Marcel Proust: A Life
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This book is a magisterial account of the life and times of Marcel Proust, one of the greatest literary voices of the twentieth century. Based on a host of recently available letters, memoirs, and manuscripts, it sheds new light on Proust's character, his development as an artist, and his masterpiece In Search of Lost Time (long known in English as Remembrance of Things Past). The biography also sets Proust's life in the decadent artistic and social context of the French fin de sihcle and the years leading up to World War I. The glittering Parisian world of which Proust was a part was also home to such luminaries as Anatole France, Jean Cocteau, and Andri Gide. William Carter brings this vibrant social world to life while he explores the inner world of Proust's intellectual and artistic development, as well as his most intimate personal experience. Carter examines Proust's passionate attachment to his mother, his deep love for the scenes of his youth, his flirtation with Parisian high society, his complicated sexual desires, and his irrevocable commitment to literary truth and shows how all these played out in the making of his great novel. In the book's abundance of detail, its wealth of anecdotes, quoted letters, and recovered conversations many of them appearing in English for the first time Proust comes alive as never before.
had no choice; he was a doctor and must look after his patients and fulfill his teaching and administrative duties. If he had had the courage to travel on horseback through the most primitive regions of Russia, Persia, and Egypt, surely he could cross Paris to reach his office at the Hôpital de la Charité on the other side of the Seine. One day in early spring, just after Dr. Proust left the apartment for the hospital, an insurgent aimed his rifle at the well-dressed bourgeois gentleman and
family, needing larger quarters because of the new baby and Adrien’s rapidly advancing career, moved a short distance east to an apartment at 9, boulevard Malesherbes, not far from the church of the Madeleine. The entrance to the building where the Proust family lived for the next twenty-seven years was a large, sculpted double wooden door. Inside was a spacious inner courtyard, at the back of which stood a stairwell leading to the second-story main entrance to the Proust apartment. The
English, whether British or American. “It’s odd,” he wrote, that “from George Eliot to Hardy, from Stevenson to Emerson, there’s no other literature that has a power over me comparable to English and American. Germany, Italy, quite often France, leave me indifferent. But two pages of The Mill on the Floss are enough to make me cry.”96 From the time he began Jean Santeuil until he wrote the Search, Proust’s intentions and method of composition never changed. He knew, as he had stated in the pages
explained in part by Marcel’s resemblance to his mother. This likeness is mentioned in Jean Santeuil, where we read that Jean realized that he had inherited from his mother “his manner of seeing, of judging.”42 In the Search, while painting a detailed portrait of the highly sensitive and perceptive Narrator’s relationship with the mother, Proust reaches beyond the mother to all his readers by seeking the universal. Proust had been unable to complete Jean Santeuil, a third-person narrative that
262–64. Ellipsis is Proust’s. This sketch contains the name of Mme de Villeparisis, one of the novel’s important characters, the bluestocking of the Guermantes family. 9. See Carnet 1908, 48 and n. 5. 10. Cf. Search 4: 713, 5: 615. 11. See Carnet 1908, n. 23, 135–36. 12. Kolb suggests that Proust was seeking models for Odette; Carnet 1908, 133, n. 6. 13. Vautrin was one of the rare—and very discreet—homosexual characters in French literature before Proust’s era. Carnet 1908, 48. 14. This