes; Marcel’s stormy but ultimately friendly relations with the homosexual Baron de Charlus; and finally, Marcel’s removal from and return after many years to Parisian society.

Told with the chronology of events disrupted, shifting abruptly back and forth in time, Proust’s novel is less a story than an extended meditation on the themes of literature and art, love and jealousy, snobbery and social ambition. Its rich verbal textures, captured successfully in the generally excellent English translation, make this novel a splendid reading experience for those with leisure to...

(The entire section is 500 words.)