Swann's way

by Marcel Proust

Other authorsTerence Kilmartin (Translator), D.J. Enright (Contributor), C.K. Scott Moncrieff (Translator)
Hardcover, 1992

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Modern Library, 1992.

Description

Presents the first book of Proust's monumental work "Remembrance of Things Past", introducing such themes as the destructive force of obsessive love, the allure and the consequences of transgressive sex, and the selective eye that shapes memories.

Media reviews

Als we nu vanuit het microniveau van deze ene zin extrapoleren naar het geheel van dit eerste deel van de Recherche, kan volgens mij de conclusie niet anders luiden dan dat deze vertaling van Martin de Haan en Rokus Hofstede – maar dat gold ook voor die van Thérèse Cornips – bijzonder overtuigend is. Het accent ligt bij hen op vernederlandsing, maar de getrouwheid, zeker ook aan Prousts subtiele humor en ‘dubbelzinnige glimlach’, blijft steeds optimaal. Daarbij bereiken ze in de dialogen, iets wat hier totaal onderbelicht is gebleven, een grote levendigheid die Proust volkomen recht doet.
6 more
Maarten 't Hart bespreekt de nieuwe vertaling van Swanns kant van Marcel Proust. De NRC meldde dat het een slordige vertaling zou zijn. Maarten 't Hart is het daar niet mee eens. Zij is soepeler dan de vroegere vertaling en daardoor prettiger leesbaar.
Toch is Swanns kant op een aanwinst, want de lezer heeft nu meer te kiezen: het idioom van De Haan en Hofstede is eigentijdser dan dat van hun voorgangers. Ze schrijven ‘kletspraatjes’ waar Thérèse Cornips, met haar voorkeur voor het schilderachtige, ‘palavers’ schrijft. Proust lezen is al zo’n onalledaagse ervaring (door die lange zinnen, maar ook doordat het verhaal zich in hoge Parijse kringen rond 1900 afspeelt) dat zijn taalgebruik, althans op plaatsen waar het niet gemarkeerd is door een eigenzinnige woordkeus, beter niet te barok vertaald kan worden.
Dat gebeurt wel vaker, dat lezers die hartstochtelijk van Proust houden, zich over een vertaling opwinden; op zichzelf is daar niets mis mee. Maar formuleringen die me de wenkbrauwen deden fronsen werden me vervolgens door mijn ergernis voorgespiegeld als onzorgvuldigheden – en dat terwijl de vertalers nu juist uiterst accuraat, daarvan ben ik inmiddels wel overtuigd, te werk zijn gegaan. Verder komen kleine foutjes in elke tekst voor, het is kinderachtig voor een criticus om daar zelfs maar over te beginnen.
Ik ben klaar om me te laten bedwelmen door de rest van de cyclus. Ik ben klaar om meer tijd te nemen dit eerste deel te herlezen om Proust dieper te doorgronden, zelfs in zijn meest slaapverwekkende proza, slaap is per slot van rekening ook een vorm van bedwelming. Je suis un proustien.
Wie graag een iets zwieriger, archaïscher Proust leest, kan misschien het beste voor Cornips kiezen. Wie een voorkeur heeft voor een frissere, scherpere, strakkere stijl, is beter thuis bij De Haan en Hofstede. Maar uiteraard kunnen de vertalingen goed naast elkaar bestaan, en hoeft niemand een definitieve keuze te maken. Als de nieuwe vertaling één ding duidelijk maakt, is het wel dat we ons gelukkig mogen prijzen met twee ijzersterke vertalingen van Prousts meesterwerk.
Diverse recensies van en artikelen over Proust op het blog van de vertalers Martin de Haan en Rokus Hofstede.

User reviews

LibraryThing member zenomax
Walter Benjamin, writing on Proust’s In Search of Lost Time series, mentions in passing that it is partly a work resulting from ‘the absorption of a mystic’.

Proust is not a mystic, in my view, but a realist - a realist of a certain, unusual type. For Proust understands certain arcane facts about the functioning of our universe. He believes that the universe is too complex to be fully understood or mastered, but at the same time, by concentrating on what we can know, the ways of human-kind, and the animate and inanimate kingdoms*, we can delve in some degree of detail into the idiosyncracies and half-known truths of our world. It is a path related to the ancient wisdoms that is being followed here I believe, followed implicitly in all but name.

