In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
Marcel Proust started writing In Search of Lost Time in 1908. Swann’s Way – the first of the seven book series – was published in 1913 when Proust was 42 years old. Being the grandson of a wealthy Jewish stockbroker and the son of a famous physician, Proust had the privilege of growing up amidst French aristocracy. Consequently, his books take you right to the heart French society.
Proust had the gifted ability to delve deep into the psyche of his characters… imparting a depth of feeling that is so lacking in most modern literature. Expressed in the most beautiful prose I have ever read, Swann’s Way (a semi-autobiography) is told in two parts. The first part is the story of the narrator’s (Marcel Proust) memories of being a young boy; nostalgic for carefree youth, innocence, and the simple beauty of nature. But being a child of weak health and intense anxieties, his memories are not always happy and lighthearted. Proust explores the mysteries of memories held hard and fast and those that fade, are simply wiped out, or are unexpectedly recalled at some later date… the essence of Proust’s title for the series.
The second part of Swann’s Way is the story of Mr. Swann… an upper class French playboy who falls in love with a middle class girl of “bourgeois mediocrity”, Odette de Crecy. A relationship that begins as an amusing flirtation turns to obsessive devotion. He condescendingly gets drawn into Odette’s snobbish clique of friends only to be painfully rejected by them because Odette still finds pleasure in being with other men. The story parallels Marcel’s sensitive yearning as a young boy for his mother’s love and attention, and his later infatuation with Mr. Swann’s daughter Gilberte…. with Mr. Swann’s own unreturned passion and adoration from Odette. For the lengthy 606 pages in this book there really isn’t much of a plot. But there are pages and pages of beautiful prose that make you smile and think about your own life… and ponder the mystery of human nature.
Reading the classics written by foreign authors can be a challenge. The key is to find a good translator who maintains authenticity, yet gives the translated prose all the charm and beauty of the original. The Modern Library edition of the In Search of Lost Time series translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin is excellent.
Rated 5 Stars.
All contents © 2014 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.