The History of Literature #301 – Reading Proust with Strangers

301 Reading Proust with Strangers

Jacke kicks off the next hundred episodes with a discussion of the Netflix series Lupin, the story of Proust begging his neighbors for quiet and secretly paying newspapers for good reviews, and a visit from Mike Palindrome to discuss his project to read Proust in an online community. Along the way, we discuss Within a Budding Grove (i.e. what makes it the dark horse favorite of many Proustians) and Mike selects his Top Ten Tweets from the #ProustTogether project.

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The History of Literature #185 – Marcel Proust


Marcel Proust (1871-1922) did little of note until he turned 38 years old – but from that point forward, he devoted the rest of his life to writing a masterpiece. The result, the novel In Search of Lost Time, published in seven volumes from 1913 to 1927, stands as one of the supreme achievements of Modernism or any other period. Written in Proust’s inimitable, discursive prose, the novel recreates the memories of a lifetime, infusing a search for the past with an almost mystical belief in the power of beauty and experience to be ever-present, alive, unified, and universally important. Drawing upon everything in Proust’s life, from his childhood bedtime kisses from his mother to his travels through high Parisian society, the towering novel stands alone for its deep artistic and psychological insights.

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Independent Publishing: What Would Marcel Proust Do?

This is an easy one: we know what Proust would do, because he did it:

Still, for all the brouhaha, many modern readers still find themselves in agreement with the two French publishers who turned down Proust’s manuscript [Swann’s Way] in 1912. A third agreed to publish it, provided that Proust himself cover the expenses.

I agree with Andre Aciman’s assessment:

Proust’s novel is so unusually ambitious, so accomplished, so masterful in cadence and invention that it is impossible to compare it with anyone else’s. He is unabashedly literary and so unapologetic in his encyclopedic range that he remains an exemplar of what literature can be: at once timeless and time bound, universal and elitist, a mix of uncompromising high seriousness with moments of undiminished slapstick. Homer, Vergil, Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, Proust—not exactly authors one expects to whiz through or take lightly, but like all works of genius, they are meant to be read out loud and loved.

I also agree with his opinion that Proust had elitist tendencies (but that his artistry overcame them):

As Proust recognized, who we are to the outside world and who we are when we retire into our private space are often two very different individuals. Proust the snob and Proust the artist may share the same address, the same friends, and the same name, even the same habits; but one belongs to society, the other to eternity.

Think about that for a minute. If this snob – and there’s no doubt that Proust was a snob, a world-class one, though I love him dearly – if even this titan of self-regard could overcome his doubts about paying for the publication of his own manuscript, then what are you – you, the lover of democracy, you, the friend of the little guy – waiting for?

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