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Proust's masterpiece is one of the seminal works of the twentieth century, recording its narrator's experiences as he grows up, falls in love and lives through the First World War. A profound reflection on art, time, memory, self and loss, it is often viewed as the definitive modern novel. C. K. Scott Moncrieff's famous translation from the 1920s is today regarded as a cla Proust's masterpiece is one of the seminal works of the twentieth century, recording its narrator's experiences as he grows up, falls in love and lives through the First World War. A profound reflection on art, time, memory, self and loss, it is often viewed as the definitive modern novel. C. K. Scott Moncrieff's famous translation from the 1920s is today regarded as a classic in its own right and is now available in three volumes in Penguin Classics. This first volume includes Swann's Way and Within a Budding Grove. 'Scott Moncrieff's [volumes] belong to that special category of translations which are themselves literary masterpieces ... his book is one of those translations, such as the Authorized Version of the Bible itself, which can never be displaced' - A. N. Wilson 'For the reader wishing to tackle Proust your guide must be C K Scott Moncrieff ... There are some who believe his headily perfumed translation of À la recherche du temps perdu conjures Belle Époque France more vividly even than the original' - Telegraph 'I was more interested and fascinated by your rendering than by Proust's creation' - Joseph Conrad to Scott Moncrieff


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Proust's masterpiece is one of the seminal works of the twentieth century, recording its narrator's experiences as he grows up, falls in love and lives through the First World War. A profound reflection on art, time, memory, self and loss, it is often viewed as the definitive modern novel. C. K. Scott Moncrieff's famous translation from the 1920s is today regarded as a cla Proust's masterpiece is one of the seminal works of the twentieth century, recording its narrator's experiences as he grows up, falls in love and lives through the First World War. A profound reflection on art, time, memory, self and loss, it is often viewed as the definitive modern novel. C. K. Scott Moncrieff's famous translation from the 1920s is today regarded as a classic in its own right and is now available in three volumes in Penguin Classics. This first volume includes Swann's Way and Within a Budding Grove. 'Scott Moncrieff's [volumes] belong to that special category of translations which are themselves literary masterpieces ... his book is one of those translations, such as the Authorized Version of the Bible itself, which can never be displaced' - A. N. Wilson 'For the reader wishing to tackle Proust your guide must be C K Scott Moncrieff ... There are some who believe his headily perfumed translation of À la recherche du temps perdu conjures Belle Époque France more vividly even than the original' - Telegraph 'I was more interested and fascinated by your rendering than by Proust's creation' - Joseph Conrad to Scott Moncrieff

30 review for Remembrance of Things Past: Volume 1

  1. 4 out of 5

    Liel

    If you have not yet read Proust, please put aside whatever else you might be reading. Better yet, get rid of it. There is hardly a point. Literature, life, art, love, yearning, the mind, brothels, dinners, celebrities, fashion, aesthetics, cookies, insomnia, the beach, France, mothers, the theater, obsession, flowers, and memory, to name just a few, are perfectly captured here. Writing before Proust is little but a long prologue; after him, side notes. Also, if you're curious about Proust, pleas If you have not yet read Proust, please put aside whatever else you might be reading. Better yet, get rid of it. There is hardly a point. Literature, life, art, love, yearning, the mind, brothels, dinners, celebrities, fashion, aesthetics, cookies, insomnia, the beach, France, mothers, the theater, obsession, flowers, and memory, to name just a few, are perfectly captured here. Writing before Proust is little but a long prologue; after him, side notes. Also, if you're curious about Proust, please refrain from reading any other translation; the newer editions might be nicely packaged, but the Moncrieff-Kilmartin remains the Golden Standard and is far superior to the wobbly attempts of the more recent volumes.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    Proust is unquestionably brilliant, although not for the lightminded reader by any means. I had no idea what I was getting into when I decided I needed to read this novel. It is made up of six enormously dense volumes. I've only made it through the first two, and honestly, I'm taking a break for a while. Each sentence is so well crafted and so full it takes minutes just to digest what it is you've finished reading. The minutest details of a split-second thought can have you reading for fifteen p Proust is unquestionably brilliant, although not for the lightminded reader by any means. I had no idea what I was getting into when I decided I needed to read this novel. It is made up of six enormously dense volumes. I've only made it through the first two, and honestly, I'm taking a break for a while. Each sentence is so well crafted and so full it takes minutes just to digest what it is you've finished reading. The minutest details of a split-second thought can have you reading for fifteen pages. You find yourself saying, "Yes, that's exactly what it feels like in my mind when I've thought through or felt something similar." It is as if Proust articulates every nuance of the physical, chemical, emotional, intellectual aspect of the generation and propogation of thoughts and feelings, things we never think through ourselves in words. In all the remarkable detail, unsurprisingly, there is very little plot, few events, and a fluid chrononlogy that erases the importance of distinction between the past, present, and future. Proust does not limit himself to the intricacies of emotion and thought. Music, it's essence and how and why it affects our minds, hearts, bodies, souls; Nature's landscape, in particular, flowers and their scent, shape, hue and relationship with humanity; Art and architecture; High society and low; Literature; Politics; Drama; Opera. With each detail as an entrance into the mind of man and woman, Proust dissects the interstices of human existence. Fascinating, but very slow and often overwhelming, this translation is said to be one of the best. Regretably but most deliberately, I didn't even attempt Proust in the original french.

  3. 4 out of 5

    BAM the enigma

    Dear lord I read this for two hours and I jumped 3% progress I’ll finish around Christmas It not that I hate this series it's just that I hate it. Dear lord I read this for two hours and I jumped 3% progress I’ll finish around Christmas It not that I hate this series it's just that I hate it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    David Lentz

    A man seeking to connect with the meaning of his life discovers a new theory on the reality of time. It seems that time is not traditionally linear but rather, in truth, humans are subject to triggers, as simple as a madeleine and a cup of tea, which can send one unwittingly hurtling into the past. Depending upon the associations one may have with such triggers, the journey may be pleasant or painful. But in order to understand where we have traveled, one must revisit the past and surge existent A man seeking to connect with the meaning of his life discovers a new theory on the reality of time. It seems that time is not traditionally linear but rather, in truth, humans are subject to triggers, as simple as a madeleine and a cup of tea, which can send one unwittingly hurtling into the past. Depending upon the associations one may have with such triggers, the journey may be pleasant or painful. But in order to understand where we have traveled, one must revisit the past and surge existentially against the people and places, lovers and friends, the art and music and society, which influence our lives. Otherwise, the mysteries of life may escape one's sense and sensibility. Proust's syntax is a mile long and if you demand a structured plot, you are likely to be disappointed by this novel. However, the beauty of the language is not of this world: it is surreal, lyrical, dreamlike, entrancing, astonishing. I recommend that you simply surrender to Proust's supreme gift for the language and drift along on the pure beauty of the language alone. This novel represents the early work of a genius and no matter what biases one may proffer about the writer, there is little doubt that the writing is one of a kind. Proust is on my Top 10 Writers of All Time List: perhaps, only James Joyce has a signature maximalist literary style as unique and creatively rich as Proust. I hope you venture to read this somewhat daunting novel -- it's one of the truly great ones.

  5. 4 out of 5

    David

    OK. Fine. I said my February reading project was going to be "Infinite Jest" and RoTP. So I'll give this another shot. Provided you all promise to give "Ulysses" another chance. Feb 15th: here goes nuthin'! ************************************************************************** With apologies to Alain de Botton and others, I regret to say that I am probably doomed to eternal philistinism where Proust is concerned. My views can roughly be summarized as follows. At my age (50), life starts to seem OK. Fine. I said my February reading project was going to be "Infinite Jest" and RoTP. So I'll give this another shot. Provided you all promise to give "Ulysses" another chance. Feb 15th: here goes nuthin'! ************************************************************************** With apologies to Alain de Botton and others, I regret to say that I am probably doomed to eternal philistinism where Proust is concerned. My views can roughly be summarized as follows. At my age (50), life starts to seem short and Proust seems very, very long.