As such, Proust contributes a certain fecundity to the undergrowth at the far limits of our understanding. In this he joins certain other authors and thinkers, amongst these ranks I include Balzac, Burns (1), Tolstoy (2), Kafka (3), Camus (4), Atget and Schwitters.

Ultimately, these (amongst others who share the same implicit understanding) have in common the view that everything is subjective, a projection by each individual of the world, which can neither be proven nor disproven by any outside, objective agency. The default position, once one understands that one cannot master the world, nor share a common platform with others to achieve such mastery, is to dig deeper into the richness, the complexity, the contradictions of the world. It is like looking at a shattered mirror, with only a few shards of reflective glass left intact, attempting to reconstruct the reflection - an ultimately futile task - but being distracted by the colours, textures and patterns which you can see in the shards, and drawing solace and a certain richness of understanding from this part-world.

The best passage to illustrate P’s view, that meaning can be attached to all things, and that this allows a rich, idiosyncratic understanding of the world around us, if we do but look, is not the famous madeleines, but a short extract on the beginning of the route when taking the Guermantes way. When taking this route the family would exit through the garden and into the Rue des Perchamps, “…narrow and bent at a sharp angle, dotted with clumps of grass among which two or three wasps would spend the day botanising, a street as quaint as its name, from which, I felt, its odd characteristics and cantankerous personality derived…” The street had long since been demolished (echoes here of Atget’s photographs of condemned Parisian buildings with the demolishers already evident working on the surrounding buildings), and Proust rebuilds the street through memory, preserving its existence, through the remembered image - “…perhaps the last surviving in the world today, and soon to follow the rest into oblivion…” This illustrates ‘lesser’ animates, wasps, equally participating in everyday existence, and the inanimate, the street itself, deriving a personality from its name and individual, slightly eccentric shape. Furthermore, the whole excerpt, an evocation of time and place, relates to a time long gone, and furthermore, of things that no longer exist in place (although they do in time, at least as long as someone is there to remember them. Although what happens to them once that person dies?)

Ultimately, this view of the world equates all 'things' as having equal importance, but infinite depth. This is what makes life worth living, an infinite web of relationships, meanings and obscure connections and reasons that cannot be explained, just understood for what they are.

Notes:
* We know that P. considered the inanimate world, from some early writings on the artist Chardin. Proust noted in this context how the artist was able to show “…the hidden life of the inanimate…”
(1) I remember the phrase used in a review of at least 20 years ago, of Burns poem ‘To a mouse’, that stated that he understood ‘the inherent dignity of all living things’. Proust goes one step further in embracing the inanimate into this hierarchy of belief.
(2) Isaiah Berlin notes that Tolstoy believed in observable facts rather than the abstract or supernatural: "History, only history, only the sum of the concrete events in time and space...this alone contained the truth...", but at the same time this meshed with the traditional peasant view that although events were too complex to predict, certain protocols and obscure methodologies needed to be heeded in order to receive good fortune.
(3) Walter Benjamin argues that Kafka followed ancient wisdoms, articulating in his writing "... the rumour about the true things (a sort of theological whispered intelligence dealing with matters discredited and obsolete)."
(4) Camus, speaking of the phenomenologists: they " reinstate the world in its diversity and deny the transcendent power of the reason. The spiritual universe becomes incalculably enriched through them. The rose petal, the milestone, or the human hand are as important as love, desire, or the laws of gravity. Thinking ceases to be unifying or making a semblance familiar in the guise of a major principle. Thinking is learning all over again to see, to be attentive, to focus consciousness; it is turning every idea and every image, in the manner of Proust, into a privileged moment."
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LibraryThing member Pummzie
There are books which do need to be reviewed. No, that's not it. There are books about which I feel like an idiot proffering an opinion because they are so astonishing that I lack the vocabulary to convey my feelings. The first volume of Proust is such a book. So, all I will say is that it made me laugh, cry, read slowly as possible so as to lodge passages, sensations, aphorisms, ponderings, universal truths, fallacies, Proust's voyeuristic musings, into my brain. I didn't want to forget it. Almost every page offered up little gems. The consistently high quality of the writing is astonishing; his reflections don't simply have you nodding along but make you pause for thought to consider the point. To reread, scratch your head, reread again, marvel at his genuis and then carry on. After a while I realised that there was too much of it that i loved to annotate and I simply promised myself that I would get to the end and start again.

