Swann's Way Questions and Answers

Marcel Proust

Read real teacher answers to our most interesting Swann's Way questions.

Why was Proust searching for "lost time?"

Marcel Proust was such a gifted writer that he was able to make millions of readers believe in a false premise. The whole of his enormous multi-volume novel, beginning with Swann's Way, is motivated by the narrator's supposed urgent desire to recapture lost time before he dies. He is under time pressure because he is sick and growing old. This would be a thrilling experience--if anyone were able to do it. It would be like time travel. But it was invented to give the protagonist/narrator a motivation with which the reader could identify, and it was simply not true. Proust was writing a memoir. He did not "capture" anything he wrote in all of the volumes. He either relied on his conscious memory or on pure fiction. The petite madeleine dipped in camomile tea was--essentially--a gimmick. Proust's ability to resurrect the past was probably no better than our own. His book is essentially a memoir tailored to appear to be the story of a quest. In the last volume, Le Temps Retrouve (Time Regained) he claims to have succeeded in his quest, but the conclusion is somewhat disappointing because the characters have all grown old. The story about Swann's love for Odette could not be something the narrator remembered. How could he be remembering such tiny subjective details about what happened to somebody else? It is pretty obviously the narrator's own experience attributed to Charles Swann and the narrator's own feelings he is describing. Proust was involved in many love affairs with young boys, not young girls (in flower). Edmund White explains this in a short, interesting book called Marcel Proust. Proust changed the boys to girls in his story because it was illegal and dangerous to write about homosexual activities in the first person. A French author could write that somebody else had a homosexual liaison, writing in the third person, but not that he had one himself, writing in the first person--which could be construed as a confession. This explains why so many of the "girls" the narrator knew, including Albertine, had so many homosexual relationships with other girls. These were really boys with boys. Proust could not hold on to his boyfriends in spite of his money, culture, and social status. He was always losing them to other boys or to older men. Swann's love for Odette may have been a disguised tale of Proust's love for an unknown young lad. We cannot take anything at face value. Remembrance of Things Past is a work of fiction, a brilliant, subtle and sensitive work.