  6. 5 out of 5

    El

    It seems totally appropriate to finish this re-read of the first volume (which sounds completely pretentious, right? Like who reads Proust more than once?) of Proust on the last day of the year. Here we are finishing up the last of the Artist Formerly Known as 2011 and I finished Proust (well, the first volume anyway). It feels good, really. The end of the year is all about reflection and internal reevaluation and Oprah and shit, and Proust is about those things too. (Maybe not Oprah, but try to It seems totally appropriate to finish this re-read of the first volume (which sounds completely pretentious, right? Like who reads Proust more than once?) of Proust on the last day of the year. Here we are finishing up the last of the Artist Formerly Known as 2011 and I finished Proust (well, the first volume anyway). It feels good, really. The end of the year is all about reflection and internal reevaluation and Oprah and shit, and Proust is about those things too. (Maybe not Oprah, but try to keep up with me here.) There's no good way to give a summary of a behemoth like this. These are the first two books in Proust's series, and there's so much going on that it's nearly impossible to "summarize". Is it a coming-of-age story? Pretty much. But this blows your general coming-of-age novel out of the freaking water. Proust just played Battleship on your ass! I first read this book in the spring of 2005. I remember the time well. Or, rather, I remember parts of the time well. I had just had surgery and was totally out of commission for a few months. It was great only in the sense that I could get caught up on my reading. But I was also in a smidge of pain and was prescribed Percocet. Sure, yeah, let's read Proust while high on painkillers! Good idea! I do remember the general feeling I had reading it in 2005, but it was a pretty superficial reading. I didn't take notes, I didn't look things up. I really just would read until I passed out. And then I would wake up and pick up reading wherever I thought I left off, which in the case of Proust meant it was likely I would just start reading in the middle of a sentence. Not the best way to read Proust. Interesting note: I talked to my boyfriend's sister on the phone for the very first time while reading Proust and popping Percocet. She would never remember that, and I don't remember the conversation we had, but it was probably really awkward since she had met me just once at that point and didn't know I was convalescing in his bed. Yeah, hi, I'm your brother's drug-addled woman. Nice to talk to you again, okay, I'm hanging up now... See? Proust makes me remember things. But this second reading has been so much more fun. I started this little project several months ago, and then I took a really break over the summer when I got food poisoning and it was basically too hot outside to read Proust. I have a Proust notebook, no joke. I wrote down everything this time. Quotes I liked, things I didn't understand, things I didn't understand and then looked up and then wrote down in my notebook, whatever. Impressions and shit. Because that's who I am. I write in notebooks. I thought Swann's Way was pretty incredible. Swann is only slightly obsessed with Odette, and it's not at all creepy. But, now that he was in love with Odette, all this changed; to share her sympathies, to strive to be one with her in spirit, was a task so attractive that he tried to find enjoyment in the things that she liked, and did find a pleasure, not only in imitating her habits but in adopting her opinions, which was all the deeper because, as those habits and opinions had no roots in his intelligence they reminded him only of his love, for the sake of which he had preferred them to his own. [...], it was for the pleasure of being initiated into every one of Odette's ideas and fancies, of feeling that he had an equal share in all her tastes. (p 269) Hey, buddy, ever hear of breathing space? Jeez. You're practically the guy that The Police were talking about when they wrote that song. He also made that Edward guy not seem to be so creepy by standing over Bella's bed. Well, maybe not. That was pretty messed up. But Swann probably would rate in the Top Five Creepers List. (And by that I mean Proust's Swann. Not Bella Swann. Oh man, this is confusing. TWILIGHT IS NOTHING LIKE PROUST. Jeez.) The Narrator in Within a Budding Grove wasn't quite as freaky but he had his own share of lady issues. His were more of the Who Should I Bang variety, however. He had quite a list towards the end of the book, and he reflected on them all quite extensively. To make a long story short it sort of reminded me of Flatliners - you remember William Baldwin's character, and how he was a huge womanizer? After he "goes under" and "comes back", what "he brought back with him" were all his women, right? It was sort of an artsy b&w montage of all the women he had loved over the years, from the moment of his birth. That's what I thought about reading Within a Budding Grove. Except the Narrator was just slutting his heart around; I'm not sure he knew yet what to do with his equipment at that point, unlike William Baldwin as Dr. Joe Hurley. Bizarre Flatliners connection aside, I would love to be able to pick Proust's mind. Dude, I had to Google practically everything, and I think I'm a fairly intelligent person (especially when I'm not chomping on Percocet). This predates Google by a lot, which makes me cower in awe in the presence of a mind like Proust's. He had a lot of thoughts, and a whole hell of a lot of feelings. Proust was a Feeling Monster. And then he made me Feel too. Since when do I care about stalkers in literature the way I cared about Swann? Since when do I care about emotional sluts like The Narrator? Normally I'd be screaming at them to grow a pair, but no. Here I was, wishing I had a shrub of hawthorn to touch fondly and tell all my secrets to. But that kind of thing could get my ass beat in this town. The only thing I should be touching fondly is the Terrible Towel and some beer. Proust is a bit more my style. But he's dead, I'm not French, and as far as I know, there's no hawthorn in my neighborhood. So for now I'll just mollify myself with the fact that there are more Proust books for me to read, and more reflections for me to make. And on that note, I hope 2012 is better for me and a few other people I know. Besides that pesky Mayan prophecy thing, I mean. TIP: If you're reading Proust, I highly suggest having a copy of Paintings in Proust: A Visual Companion to In Search of Lost Time by Eric Karpeles on hand. It's not required reading, certainly. But it totally enhanced my reading. If you're a dork for Proust and a dork for art, you'd be an idiot to not have Karpeles at your side.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Timothy Hallinan