I buy books obsessively. I love reading and I try to read widely. Proust is the first writer that has impressed me so much that I have thought about giving up my other books and spending my time instead reading and rereading proust (but I haven't parted with my stash just yet!).

The only reason I am offering a review of such an obvious masterpiece is because i feel compelled to share such a life changing book. If you love literature or delving into the fluctuations of a human mind - READ IT.

If you are a budding writer - READ IT.

If you want the best manual on love - READ IT.

Honest.

Roll on volume 2.
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LibraryThing member Arctic-Stranger
A friend on LT recommended I read In Search of Lost Time, and after resisting for a while, I finally dove in. This is now my summer reading project.

First, this is an intimidating book. It is volume one of six, and they are long volumes, with very long paragraphs and long sentences. (I tracked one sentence for two pages.)

Second, it is, so far, well worth the read. Proust is doing something entirely different here. He is taking us inside his own mind, and to my way of thinking, he does this better than Joyce. Marcel, the narrator is reliving his life, and taking you with him, and he is not leaving a lot out. In one sense his story is everyone's story. We all have our minor issues as kids, fall in love with the girl next door, and think our world is immense. We all have infatuations, both romantic and non-romantic.

HIs telling of Swann falling in love is both touching and hilarious. Proust pokes gentle jabs into the belly of the French aristocracy, while at the same time realizing that is the world he knows.

Is there a theme here? I think "LOST" is essential. Marcel cannot really hold on to anything, or really enjoy anything, because he realizes it is merely a moment that cannot last.

This is not for everyone...the plot is almost non-existant, and Marcel as a character is both highly interesting and higly irritating. (I was relieved we got to spend so much time with Swann in this volume.) But for reasons I don't understand, I keep reading. Perhaps perception is the content of reality.
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LibraryThing member thorold
It's probably a rather banal thing to say, but what I really noticed when I picked up the first volume of À la recherche du temps perdu again after a long Proust-free period was that I'd completely forgotten how good he is at getting his complicated ideas about art, society, nature and mind across. The story might be frustratingly slow in getting anywhere, but on just about every page there was a phrase that seemed exactly to capture something I could relate to my own experience and give it an extra dimension. One part of you wants to tell the narrator not to fret and reassure him that his mother is going to come up to say good night to him after all in about 500 pages from now, but at the same time you're surfing the ideas as they roll towards you with a reassuringly predictable rhythm that's modulated just enough to keep you alert and focussed as they come at you.

The first-person sections are more immediately and obviously appealing than "Un amour de Swann", of course - I even caught myself checking "that most erotic of books, the railway timetable", to see whether I might be able to fit in a trip to Normandy next year to have a look at "Combray" and "Balbec" in real life. It's much easier to identify with the narrator-as-a-small-boy than with Swann the Parisian sophisticate falling for the courtesan Odette, but even so there is a remarkable amount in the development of his affection, need, jealousy and mistrust that strikes a chord. And the Duchess is magnificent!

I don't think I could read all seven volumes straight through without a break - I need a bit of laughter and flippancy from time to time, and that's something Proust would dismiss as the unworthy province of the small-minded Verdurins. But now that I've started the re-read, I am in the mood again, and the other volumes are going to have to follow sooner or later. As a pastime, re-reading Proust certainly beats "strangling animals, golf and masturbating"...
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LibraryThing member pmtracy
Swann’s Way (Volume 1 of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past) is not a novel in today’s traditional sense of the word. Instead, it’s a collection of vignettes and observations of one young man’s life. This first volume includes three works: Combray, Swann in Love and Place-Names: The Name.

In Combray, Proust’s protagonist rambles on detailed descriptions of his family structure, the social hierarchy of turn-of-the-century France and a number of pastoral settings. It may be trite, but it can easily be said that modern authors simply “don’t write like that anymore.” In Combray, Proust takes a number of pages to describe one garden and several paragraphs to detail the illumination of one leaf. The beauty of the language and the level of detail ensures the readers can develop a complete image of the setting.

Swann in Love is a detailed account of Charles Swann’s courting of his beloved Odette. The personal pain he experiences during his love affair will be familiar to many. Swann is hopelessly in love with Odette who manipulates him and generally treats him poorly. The social constructs of the time play a great deal of importance in his ability to win and keep her. Ultimately, social pressures force Odette to detach herself from Swann- even though it is our understanding that Swann is of a superior social class to Odette and her friends.

Places-names allows our narrator to tell of his first love, which ironically parallels Swann’s. We learn that his playmate, Gilberte, is actually Swann’s daughter. Her mother is briefly identified as Odette which tells us that the relationship that ended must have been later renewed.

My initial impression of Proust is that he isn’t an author you read for plot but for the shear enjoyment of his use of language and the development of his characters. I’m looking forward to starting the second volume, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower.
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LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
Wouldn't you love to walk the Mesiglisse Way, see and smell the blooming hawthornes in Swann's alley, watch the street scene in Combray with Aunt Leonie, eat a meal prepared by Francoise, and meet Swann, poor Swann with his tragic obsession with Odette. "To think that I have wasted years of my life, that I have longed for death, that the greatest love I have ever known has been a woman who did not please me, who was not in my style." And to experience young Marcel's first love, an obsession almost parallel to Swann's, his yearning for Swann's daughter Gilberte.

I liked this much more the second time around. There's everything to love about the lush language of course, but I made a lot more connections on this reading, and picked up on many details I don't remember, or maybe didn't grasp the first time I read it.

Highly recommended.
5 stars
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LibraryThing member rmagahiz
The last time I read this was in the early 1980s and so it is with a nearly empty set of preconceptions that I am returning to it now to begin this centennial Year of Reading Proust. I do remember the sensation of the words just washing over me, not being quite sure what they were describing (now I can see that the book has virtually no plot and just enough action to keep the prose stirred up a little), and no clear impression of where the rest of the series would go, except certainly later in the life of the Narrator. Proust writes as if he can divide up perception into its constituent atoms and chart the way their paths evolve over time, assembling these bits into a portrait fixed at a particular time and place only if it suits his purposes of depicting a certain character or spotlighting some aspect of his theme. Thus, it is very easy to get disoriented, especially a century after it came out.

I'm boosting my rating a star now over what I had previously. Swann's Way really does belong among the first rank of novels ever written.

It is fascinating to see how certain motifs are woven in and out: music, flowers, social convention, and the advent of the modern world. I am looking forward to watching how these develop over the remaining volumes. If the effect of reading this work is really as life-changing as some have claimed, I am still uncertain, or rather I cannot tell whether it is more so than any other monumental work of literature to which one has been exposed.
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LibraryThing member phillynyc
One of the most amazing books written. This book will change your life. I think about this book on a weekly basis. The master of long sentences.
LibraryThing member eromsted
Proust’s epic opens with what I can only describe as an extended prose-poem on the subject of memory which will continue as the most important theme of the novel. The action, such as it is, begins with the description of the childhood vacations the narrator (never named) spent in Combray surrounded by his rather eccentric family and neighbors. One senses that many of these characters will appear again as the novel progresses, but from the start it is clear that chief among them is a dilettante bourgeois, friend of the family - one M. Swann, whose chief failing is that he “married poorly.” Towards the end of the first section the narrator happens to see Gilberte, Swann’s daughter at a distance during a walk through M. Swann’s property. The memory of this first sighting sparks what might be considered the longest digression in literary history as the narrator proceeds to recount the story of M. Swann’s love affair with Odette de Crécy. The book closes, once again, with the narrator in Paris and his childhood friendship there with Gilberte.
For such a long book, there is in fact very little plot. My Modern Library edition includes a synopsis which condenses the 600 pages of text into less than 5. But, after all, plot isn’t really the point. The characters and the actions are merely the starting point for Proust’s descriptive apostrophe on the human condition. Specifically, on the way in which our memory is not a simple record of past events, but is rather in a constant interplay with our emotions. And even in translation, Proust has created in these lush descriptions some of the most beautiful prose I have ever read. It is for the language, not the story that one reads Proust.
So why give the novel less than a classic (5 star) rating? For all of the beauty of the writing, I found that I was simply unable to identify with the character of Swann. So throughout the soaring and crashing emotional journey of his affair with Odette I remained at a distance, and this detracted from my experience.
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LibraryThing member hellbent
Delicious exposition on falling asleep. Author very econimcal with periods.
LibraryThing member cinders54
The only way I can truly describe this book is by analogy. You know when you have a really sore spot on your gum, and it hurts, and you are compelled to press on it, which doesn't relieve the pain but changes the sensation to something strangely enjoyable (or at least less painful), then you remove the pressure and the pain returns? That is reading this book. It has been lauded as a masterpiece, so I tried to get it, but all I came away with was a very original, sometimes sublimely written, self-indulgent piece of inner vision. It makes sense to me it was written by a guy in a room lined by cork. Short on story and action, long on self-consciousness. The breathtaking prose is oddly compelling, but I often felt cheated. Unlike others, I will not be reading the other volumes. I saw the beautiful movie, "Time Regained", and that satisfied my need to find out what happens/doesn't happen in the opus, but I'm not so masochistic that I'll actually read page after page of description of a leaf. I'll just accept my philistine status when it comes to Proust.… (more)
LibraryThing member Clara53
What can I say - exquisite prose... Lyrical, often anguished and oh, so beautiful. The first volume of Proust's 7 part novel. Once you get used to the unusually long sentences (which in my experience I encountered mainly while reading Jose Saramago), you get the full appreciation of it. And while some passages I had to read twice - due to the length of the sentence that covered half a page - it was more than worth it. The intensity of feeling (be it description of nature or music or private emotion) can be compared only to Dostoyevsky.