    2013 is my Year of Reading Dangerously. I've decided to get through all 3900 pages of Proust's REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST and then jump directly into the God-knows-how-many thousand pages of Balzac's THE HUMAN COMEDY, the gigantic tapestry that comprises practically every book and story Balzac wrote. I call it "dangerous" because I've told a lot of people I'm doing it, and there's every chance it will defeat me; either I'll give up or die of old age before I finish one or both. SWANN'S WAY is the 2013 is my Year of Reading Dangerously. I've decided to get through all 3900 pages of Proust's REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST and then jump directly into the God-knows-how-many thousand pages of Balzac's THE HUMAN COMEDY, the gigantic tapestry that comprises practically every book and story Balzac wrote. I call it "dangerous" because I've told a lot of people I'm doing it, and there's every chance it will defeat me; either I'll give up or die of old age before I finish one or both. SWANN'S WAY is the first of the novels that make up REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST, and therefore the one that begins with the infamous sentence, "For a long time I used to go to bed early," which heralds the most forbidding opening section of any great novel I know. For somewhere between sixty and a hundred pages made up of sentences that are longer than some short stories, Proust's narrator leads us through a tour of insomnia that's worthy of Dante. All he wants to do is get to sleep, and I have to admit that the first four times I tried to read Proust, I beat him to it. This time, I tried something new; I imagined someone in the room with me who wanted to hear the text and, furthermore, to like it, and I read the entire section aloud to her, trying to make all the sentences, even the most complex, clear and comprehensible. And this not only got me into the book itself, but taught me a secret of reading Proust -- pay attention to the commas. Years ago, the great Shakespearean actor Sir John Gielgud told me the secret of nailing "cold readings" - auditions in which the actor has never seen the script before. He said he scanned ahead for punctuation as he read, and let it guide him. I discovered that this introductory section takes us on a tour of many of the places we will visit later in this book and in the volumes to come, introduces us to the narrator's family and one indispensable servant, and shows us vividly the narrator's over-nervous, highly intelligent, and physically frail character. It's the book's vestibule, so to speak, and it is very much worth finding one's way through, in order to get the the vast cathedral that follows. The narrator's family are well-to-do and respectably born (closer to the aristocracy than Proust's real family) and spend their summers in a family home in the town of Combray. ("Combray" was a fictional name for the town in which Proust's family lived, but now it's no longer fictitious. In the years following the publication of REMEMBRANCE, the town's citizens voted to change its name to the one Proust created.) The family is a little smug, a little insular. The narrator's love for his mother is neurotically intense, and his mother knows it -- when she reads her son a bedtime story she mischievously chooses a novel by George Sand in which an adopted son runs away and returns, decades later, to marry his adoptive mother. Other than this oddly knowing deviation from the expected, the family lives comfortably within the rigid class structure of the town. Their sole splash of adventure comes from the visits of Monsieur Swann, a Combray neighbor, whom they think of as "quaint," not knowing that in Paris Swann moves at the very top of society, welcome even in royal homes. Among the walks the family habitually takes are the ones they call "Swann's Way" and "The Guermantes Way," so named because one leads past the home of their friend, while the other skirts the estates of the almost mythological Guermantes family, arbiters of Parisian society. The world of the Guermantes, which fascinates the narrator, is, in this book, as vague and shining as the sky in a painting by Tiepolo, thin on detail but rich in aura and a kind of blurred, inferred beauty. "The Guermantes Way" is also the title of the third novel in the sequence, in which the narrator finally finds himself taken up by that lofty world, which, surprisingly quickly, is seen to be deeply flawed. Swann, a worldly, wealthy, and intelligent man with great aesthetic sense, has a Jewish Grandmother. Proust's own mother was Jewish, and the prejudice against Jews that erupted at the time of the Dreyfus Affair will leave a deep stamp on the events that the remaining books will recount. At the time of the beginning of SWANN'S WAY, Swann has already made the "unsuitable marriage" (to a high-class prostitute) that forces the narrator's family to close its doors to him. Much of the remainder of the novel traces the tempestuous relationship between Swann and the courtesan Odette, which mirrors, in ways, that of the narrator and his mother and the later relationship between the narrator and the love (and bane) of his life, Albertine. All three of these relationships also illuminate one of Proust's core beliefs: We always get what we most want, when we no longer want it. One thing that impresses me deeply (I'm now reading the fifth novel) is the extent to which this book sets in place the architecture, attitudes, and obsessions of the work to come. Proust apparently saw this vast edifice whole quite early in the writing process, and SWANN'S WAY, like one of those family walks, leads the reader directly into the greater world beyond. There is no way to describe the experience of reading Proust except to say that if you open yourself to it, it can crowd out your real world. Just as the narrator, as a child, loses his own physical world to the noise and color of the books he reads, REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST can make real life seem dull, colorless, and unamusing. And it's much, much, much funnier than I expected it to be. At this stage in my reading -- four and a half books in -- REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST may be the greatest novel I've ever read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    This review is for Swann’s Way only; I intend to continue another time (no promises). I can’t seem to give it stars, though I don’t want to say my feelings about it are immaterial. But I mean, aren’t they? Proust apparently chased down every thought he ever had beyond its logical conclusion and then wrote it all down in excruciating detail, and if you’re going to take that approach to writing, you probably shouldn’t care how it’s received. I also don’t want to fall into the trap of feeling proud This review is for Swann’s Way only; I intend to continue another time (no promises). I can’t seem to give it stars, though I don’t want to say my feelings about it are immaterial. But I mean, aren’t they? Proust apparently chased down every thought he ever had beyond its logical conclusion and then wrote it all down in excruciating detail, and if you’re going to take that approach to writing, you probably shouldn’t care how it’s received. I also don’t want to fall into the trap of feeling proud of myself for having finished it and therefore giving it 5 stars. I likely ran the gamut of all five stars at several points throughout the reading – perhaps most commonly vacillating between 2 stars (the audacity of him to inflict these sentences on us!) and 5 stars (the extreme beauty, the meditative focus), so maybe it merits a solid 3. I had pedestrian thoughts. Swann and Odette became tiresome. The child Narrator’s internal dialogue was overwrought. I was equally amazed at times, punch drunk and dying to get back to reading. The madeleine scene was anticlimactic – it happens about 50 pages in, and I am convinced that it’s only so discussed because that’s where everyone has stopped reading. Also, did you know that the madeleine was first dipped into a lime blossom tisane, which was far more the evocative part of the scene? And I don’t understand why people aren’t talking about GILBERTE AND THE AGATE MARBLE in the luminous chapter with the crazy name, Place Names: The Name. Which leads me to the last of my loony thoughts on Swann’s Way (I think the book has addled my brain). I have the silver three-volume Pleiade edition translated by Moncrieff, which is the set they always sold in the campus bookstore when I was an English major at Cal, for the class I was never able to take. For this reason, I have always known A La Recherche du Temps Perdu as Remembrance of Things Past and never realized what poetic license Moncrieff took in translating the title of all things. I dug in a little and also learned that the original translations obscured the racy bits, which apparently is also true of the original English translation of Bonjour Tristesse (which for decades was the only translation!). What else are we non-French fools missing in these crazy translations, and also, why go that far with completely changing the title of the series and then go and call a chapter, Place Names: The Name??

  9. 4 out of 5

    Arwen

    This might just be my favorite book of all time. It's probably because I envy Proust's profession as professional nostalgist (although not his bedridden tendencies), but also because the writing is exquisite. There is a paragraph about asparagus in "Combray" that still dances behind my eyelids sometimes, and one about allegory that has changed the way I think about the relationship between art and life. Heavy stuff, but done in the lightest possible way, with the longest and most meandering sent This might just be my favorite book of all time. It's probably because I envy Proust's profession as professional nostalgist (although not his bedridden tendencies), but also because the writing is exquisite. There is a paragraph about asparagus in "Combray" that still dances behind my eyelids sometimes, and one about allegory that has changed the way I think about the relationship between art and life. Heavy stuff, but done in the lightest possible way, with the longest and most meandering sentences imaginable. I haven't read the new translation, but I adore the old one so it doesn't matter to me.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alan

    The smell of varnish, or the taste of a madeleine tea-cake, Mama's kiss at bedtime: each holds within it pages of memories for the narrator. I read some in French in a room where both the poet Elizabeth Bishop and the novelist Mary McCarthy stayed, including the hostess in her The Group. While not a spoiler, Bishop's sexuality changes Odette for Swan late in the novel. Proust illustrates Plato: I used to say in Humanities surveys how the Real Chair is the Chair in the mind...others fall apart, s The smell of varnish, or the taste of a madeleine tea-cake, Mama's kiss at bedtime: each holds within it pages of memories for the narrator. I read some in French in a room where both the poet Elizabeth Bishop and the novelist Mary McCarthy stayed, including the hostess in her The Group. While not a spoiler, Bishop's sexuality changes Odette for Swan late in the novel. Proust illustrates Plato: I used to say in Humanities surveys how the Real Chair is the Chair in the mind...others fall apart, spindles and seat. Proust returns every couple pages to his Platonism early on, "Even the simple act of 'seeing someone we know', is, to some extent, an intellectual process"(25). Swann objects to journalism, with its "fresh trivialities...Suppose that every morning we tore the wrapper off our paper with fevered hands, and we were to find inside--oh! I don't know, say Pascal's Pensées?"(35). The real in the mind sometimes fades, "He could not explore the idea further, for a sudden access of that mental lethargy which was, with him, congenital, intermittent, and providential--happened, at that moment, to extinguish every particle of light in his brain, as instantaneously as in a later period with electric lighting, it became possible to cut off the supply of light by fingering a switch"(386). I'm not sure the same mental permanence can be said for Americans with our Cheerios of chilldhood, our memories of new car smell. And our newspapers, our TV fresh trivialities. Maybe. Proust evokes the sensibility--with an emphasis on "senses"--, he evokes the richness of the mind in a new way. The senses lock on memories tied to sight and sound, such as early songs--for me, some late 50s Rock and Roll, Little Richard, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino. Most everybody can recall when they heard a specific song, "Oh, Don-an-na," or "I found my thrill/ On Blueberry Hil...." An aside, how much this may lose to be classed as "gay lit," though the author was certainly gay. Read in Modern Library hardback, 1956. I have not read volume II.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Stephen P(who no longer can participate due to illness)