Part One is childhood/adolescence memoir - unforgettable memories of French countryside, intense nostalgia for those days, mixed with a lot of agony felt by an exceptionally sensitive child, precocious and emotionally tuned into everything around him; his reading, his walks, his anguished attachment to his mother; his penetrating perception of the characters surrounding him (his family, the servants, members of the little provincial community, guests of the house - one of them is M. Swann, a prominent character, who is the protagonist in the second part of the book ).

Part Two is Swann's story; his love (or rather his strong infatuation bordering on obsession) and all that comes along with it, all the destructive qualities of such love. It was like watching a miracle transformation - transition from his indifference and her eagerness into his mad infatuation ("...the dawn of one of her glances, the evolution of her smiles, the emission of the intonation of her voice...") and her growing indifference; his infatuation so torturous, that "he would have liked to live on until the time came when he no longer loved her..." (Again Dostoyevsky comes to mind...) And then, the outcome - that might not have been suspected...

Part Three - the adolescent love of the author... Description of the Bois de Boulogne - where he would love to steer his caretaker Francoise to take him on the despondent days when there was no chance of his meeting the object of his emerging love Gilberte, Swann's daughter, in his usual playground ("we no longer love anyone else when we are in love" - he muses...); his dreams of visiting beautiful far away places - only to be thwarted by his fragile health.

And throughout - these marvelous ruminations of his... Whatever he describes, he never glazes over it - he goes deep into each detail, spurred by his uncanny imagination - be it a flower, a street, a person or a piece of music. He says that his "moral duty imposed on me by the impressions I received from form, fragrance or color was so arduous - to try to perceive what was concealed behind them..." And he did - in a most elegant, all encompassing, distinctive way. He explains that "of all the feelings it awakened in me, nature seemed to me the thing most opposite to the mechanical productions of men. The less it bore their imprint the more room it offered in which my heart could expand".