    I began this endeavor as an act of intent and willpower, jogging gear on, new running shoes, stretching exercises stretched. It certainly began that way. Swann's Way is an essential backdrop to Within a Budding Grove. I won't repeat here what I said about it in an earlier review. What needs to be said is that it is large in scope covering a segment of French culture at the time entombed within the confines of their conventions and social life, affording them limited access to a discovery of thei I began this endeavor as an act of intent and willpower, jogging gear on, new running shoes, stretching exercises stretched. It certainly began that way. Swann's Way is an essential backdrop to Within a Budding Grove. I won't repeat here what I said about it in an earlier review. What needs to be said is that it is large in scope covering a segment of French culture at the time entombed within the confines of their conventions and social life, affording them limited access to a discovery of their own particular identity. This style of life, cliched and repetitive left them uncounted layers adrift from experiencing any substantial sense of reality. Feathered in their garments and social niceties they flitted from gathering to gathering to be seen, included and rise up some threaded ladder of airless social life. Within a Budding Grove, after showing us Mme Swann, the former courtesan and obsessive love of Swann now transformed by coiffed maneuvers, the accoutrements of wealth, the gestures of status, brings our narrator to the train station in Paris saying goodbye to his beloved mother. The umbilical cord is but partially snipped since he will be traveling with his grandmother. The train takes him to the seaside town of, Balbec. Here Proust the master skillfully narrows the camera lens. We are not only dealing with a smaller landscape but less characters and a more pointed proposition. At Balbec I lived inside the narrator's maturing mind, saw through his eyes, felt the world through his senses, as in no other literary experience I have particpated in. Before I even knew I was giving up all the half mangled jogging and stretching metaphors, I slipped-was slipped-into the narrative with no real opportunity of escape. All of my Proust-breaks, the books I couldn't wait to read in--between no longer existed. My reading of this book was captured by the narrator's-my-experience of his initial sense that the actual did not measure up to the imagined. Through his obsessive engrossment with a group of young girls, I experienced his maturing gaze splintering them off into individual young women, then seeing each change in different lighting, situations. As the narrative moves forward so does the constancy carried forth within each person, within the essence of each object, even the constancy of the inconstancy of where things begin and end. There are no simple solutions. Existence is to be experienced in all its confusion, moments of tenderness, brutality. The genius of this book, of Proust, is that between and beneath the perfected structures of sentences, paragraphs, the seemingly writing for perfected writing's sake broils the contradictions and rampages of consciousness. Even in the seemingly endless descriptions and obsessive preoccupations, their actual construction is not, or not only, to be captured by the beauty and preciousness of language but the possibility that their existence, (at times to be plowed through or read so slowly time vanishes to moments which vanishes to...) are inserted for the reader to experience how the narrator uses-misuses-intellect, insight, to approach and withdraw from his all too human fears. Solitude is his only domain of meaning and it is yet to be seen if it remains so. It turned out for me that this was not only a treatise on time, an elegant description of an inner life, and the fine boundaries of differing types of love but most important a narrative of experience. Beyond style Proust's mastery was to mine his perfected constructions with raw explosives. I can finally get back to other books but I admit that life would not be as rich if I had not read this vast novel which deservedly has lasted the rigorous tests of time.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Brett

    To some, Proust's Remembrance of Things Past is one of the great achievements of all human literary endeavors. To me, it is a dense and unreadable waste of time. Perhaps I lack the life experience. Perhaps my brain has been ruined by watching television. Perhaps I am just incapable of grasping the fullness and richness of life as presented by Proust. But, man, I did try to like this book. I wanted to like it. I wanted to slowly marinate in the remembrance of the smell of flowers and the way light To some, Proust's Remembrance of Things Past is one of the great achievements of all human literary endeavors. To me, it is a dense and unreadable waste of time. Perhaps I lack the life experience. Perhaps my brain has been ruined by watching television. Perhaps I am just incapable of grasping the fullness and richness of life as presented by Proust. But, man, I did try to like this book. I wanted to like it. I wanted to slowly marinate in the remembrance of the smell of flowers and the way light hit the tapestry in the late afternoon on a summer day. It was a bridge too far. Reader, I could not do it. These are only the first two volumes of the seven (or eight? I'm unclear) volume work. I shudder to think that there is more of this in store for me, as I will doubtless force myself to finish it. And I will once again try to settle my mind and be fully present for the reading experience, but I am truthfully dreading it. Many great novels are long, and there can be great value in length. But there is also value in being concise. Length for the sake of length is not a virtue. I think your time would be better spent contemplating the shape of a flower or the smell of tea yourself, than re-living Proust's experience of doing the same. Many disagree with me. This site is littered with fawning, five star reviews. Some of these are from people that merely want to impress their friends with their good taste; others are from people who genuinely found this to be a uniquely insightful experience. These people are very different from me, and I dare to say, different from most of the reading public. Approach Proust with extreme caution, knowing what a commitment it is, and that your returns may be less than you wish.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    I tried. I really did. But I finally had to hide this, unfinished, between the mattress and the boxspring.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    Circumstances lead me to the completion of a statistics module last year. While the ‘damn lies’ rule still holds true, it has permeated my thinking, particularly with regards to external and internal validity. I now have a theory of how to judge the success of any given story by these metrics. Bear with me, my story gets better*. (*Lie.) The internal validity – in statistics, if the research measures what it set out to measure – of a story is whether it achieved what the writer wanted it to achie Circumstances lead me to the completion of a statistics module last year. While the ‘damn lies’ rule still holds true, it has permeated my thinking, particularly with regards to external and internal validity. I now have a theory of how to judge the success of any given story by these metrics. Bear with me, my story gets better*. (*Lie.) The internal validity – in statistics, if the research measures what it set out to measure – of a story is whether it achieved what the writer wanted it to achieve. Although this is obviously a rather opaque metric for the reader (death of the author!) it is, I feel, still reasonably obvious from the style, concept, and execution of the story. If all else fails, you can tell from its comparators. The external validity in statistics refers to how useful the research is on a wider stage. In stories, it’s whether the book is a marketable product. Will a reasonable number of book-purchasers deem it within their wheelhouse? The reason a lot of books gets damned is because of their poor or minimally extensive external validity. Proust is not a writer who appeals to a mass audience. I suspect he would have found the prospect of such appeal wildly distasteful. While I sometimes like to think of myself as ‘better than’ the average mass audience member, I’m not, really. I like stories to have forward momentum and characters to have a plot happen to them. 'Swann's Way' is, er, not that. ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’ has been called the English answer to ‘In Search of Lost Time’. Having read the first two volumes of the former, I can see why they’re compared. Both focus in minute detail on single episodes that can last chapters and chapters (if not whole books). Discursive detail about minor characters who are often never seen again is a big feature. They are both subtly funny in places, although it’s definitely not a key element. Where they diverge is in environmental description. While Powell will ramble on for three paragraphs about why the cook doesn’t like the butler, Proust … well, he does this: "I felt that these celestial hues indicated the presence of exquisite creatures who had been pleased to assume vegetable form and who, through the disguise of their firm, comestible flesh, allowed me to discern in this radiance of earliest dawn, these hinted rainbows, these blue evening shades, that precious quality which I should recognise again when, all night long after a dinner at which I had partaken of them, they played (lyrical and coarse in their jesting like one of Shakepeare's fairies) at transforming my chamber pot into a vase of aromatic perfume." Aspargus. He's talking about asparagus. I mean it is definitely the most poetic thing anyone has ever written about ... asparagus. For a reason. Because no storyteller - except for Marcel Proust, Esq., and I guess maybe the witch in Rapunzel? - gives one tiny fuck about asparagus. While Powell’s narrator, Nicholas, has an omniscient insight into other characters’ psyches and what their clothes and habits and tics say about them, it’s tolerable because it’s what every writer does, followed through to its logical end. But I could GIVE a shit about every flower Marcel has ever seen in his life. Unlike the minutiae of Powell’s detail, it doesn’t add anything to the narrative – but it certainly subtracted from my concentration. That being said, the internal validity of this story is high. Proust clearly wanted to write about the hothouse intensity of childhood, where everything is a Big Fucking Deal. I sympathised intensely with bb!Marcel wanting his mum to kiss him goodnight. It’s clear that this narrator is a highly anxious person, but unlike historical readers and Proust himself, I don’t regard this with derision or scorn. What I do deride and scorn is Proust suggesting that he’s in some way special or unique for being this neurotic. Sorry, but no. We are all just monkeys with anxiety. The story starts with the longest ‘X wakes up’ montage in the history of all time. ‘Combray’ basically describes Marcel Jnr taking a long walk, interrupted by descriptions and time hops that show every single neighbour and relative in the electoral district. His aunt Leonie sounds like a holy terror. She also is emblematic of the lack of choices women had at this time. I, too, might take to my bed in her shoes. ‘Swann in Love’, then, is a highly effective account of a man in love with someone who doesn’t love him back. Granted, he is also SUPER ANNOYING. He’s a ‘man of the world’ who has had numerous mistresses and invented ghosting (he dropped a family without warning when he lost interest in banging their cook). Despite this, he is shocked – SHOCKED, I TELL YOU – to discover that his mistress … is a mistress. Like, she’s a professional mistress. She is, in modern parlance, an escort. She’s also been involved in other types of sex work. Because, guess what, mistresses come from somewhere. They don’t show up at a party having just arrived on the planet in a clamshell. Now, the one thing Swann isn’t described as doing is seeking out virgins or inexperienced women to ‘ruin’ (low bar, jesus). So presumably he knew from day one that, you know, others had been there before him with Odette. Yet he’s still shocked, appalled, betrayed, etc. I’ll give Proust credit for this: while Swann’s reasons for feeling this way are dumb in the extreme, he describes that feeling of betrayal so well I almost forgive him. Who hasn’t been privy to making basic mistakes about another person that bite you in the ass later in the relationship? Who hasn’t built up a partner in their head and felt their feet of clay whack you on their way out the door? Swann imagining that Odette asked him for something terrible in order that he can write her an indignant reply is such a mood. So is when he's trying to rationally think about her looks and thinking he's getting over her, only to fall for her again hours later. The only thing I didn’t understand was that, in the final pages of ‘Swann in Love’, Swann finally seems to be getting over Odette. Yet we already know from ‘Combray’ that he marries her. I am confused. "[...] that a clever man should only be unhappy about a person who is worth his while; which is rather like being astonished that anyone should condescend to die of cholera at the bidding of so insignificant a creature as the comma bacillus." False dichotomy! I am fully Team Mme des Laumes here. That's the whole point of GROWTH, my friend. "Depth of character, or a melancholy expression, would freeze his sense, which were, however, instantly aroused at the sight of healthy, abundant, rosy flesh." Oh, man. Swann. My dude. #yesallmen "'Really, do you think it's possible for a woman to be touched by a man's loving her, and never be unfaithful to him?' asked Swann anxiously.” Asks Swann. Of a sex worker. Yup, she’s not just gonna tell you what you want to hear. Her livelihood doesn’t depend on your good humour. Nope. "[...] if we find ourselves hoping that the actions of a person who has hitherto caused us pain may prove not to have been sincere, they shed in their wake a light which our hopes are powerless to extinguish and to which we must address ourselves, rather than to our hopes, if we are to know what will be that person's actions on the morrow." Yeah, Proust is so good on the misery of feeling like the pathetic one in the love affair. (P.S. Swann is definitely the pathetic one in this love affair.) Proust also has some intelligent insights to share: “Habit! That skillful but slow-moving arranger who begins by letting our minds suffer for weeks on end in temporary quarters, but whom our minds are none the less only too happy to discover at last, for without it, reduced to their own devices, they would be powerless to make any room seem habitable.” "[...] but they loved me enough to be unwilling to spare me that suffering, which they hoped to teach me to overcome, so as to reduce my nervous sensibility and to strengthen my will. Whereas my father, whose affection for me was of another kind, would not, I suspect, have had the same courage, for as soon as he had grasped the fact that I was unhappy he had said to my mother: 'Go and comfort him.'" That’s a great character sketch. "Since then, whenever in the course of my life I have come across, in convents for instance, truly saintly embodiments of practical charity, they have generally had the cheerful, practical, brusque, and unemotioned air of a busy surgeon, the sort of face in which one can discern no commiseration, no tenderness at the sight of suffering humanity, no fear of hurting it, the impassive, unsympathetic, sublime face of true goodness." They’re unsympathetic because they know you will and can survive. "Even those women who claim to judge a man by his looks alone, see in those looks the emanation of a special way of life. That is why they fall in love with soldiers or with firemen [...]" …fair. "[...] I had finished writing it, I was so filled with happiness, I felt that it had so entirely relieved my mind of its obsession [...] as though I myself were a hen and had just laid an egg [...]" Accurate description of the writing process! "[...] one of the advantages which men who have live and moved in society enjoy over those, however intelligent, who have not, namely that they no longer see it transfigured by the longing or repulsion which it inspires, but regard it of no importance." Legit. "When, in one of these, they were able to distinguish a human form, they always found it coarsened and vulgarised (that is to say lacking in the elegance of the school of painting through whose spectacles they were in the habit of seeing even the real, living people who passed them in the street) and devoid of truth, as though M. Biche had not known how the human shoulder was constructed, or that a woman's hair was not ordinarily purple." Fully on Team Cottard here. The M. Biches of the world DON'T fucking know how a human shoulder is constructed, and that is why they are Bad Artists. It’s as true now as it was then, when the critique was fresh and more people were on Cottard’s side than Proust’s. Where can I buy these spectacles? "As life goes on, we acquire such adroitness in the cultivation of our pleasures, that we content ourselves with the pleasure we derive from thinking of a woman [...] without troubling ourselves to ascertain whether the image corresponds to the reality [...] like Japanese gardeners who, to obtain one perfect blossom, will sacrifice several others." Some examples of his lols: “[…] their sense of hearing – having finally come to realise its temporary futility when the tone of the conversation at the dinner table became frivolous or merely mundane without the two old ladies’ being able to guide it back to topics dear to themselves – would put its receptive organs into abeyance to the point of becoming actually atrophied.” " 'That must be delightful,' sighed my grandfather, in whose mind nature had unfortunately forgotten to include any capacity whatsoever for becoming passionately interested in the Swedish co-operative movement or in the methods employed by Maubant to get up his parts, just as it had forgotten to endow my grandmother's two sisters with a grain of that precious salt which one has oneself to 'add to the taste' in order to extract any savour from a narrative of the private life of Mole or of the Comte de Paris." "[...] I would willingly reintroduce the use of the opium pipe or the Malay kris, but I know nothing about that of those infinitely more pernicious and moreover flatly bourgeois implements, the umbrella and the watch." "He even went to the length of offering Swann a card of invitation to the Dental Exhibition. 'This will let you in, and anyone you take with you,' he explained, 'but dogs are not admitted. I'm just warning you, you understand, because some friends of mine went there once without knowing, and bitterly regretted it." "But the harshness of his steely glare was compensated by the softness of his cotton gloves, so that, as he approached Swann, he seemed to be exhibiting at once an utter contempt for his person and the most tender regard for his hat." SOME of his descriptions are also A+ … I just wish he’d reined in the impulse, like, 76% of the time. "[...] Saint Hilaire's steeple, so slender and so pink that it seemed to be no more than scratched on the sky by the fingernail of a painter anxious to give to such a landscape, to so pure a piece of nature, this little sign of art, this single indication of human existence." "[...] with its wild race of fishermen for whom no more than for their whales had there been any Middle Ages [...]" Maybe if he had, we’d have been spared the indignity of this: "[...] perhaps if her eyes had not been quite so black [...] I should not have been, as I was, so especially enamoured of their imagined blue." Although really, it tells you everything you need to know about this dude. In conclusion: I am glad I can now say I’ve read Proust. I even enjoyed some of it! The balance of enjoyment to eye-rolling description-skimming was, however, not in favour of reading any more any time soon. (Unlike Powell. Does this mean I'm now a Brexiteer?)