I've been looking forward to the time to start on this journey - Proust. And now that I've finished the first volume - I have to say: it was so worth it. Sentimental - yes, melancholy - yes. But in the best possible meanings of those words and more. Need some time before I go on, onto the rest of the volumes. Works like Proust's cannot be rushed...
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LibraryThing member JimmyChanga
I read 300 pages of this before giving up the first time. Only recently did I pick it up and resolve to finish it... but starting again at page 1, as I had forgotten anything about it.This book is great for many reasons. I'll just list random thoughts as I have just finished the novel and cannot gather my thoughts coherently.The structure of the sentences, while it could be seen as unnecessarily serpentine, fits perfectly with the serpentine nature of memories that Proust is so interested in conveying.Proust cares almost EXCLUSIVELY about human perception rather than any kind of objective reality. He's fascinated by how the mind inflates and deflates reality based on perceptions, preconceptions, expectations, and a whole slew of other things that have nothing to do with what is ACTUAL. or maybe he'd say the states of the mind is more real than reality. I was struck by how plain funny a lot of this is. Especially his descriptions of people and their odd, often transparent behavior.I feel really close to Proust because I constantly feel left out of things. I think this book is very much about that feeling of being left out. I mean, the three main stories here have that as a main factor. SPOILERS FOLLOW: The narrator trying to get the attention of the mother, and feeling so desperate when he knows she is in the other room entertaining guests. Then the middle story, of Swann, especially when his relationship with Odette slips, is all about the scenarios (often hilarious) he convinces himself of when she is off doing something else without him. Then the last part about Gilbert was also very much in the same vein. I thought it was very wise that these three relationships that form the bulk of the book all seem to ricochet and reflect off of each other making each one more resonant and powerful, even though they are superficially unconnected.As a note, the first 50 pages are amazing. This is the part about the mother. Then the next 50 or so about Combray are really good too, but then it starts to get kinda unfocused and I was kinda bored towards the end of Part one, well at least until the lesbians woke me up. Part Two was mostly good the whole way through, I was surprised how many ways Proust can describe this relationship and still not seem repetitive, for his descriptions are always so much about internal states and always ring so true. Part Three was also really good. I thought it was wise of him to have gone back in time for Part Two and then to go forward in Part Three and we get to see that Mme Swann is Odette. And we get no explanation as to how they ended up together, but this gap is really effective, I think, because it let's the reader do most of the work in his mind.… (more)
LibraryThing member P_S_Patrick
Having recently purchased a twelve volume set of Proust's Novel, I was anxious to make sure I was going to enjoy seeing it through. This worry soon seemed quite unnecessary upon finishing the first section of Swann's Way, sixty odd pages, when I looked at my watch and wondered where the lost time had gone, how it had fled so quickly.
The first impression the reader will get of Proust, aside from his predilection to very long sentences, long descriptions about things which at first seem uninteresting, and his poetic sentimentality, is that he seems to be a bit of a “mummy's boy”. The opening of the book gives this impression, and the rest of the novel enlarges upon this to show that his strong emotional attachments form also with others, and become apparent too when he is narrating other characters feelings. However, a critical detachment between himself and his state of mind, despite not freeing him from it, allows him to depict things in a way the reader can appreciate without gagging, which may not have been possible had he been wholly carried away with it all.
The leitmotif of longing, established by the pains the author goes through as a boy waiting for his mother's bedtime kiss, is not only repeated later as his bed-ridden aunt's expectant waiting for her favourite visitor to arrive, but also in Swann's startlement to unexpectedly find himself desperate to see his object of affection after he has missed his habitual meeting with her, and too in Proust's fretful waiting for his play mate to turn up in the afternoon near the end of the novel.
To balance all this heart stabbing, though purely psychological, pain, are the moments of sublime joy which the characters enjoy. These not only stem from merely insignificant things, as the pains do, but also from the more refined aspects of European culture, such as a phrase in a certain piano sonata, a certain famous painting which resembles someone he knows, or a certain author, and come to be associated directly with his worldly loves; with the memories and images of the one becoming inextricably linked to the other. This association of ideas is another theme, most obviously seen in the earlier passage where he comes to a state of absolute bliss through the recurrence of one of his most precious childhood memories, brought on by a cup of tea with a certain type of cake dipped in it, something he had enjoyed years ago.
To compare Proust with any other author is never going to give him his dues, but he writes so much of love, here, that it is difficult not to be reminded of Stendhal; Proust being almost a Stendhal Squared, minus the adventure story, and plus an array of assorted idiosyncrasies which would take too long too number. He is undoubtedly more decorative in his writings than the English or Italian novelist, more effeminate, and more sentimental, but this allows his high sensitivity to the varied and wide ranging beauties of the natural and artistic worlds to be felt and shared with his reader.
The plot doesn't make this a page turner, like a Stendhal or a Dumas, and none of the characters do anything that exciting, so it won't appeal to some people for this reason. However, for the fan of literary fiction, this could quite well be the zenith. -Translation by C.K. Scott-Moncrieff
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LibraryThing member jon1lambert
This is the battered copy I struggled with in 1971. Proust or his narrator may have been unable to sleep waiting for his mother's kiss. I lay awake trying to unravel the long sentences and wanting to call for help.
LibraryThing member albertgoldfain
Sentimental, vivid, and intricate in its management of interior memory / external plot. Finally getting to Proust after all these years.
LibraryThing member antao
I read Proust's masterpiece back in 1985. What did I know of life then? Nothing!

Having recently read a Smithsonian editorial that made fun of the novels, and remembering all too well one particular hilariously snippy Monty Python sketch (the Summarize Proust Competition), I too wanted to be able to rub elbows with the elite intellectuals who mocked Proust, so I picked up the first of three volumes (the weighty Moncrieff editions because I have no french whatsoever) and got started. The first few pages were tough going, but soon I became mesmerized, then I fell in love, and by the end of the summer I was tucking flowers into the plackets of my blouses and wearing bows in my hair.

Oh you kids. “Swann's Way” is the swiftest, plottiest volume in the monster, with “Un Amour de Swann” a little novel in itself, with a beginning, middle, end, and all that sort of thing. Originally drafted in a mere three volumes, the Recherche grew as Proust re-Proustified the later volumes while waiting for publication; many readers have wished that that long mini-book could be recovered. The pace picks up again in the last volume, which the author's death prevented him from reworking it, so that a dinner party—one of the greatest scenes in all literature, by the way—takes only a few hundred pages to describe, what with the jolts of consciousness with which Proust bracketed it, while the first half of the volume is impossibly brilliant about the first World War without ever leaving Paris. It's best to have time for such idleness, best to be so besotted with the possibilities of literature that you love rather than loathe the lengthiness; which is to say that you need to encounter Proust at the right time of your life and possibly even the right place, so that Proust's times and places become yours. I hope that luck will be yours; without it, the task may prove impossible. If you find yourself fatally at a loss to know what and why you're reading, check out Samuel Beckett's slim monograph; for all its showy intellectuality—it's a youthful work—it's still the best compass for getting across that ocean.

Read it twice in English - took me a year the first time and six years the second. I re-read it once again in English this time around, which is a whole new level of pleasure and I hope will take me many more years to come. After all I'm more mature and also wiser...I really recommend the Proust Screenplay by Harold Pinter, which accomplishes the amazing feat of boiling the whole thing down into a 90-minute screenplay without losing any of the flavour. When I felt lost at the beginning of my first reading, Pinter's work revealed the whole structure to me and enabled me to carry on.

So far, I've found reading Proust a strangely claustrophobic experience. I got the overwhelming impression of a man who observes, dissects and minutely describes life, but perhaps forgets to live it?

As a reader, I feel the novel takes me over. There is no room for separate interpretation or thought. The author leaves no margin for error. It's a bit like the difference between watching butterflies fluttering in a meadow and having them pinned and labelled, dead, on a board for inspection. Some books just have that effect on me. The great one, that is.
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LibraryThing member ursula
I'm conflicted. I started off thinking that the writing was lovely and evocative, although the young narrator perhaps provides detail that one might politely call "a little excessive" about such things as bedtime routines and the importance of the narrator receiving a goodnight kiss from his mother. Within a few percentage points (I read this on the kindle, so instead of seeing the pages of the book move from the "unread" side to the "read" side, I only had the agonizingly slow movement of the percentages as feedback - flip, no change, flip, flip, flip, no change, flip, flip, flip, flip, flip ... ah, finally!), where was I? Oh right, within a few percentage points I was hoping to never hear about the layout of the French town of Combray, church spires, walks, weather, hawthorn bushes, or the narrator's damned mother again. I was moderately enlivened for a while by the story of his great-aunt Leonie's invalid behavior. She entertainingly always managed to be too ill to do the things she didn't want to, but healthy enough to manage the things she did.

We've been introduced to M. Swann through his interactions with the narrator's family, although Swann's wife and daughter are off-limits as the wife is not one to be introduced to polite company, and therefore neither is the daughter. Eventually we start into the meat of it, talking about M. Swann. And we are with him for what seems like a million years as he is enchanted by Odette, a woman of dubious moral character. Much is made of who is associating with whom, who is going to the theater, the opera, riding home in carriages together, having dinner at whose house, etc. We are spared no detail of Swann's thoughts about Odette and how he spends seemingly every waking moment. The last section returns to our child narrator and his love for (or really, fixation on) Gilberte Swann. Once I discovered that Gilberte had red hair, I couldn't stop thinking of the narrator as a Parisian Charlie Brown, obsessed with his little red-haired girl. Definitely not the mood Proust was going for.