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ole-Jørgen

    Brilliant, and very boring.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Leonard

    More than a commentary on Swann’s jealousy or M. Charlus’s homosexuality or the frivolity of the Guermantes’ sorties, Marcel Proust’s monumental work In Search of Lost Time paints the unsuccessful reconstruction of a forgone world and a lost existence from fickle memories, which like morning mists would fade with the rising sun. The narrator Marcel, longing for a past that didn’t exist but must be created, sought to experience Bergson’s continuous time rather than the fragmented and still-framed More than a commentary on Swann’s jealousy or M. Charlus’s homosexuality or the frivolity of the Guermantes’ sorties, Marcel Proust’s monumental work In Search of Lost Time paints the unsuccessful reconstruction of a forgone world and a lost existence from fickle memories, which like morning mists would fade with the rising sun. The narrator Marcel, longing for a past that didn’t exist but must be created, sought to experience Bergson’s continuous time rather than the fragmented and still-framed instantaneous moments by attempting to blur the boundaries between Cambray and Paris, childhood and adolescence, and Swann and himself and integrate here and there, before and after, and him and me through memory fragments of previous objects, people and sensations. As in a neural network or a mind-map, the madeleine linked his aunt to his mother, who in turn was linked to Albertine through jealousy, which also connected Marcel with Saint Loop and Swann, who, as with his (Marcel’s) grandmother, linked his childhood and adolescence. And through recollection, Marcel would try to relive the buried years and resurrect his grandmother and Albertine. Jean Beraud's La sortie du lycée Condorcet But even during the narrative, Marcel realized memory’s willfulness and the variation in hues, shapes, pitch and timbre between the actual object and its mental reconstruction. When he encountered an old friend, the facial features were so different from his recollection and reconstruction, for better or for worse pregnant with all the emotions, preoccupation, biases, that he could not match face with voice. Because recollected sensation can never equate with the actual experience and time, like a patient thief, steals memories a morsel at a time until one day the owner would realize he was ruined, Marcel ultimately would fail to recapture and assemble stolen sensations and decayed seconds and in the end, must create new moments, new sensations and ultimately a new biography, through the synergy between past experiences and creative imagination. From those deceased hours and decayed memories sprouted In Search of Lost Time, not only Proust’s novel but also that of the narrator. Marcel Proust Whether we savor Marcel’s frailness, Swann’s infatuation, Charlus’s pompousness, Franscoise’s independent-mindedness, the sorties’ frivolousness or the social revelation of the Dreyfuss Affair, we can enjoy Proust’s classic without resorting to Marxist or Freudian or Feminist critique. And the sentences, like the serpentine Amazon, seemed to flow unceasingly into the distant horizon carrying with it the sparkling sunlight. Although ascending the novel’s three thousand pages appears precipitous, the effort will be well worth the while and, at the end of the adventure, the reader can rest on the crisp apex and savor time’s transience and memory’s playfulness as if they were alpine zephyrs.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Greta

    Blahblahblahblahblah. Blahdeblahdeblah. Blahblahblahdeblahdeblahblahblah. Having said that, reading Proust is a lot like sitting at a table at a café with someone who can't stop talking about themselves and their thoughts, however mundane, and their experiences, however uneventful. Eventually, the chair you're sitting on gets quite uncomfortable, your coffee grows cold, and what you really want is to get up and leave. But because you're in it for the long haul, you sit, listening patiently, wait Blahblahblahblahblah. Blahdeblahdeblah. Blahblahblahdeblahdeblahblahblah. Having said that, reading Proust is a lot like sitting at a table at a café with someone who can't stop talking about themselves and their thoughts, however mundane, and their experiences, however uneventful. Eventually, the chair you're sitting on gets quite uncomfortable, your coffee grows cold, and what you really want is to get up and leave. But because you're in it for the long haul, you sit, listening patiently, waiting for it to end. I understand that Proust was searching for the meaning of life and was trying to stop wasting time and start appreciating his own existence, and the point of this exercise was to get us to appreciate daily life with renewed sensitivity and greater intensity through his musings on it all, or so they say. In the meantime, he managed to become known for his Proustian Moment which, due to the madeleine and the tea became a moment of sudden, involuntary, and intense remembering when the past promptly emerges unbidden from a smell, taste, or texture. That particular moment occurs early on in his novel, and in my own life, my precious time was actually wasted trying to appreciate Proust's neurotic search for love, social success, and meaning in his own mind. After this book and its 1,040 pages, it's time to move on.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Teri

    I always have excellent posture when I read Proust. Even my body is at full attention; this is no casual read. Nevertheless, it is well worth the effort. Proust attains an excruciating precision in mapping both external and internal landscapes. Like Artaud, Proust articulates neurosis/obsession/madness with such detail that the reader feels privy to the narrator's psyche. I always have excellent posture when I read Proust. Even my body is at full attention; this is no casual read. Nevertheless, it is well worth the effort. Proust attains an excruciating precision in mapping both external and internal landscapes. Like Artaud, Proust articulates neurosis/obsession/madness with such detail that the reader feels privy to the narrator's psyche.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    I've reviewed the two books separately here: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1840916144 www.goodreads.com/review/show/1859555946 and am going to take a break before continuing on my Proust journey... I've reviewed the two books separately here: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1840916144 www.goodreads.com/review/show/1859555946 and am going to take a break before continuing on my Proust journey...

  20. 5 out of 5

    midnightfaerie

    Wow. Just wow. So, I have this 3-pack of In Search of Lost Things. (A title I like better than Remembrance of Things Past) And as most know this work is made up of 7 books. The first volume that I read has Swann's Way and Within a Budding Grove in it. I have never read Proust before and this has been on my to-read list forever because, as I assume it's the same for others, it's quite a daunting undertaking. But I had started it years ago, and forgot it and was determined to finish it this summer Wow. Just wow. So, I have this 3-pack of In Search of Lost Things. (A title I like better than Remembrance of Things Past) And as most know this work is made up of 7 books. The first volume that I read has Swann's Way and Within a Budding Grove in it. I have never read Proust before and this has been on my to-read list forever because, as I assume it's the same for others, it's quite a daunting undertaking. But I had started it years ago, and forgot it and was determined to finish it this summer, due to the quarantine and my recent increase in time to read. So, Proust. I don't even know where to begin. At first it was a bit much for me. The French tend to be very flowery in their writing and I felt all the description was a bit much. But then I began to see the beauty in it. This author takes you right there, that instance, that memory, that feeling, that smell, it's all there, and can be relived through his words, an art form worth digesting. It's funny, but I kind of related him to Stephan King. Not in what he writes, but his ability to describe. So many people refuse to read Stephan King because he has a tendency to go into long descriptions. For me, that's why I've always loved him. I'll never forget the description of the store in Needful Things, and how much I felt I was right there. This is what Proust will do for you, but in a much prettier, French, embellished sort of way. If you're the type of person who gets impatient waiting for the author to get to the point, this book is not for you. But I rather suspect you wouldn't even be reading this review if it wasn't something you were interested in. As far as the classical literature aspect of this, it's definitely a classic. Even if you don't enjoy the writing or the story, you have to admit Proust has talent. The emotions he can stir up in you when describing a chance meeting, a young boy's love of his mother, or a biscuit with a cup of tea, will have you right there in the book beside the characters, experiencing what they do. A beautiful technique for writing that everyone should experience, I absolutely view this as a classic. As for the story, there are many other reviews that talk about it. And for me, it's not about the story, it's about the technique. It has all the typical underlying themes of love, loss, and growing up. All readers should be able to relate to some part of this story. I especially enjoyed Uncle Adolphe, with his never ending actress friends. I highly recommend this. Especially for anyone who enjoys classical literature, it's a must read. I look forward to the next two volumes.

  21. 4 out of 5

    James Murphy

    Another reread. What can I say about Proust? I'm sure there's no insight to the novel or feelings about how it touches me that hasn't been expressed before in dozens of ways. Earlier in the year I came across something by Peter Gay in a book called Modernism: The Lure of Heresy: From Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond that I thought insightful: "There is a short, memorable passage titled "The Intermittences of the Heart" in A la recherche that occurs in Sodome et Gomorrhe, the volume published just Another reread. What can I say about Proust? I'm sure there's no insight to the novel or feelings about how it touches me that hasn't been expressed before in dozens of ways. Earlier in the year I came across something by Peter Gay in a book called Modernism: The Lure of Heresy: From Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond that I thought insightful: "There is a short, memorable passage titled "The Intermittences of the Heart" in A la recherche that occurs in Sodome et Gomorrhe, the volume published just before Proust's death. It was a phrase that he had sometimes thought to use as the general title for his masterpiece. He well might, because the expression tersely epitomizes one of Proust's most disheartening, and most irresistible, conclusions about the vicissitudes of existence: the human heart fails when its endurance and judgment are most needed. Life is many things, to be sure, but most conspicuously it adds up to a vast array of mistakes, of mismatches, of sentiments out of phase with realities; everyone gets experience wrong. Proust at the opening of "Intermittences" (a little tediosly) introduces a talkative foreign-born hotel manager who maltreats the French language in every sentence. He is a typical small example of larger human failings. But Proust wastes little time on such trifles. Rather, he gives illustrations of what he insists is only too common: we love too early and too late, and too often the wrong persons; what we learn about those we come to know intimately almost never matches our first, or even our second, impressions. Love turns into hate or into indifference or reverses its course, but not for logical reasons: the heart, as I have said, fails. It has, in short, its intermittences. Life, therefore, is a perpetual act of revising, of correcting, what we think we know; it is a school for disenchantment." I didn't care that much for Gay's book on modernism, but I think this is a breathtakingly important thing to say about the novel. But anyway, this kind of knowledge is in Marcel's future. In these first 2 volumes the young and impressionable Marcel has dipped a madeleine in his tea setting off waves of memory, especially about the Swanns, he's spent a season at Balbec, and he's fallen in love with Albertine. There's much to come.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jean Karpinski

    I struggled whether to give this 3 or 4 stars. The beautiful poetic sections that sharply hit home to the heart of the human experience and things remembered are unsurpassed. But then there is so much detail about matters and circumstances that are uninteresting, and I found that the never-ending convoluted sentences were numbing my brain. I had to do a lot of re-reading to get back on track to the point of the sentence and paragraph. I also felt the main characters (Swann and the narrator) to b I struggled whether to give this 3 or 4 stars. The beautiful poetic sections that sharply hit home to the heart of the human experience and things remembered are unsurpassed. But then there is so much detail about matters and circumstances that are uninteresting, and I found that the never-ending convoluted sentences were numbing my brain. I had to do a lot of re-reading to get back on track to the point of the sentence and paragraph. I also felt the main characters (Swann and the narrator) to be frustrating and unreasonable, but then I guess real people can be pretty frustrating and unreasonable, so he does prove a point. I found it difficult to get through this book and thought it surprising that nearly everyone rated it 4 or 5 stars. But then I realized that readers who didn’t like this book probably stopped after 50 pages and never got to the point of rating it. Those who finished it were self-selected as those who would love it. I have no regrets about the time I spent with this book. It was worth sticking with it in order to experience the sections that were poignant and meaningful; I am pleased to have read Proust and to now have my own opinion.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nick Black

    I launched into À la recherche du temps perdu the summer between high school and starting GT, struggled to finish this volume (containing the first two of seven parts), and didn't much care for it at all. Then again, those were still highly formative times, where I was trying to drag in as much different material as possible; 4000+ pages of French playboy modernism did not at that time qualify as efficient intake. These three imposing texts have traveled with me since then as a mordant whole, la I launched into À la recherche du temps perdu the summer between high school and starting GT, struggled to finish this volume (containing the first two of seven parts), and didn't much care for it at all. Then again, those were still highly formative times, where I was trying to drag in as much different material as possible; 4000+ pages of French playboy modernism did not at that time qualify as efficient intake. These three imposing texts have traveled with me since then as a mordant whole, laughing and cackling, singing out soft indictments of "pretender! fraud! go back to your test tubes, keyboards and stenches, illiterate scientist, worst example of trenchant insular americanism! go masturbate to Axel's Castle some more and hate yourself in the morning! keep laughing uncomfortably and dismissing us as "shaggy cookie-eating jabronie Gaullist palaver" when we come up! we'll be here long after you're dead, pissaunt!" It seems high time to tackle Mr. Proust once more; hopefully a decade's learning and maturing will render him more readable.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    Well, two down. Remarkable, of course, with insights into everything from the art of the novel to love to time itself and the minutiae of life in the country- or sea-side. Not only is this a source for a great Tom Russell song ("The dogs bark but the caravan moves on"). But this: "...for existence is of little interest save on days when the dust of realities is mingled with magic sand, when some trivial incident becomes a springboard for romance. Then a whole promontory of the inaccessible world Well, two down. Remarkable, of course, with insights into everything from the art of the novel to love to time itself and the minutiae of life in the country- or sea-side. Not only is this a source for a great Tom Russell song ("The dogs bark but the caravan moves on"). But this: "...for existence is of little interest save on days when the dust of realities is mingled with magic sand, when some trivial incident becomes a springboard for romance. Then a whole promontory of the inaccessible world merges from the twilight of dream and enters our life, our life in which, like the sleeper awakened, we actually see the people of whom we had dreamed with such ardent longing that we had come to believe that we should never see them save in our dreams." Magic sand, indeed.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    I loathe Proust and would never recommend his work to anyone. If only there were a way to give negative stars. I will tell you right now everything you need to know from this book. He eats a madeleine (shell shaped biscuit of sorts) dipped in tea and this sends him hurtling down memory lane. This scene probably gets referred to more than any other Proust moment so you can snobbishly refer to it and everyone will think you read the whole darn tome (since probably nobody else ever finished it eith I loathe Proust and would never recommend his work to anyone. If only there were a way to give negative stars. I will tell you right now everything you need to know from this book. He eats a madeleine (shell shaped biscuit of sorts) dipped in tea and this sends him hurtling down memory lane. This scene probably gets referred to more than any other Proust moment so you can snobbishly refer to it and everyone will think you read the whole darn tome (since probably nobody else ever finished it either). How dare I be such a snot about a masterpiece? Oh well.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    Well. Finally, finally, I read Proust. And I did not just start reading Proust, I finished this book that is - what? - 1 out of 7 volumes? Do I have to read the others now? No! Noooo! All joking aside, it is a magnificent, exalted, brilliant piece of literature that is unique to my knowledge. It will also test the patience of all but the most devoted readers. Granted, I have an attention span that is shorter than it once was - who doesn't, these days? - but the only way I made it to the last pag Well. Finally, finally, I read Proust. And I did not just start reading Proust, I finished this book that is - what? - 1 out of 7 volumes? Do I have to read the others now? No! Noooo! All joking aside, it is a magnificent, exalted, brilliant piece of literature that is unique to my knowledge. It will also test the patience of all but the most devoted readers. Granted, I have an attention span that is shorter than it once was - who doesn't, these days? - but the only way I made it to the last page was by reading it in 5-7 page bursts, over a period of a few years. There has never been anyone who wrote prose like Marcel Proust's. He was unquestionably a one-of-a-kind literary genius. Sentences of flowing, perfumed grandeur meander for half a page of more, like the Seine snaking its way from Paris out to the countryside on warm summer day. An example: "Sweet Sunday afternoons beneath the chestnut tree in the garden at Combray, carefully purged by me of every commonplace incident of my personal existence, which I had replaced with a life of strange adventures and aspirations in a land watered with living streams, you still recall that life to me when I think of you, and you embody it in effect by virtue of having gradually encircled and enclosed it--while I went on with my reading and the heat of the day declined--in the crystalline succession, slowly changing and dappled with foliage, of your silent, sonorous, fragrant, limpid hours." (pg. 121) His great subject was memory, the lavish, exquisite depiction of remembered events and feelings, looking back thru the billowing, silky veils of time to younger days, but in a voice that was far from being childlike. Much of the writing is impressionistic and appears to ramble a bit through space and time, and the reader is never clear how much of the book is true memoir and how much is embellished or fantasized. Perhaps a Proustian (if there is such a thing) might say, and what is the difference? Memory exists ultimately in the mind of the rememberer, and that is where its essence and true value can be found. The narrative, if it can be called that, concerns a nice, proper young man from a well-to-do family that has some contact with high society. They have a home in Paris, and a country place in a village called Combray. They have an acquaintance named Swann, a man of wealth and culture, who becomes deeply obsessed with a beautiful courtesan named Odette de Crecy. She accepts his attentions but maintains a life without him, which includes other men, and this drives Swann wild. His obsession is examined in much detail, how he stalks her and broods endlessly over her, how he loses interest in everything else. The way in which the young narrator became aware of all this is never discussed, if in fact he was aware of it and did not fantasize the whole thing, or conflate something from his own life with that of M. Swann's. There is an interesting coda to all this, when at the end, somewhat unexpectedly, Odette has become Mme. Swann, a content, if still flirtatious, upper class wife. The section with the madeleine is best known, and is emblematic of all of Proust's writing, how the taste of that little pastry brings a whole world into view. But never mind that, there are a good number of equally potent segments, like this one concerning some music: "And it had been a source of keen pleasure when, below the delicate line of the violin-part, slender but robust, compact and commanding, he had suddenly become aware of the mass of the piano-part beginning to emerge in a sort of liquid rippling of sound, multiform but indivisible, smooth yet restless, like the deep blue tumult of the sea, silvered and charmed into a minor key by the moonlight. But then at a certain moment, without being able to distinguish any clear outline, or to give a name to what was pleasing him, suddenly enraptured, he had tried to grasp the phrase or harmony--he did not know which--that had just been played and that had opened and expanded his soul, as the fragrance of certain roses, wafted upon the moist air of the evening, has the power of dilating one's nostrils." (pg. 294) So you see what you are in for if you want to tackle this masterpiece. It is beautiful and powerful, yes, but it will also place demands on your time and attention that go well beyond the norm. As for me, I will take my leave of Proust and his world, respectfully and admiringly, but with no intention of returning.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    This review only covers Swann's Way despite the fact that my edition also includes Within a Budding Grove. Here is a 5-star novel that is 5-stars in many ways: the fantastic major and minor characters, the exquisite observations, the acute psychological insight, and the degree to which a genius (Proust) can get away with overwriting a book with minimal plot--in fact, with an implicit disdain for plot because Proust contends that what happens to us happens primarily in our minds, in our memories, This review only covers Swann's Way despite the fact that my edition also includes Within a Budding Grove. Here is a 5-star novel that is 5-stars in many ways: the fantastic major and minor characters, the exquisite observations, the acute psychological insight, and the degree to which a genius (Proust) can get away with overwriting a book with minimal plot--in fact, with an implicit disdain for plot because Proust contends that what happens to us happens primarily in our minds, in our memories, not in a series of connected events and actions. Even the people we know are inventions we come up with, not truly independent beings; so, that is likewise the case when one character in Swann's Way interacts with another character. Part I focuses on the narrator's memories of childhood, primarily at a country house in "Combray." This is a slow-moving, infinitely detailed account of a brilliant, sensitive Peter Pan who doesn't want to grow up, so attracted is he to his mother. Part II focuses on Swann, who also has a house in Combray and who is lightly mentioned in Part I (and not favorably). Swann is wealthy, well-connected, a little bit Jewish, given to seducing maids and waitresses, and susceptible to the folly of falling in love with love, which he does by superimposing some of his most precious memories of great art on an artful prostitute who has risen to the level of kept woman. Odette is an opportunist, a kind woman when she wants to be, a woman who gets bored and can't help it, and someone who manages to utterly outmaneuver the far more sophisticated (in some limited senses) Swann. Part III is a kind of essay wherein Marcel advances Proust's notion that what happens in the shadows and fogs of minds is the most durable, most real, most compelling dimension of human experience. That being the case, the tale Marcel tells here about his frustrating childhood friendship with Swann and Odette's daughter (yes, they marry, but their marriage is not recounted in Swann's Way) Gilberte, is largely a fictionalized representation of what Marcel has chosen to name "Gilberte" and not necessarily whom you and I (reading Proust) would deduce to be Gilberte. (Clear? Well, no, but that's Proust.) The thing about Proust is the same thing I've heard said about Musil (The Man Without Qualities): you must read him slowly and a bit at a time to appreciate him. The fact that his books are thick shouldn't induce you to try to roll along as though you were reading Dickens or Tolstoy. Do that, and you'll end up frustrated, unsure about the complex distinctions Proust is throwing at you sentence by sentence, and not finishing the book you are hurrying to finish. I had a colleague who worked with me in Leipzig, Germany, who had been reading Proust for decades, renewing his acquaintance with things he knew well but loved savoring repeatedly. The totality of In Search of Lost Times, its completeness as a world unto itself, might best justify that if one were reading in French, which he did and I don't. In college, fifty years ago, I took a course focused on four novels, Swann's Way, Ulysses, The Magic Mountain, and The Brothers Karamazov. Swann's Way by far is the most unsuitable for undergraduate education in comparative literature precisely because it circles and circles itself in musings and obsessions related to Swann's infatuation with Odette that are ghastly explorations of jealousy way over a 19-year-old's head. The writer who resembles Proust in his constantly sharpening his point sharper and sharper is Henry James. There is a repressed and solipsistic quality to both of them, forever suggesting something and then correcting, modifying, and twisting it into something rather unlike what it was to begin with...and then going back to what it was to begin with and doing it all over again. So read Swann's Way slowly if you like the first ten pages and then read the next ten pages the same way...or after the first ten pages, set Swann's Way aside. My friend in Leipzig was a Proustian, but that may not true of you.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Wayne Jordaan

    This should be rated 31/2 stars. The author certainly have a way with words, many words, however the long sentences, dense writing style was not my cup of tea. Friend Michela reckons that maybe it would have read better in the original. Another downer for me was that the snobbery and if ever there was a character who needed kick in the pants, it is this Narrator, a character with "issues". What did I like about this? Actually some of the little incidents I found really interesting, the rivalry b This should be rated 31/2 stars. The author certainly have a way with words, many words, however the long sentences, dense writing style was not my cup of tea. Friend Michela reckons that maybe it would have read better in the original. Another downer for me was that the snobbery and if ever there was a character who needed kick in the pants, it is this Narrator, a character with "issues". What did I like about this? Actually some of the little incidents I found really interesting, the rivalry between Francoise and the visitor for the largess of the Narrator's aunt, Swann's pursuit of the eventual Mrs Swann, the "sabotaged" kiss and Francoise's interruption of its realisation. A long read with good bits.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    Exceptional. I might have even enjoyed Within a Budding Grove more than Swann's Way! I will continue to read this book throughout my life as its richness continues to reward at different times in my life. Exceptional. I might have even enjoyed Within a Budding Grove more than Swann's Way! I will continue to read this book throughout my life as its richness continues to reward at different times in my life.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Neale

    I acquired the first volume of ‘Remembrance’ many years ago, more from a sense of long-delayed obligation to the literary canon than with much expectation of pleasure. Well, that was the best part of a year of my reading life lost... If the first 100 or so pages of ‘Swann’s Way’ don’t leave you stunned and gasping (and not necessarily in a good way), stop reading. You’ve got better things to do with your life. When people speak of the greatness of ‘Remembrance’, I think that they are really speaki I acquired the first volume of ‘Remembrance’ many years ago, more from a sense of long-delayed obligation to the literary canon than with much expectation of pleasure. Well, that was the best part of a year of my reading life lost... If the first 100 or so pages of ‘Swann’s Way’ don’t leave you stunned and gasping (and not necessarily in a good way), stop reading. You’ve got better things to do with your life. When people speak of the greatness of ‘Remembrance’, I think that they are really speaking of the greatness of ‘Combray’, the opening section. What comes after is also great, in its mannered, brilliant, sometimes absurd and often irritating way. But it is the greatness of ‘Combray’, reflecting over the rest, that elevates the work as a whole. ‘Remembrance’ without ‘Combray’ would probably be regarded as a noteworthy fin-de-siecle curiosity, overlong and not widely read – a bit like Musil’s ‘Man Without Qualities’, maybe? ‘Swann’s Way’ (or whatever you choose to call it) should be more often published as a single volume. It really is complete in itself, and contains more than enough Proust for most people, who are undoubtedly intimidated by the sheer bulk of the standard three-volume set. There isn’t much to be found in the vast tracts of the subsequent books that isn’t contained within the first: the evocation of the narrator’s childhood is incomparable; the language is often jaw-droppingly beautiful; and Swann’s inset story contains all of the salons and liaisons and disillusions that any reasonable person could require. (I just wish Proust had written the Swann episode in the first person, not in the rather unconvincing first/third – that is, the first person narrator telling us what Swann was thinking. George Orwell criticised ‘Brideshead Revisited’ for a similar problem: if you write in the first person, it is difficult to portray the inner lives of the other characters without resort to artifice...) When I think of Proust’s masterwork, I think not so much of madeleines and crooked paving stones as I do of my old Penguin paperback, clumsy to hold, with its yellowed pages and the spine curved almost into a tube. I can even recall the taste of the rather coarse paper. (Don’t ask.) I think Proust would have approved...

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