I will say, though, that as frustrated as I was with this book at times (and boy was I - telling myself "I'll read 2 percent of this thing today if it kills me"), I'm glad I made it through. The last page threw the whole thing into a more positive light and gave me more to think about, as well as the motivation to continue on with the next volume. I just wish that change in perspective had taken place a little earlier.

Recommended for: fans of Ingmar Bergman, Francophiles, people who like to be honest when they say, "I read that."

Quote: "I do feel that it's really absurd that a man of his intelligence should let himself be made to suffer by a creature of that kind, who isn't even interesting, for they tell me, she's an absolute idiot!" she concluded with the wisdom invariably shewn by people who, not being in love themselves, feel that a clever man ought to be unhappy only about such persons as are 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 common bacillus."
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LibraryThing member carmelitasita29
I would complain to my husband about this book. "Nothing's happening! There's no plot! All there is are meandering sentences, paragraphs that last for pages, and beautiful words."

Then I realized that I needed to read Proust not in my usual manner, but in the manner of poetry book, dwelling in the prose and letting it wash over me, finding the rhythm of his "remembrances" and simply taking it in. What Proust needs is time, quiet, and a mind that can attune itself to his love of nature and imagination.

Even after the semblance of a story arose halfway through the novel I still needed to time to follow his lead on the path of a romance from the beginning to the bitter end. I fell in love with the last line of the second part - "To think that I have wasted years of my life, that I have longed for death, that the greatest love that I have ever known has been for a woman who did not please me, who was not in my style!"

This has turned out to be one of my favorite books.
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LibraryThing member dperrings
In search of lost time
I would like some feedback on Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time. I just started reading the book and have been struck by the sensory nature of the writing. Also Picasso and the theory's of space and time came to mind. In Leonard Shlain's book Art and Physics he has a brief discussion of the book in a chapter titled "Literary Forms/ Physics Formulas.

David Perrings
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LibraryThing member mbmackay
Volume 1 of Proust's door stopper In Search of Lost Time, which belongs in a genre of its own. Proust records, in great detail, his thoughts and emotions from the past (while not intended to be autobiographical, the detail clearly comes from his personal experiences). I find the result to be uneven. The first part covers reflections of childhood memories, including the famous "madeleine moment" where flavour and aroma triggers a strong and possibly involuntary response bringing a long forgotten memory to the surface. But, he does go on. And on. Then follows the even longer account of Swann's love affair with a courtesan - a bizarre, stunted relationship that has little to do with genuine romantic love (was this based on any of Proust's relationships?). While most of this (very) long section is given in reflective summary, toward the end Proust goes into gorgeous detail of one evening social event attended by Swann. It is wonderfully descriptive, but why the change of style and content? Who knows? The volume closes with a first person account of a juvenile love affair (with Swann's daughter) - perhaps intended as a counterpoint to Swann's affair, but the authenticity of the children's relationship made the adult affair of Swann even more odd by comparison.
So, in summary, interesting self-reflection on memory and emotion, along with dubious adult relationships. I'm glad I have read this, but I didn't enjoy it much. Read November 2011.
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LibraryThing member stephenmurphy
Hoochi-mama. This is not for the impatient but when he hits his stride it is incomparable.
LibraryThing member rdebo13
There are already many reviews of this book, and I don't want to repeat what has already been written quite well by others. What I would like to add is what a pleasure it is to read this particular translation of Swann's Way by Lydia Davis. Davis and Proust are an odd pair. He is best known for labyrinthine sentences that meander through time and space, while fusing similes and metaphors and myth. The description of the scent of a particular flower or the taste of a particular food could stretch for pages. One party scene is hundreds of pages long. Davis, on the other hand, is known for whole stories that are only a page long, sometimes only a few sentences. She would seem a poor choice to translate Proust, but the tension that arises from their very different writing styles makes for an excellent read. The text is lively and well-paced--I can't believe I'm writing this either, but it's true--once you allow yourself to sink into Proust's world. It is infinitely more readable than the Moncrieff translation.… (more)
LibraryThing member jmoncton
I have a love-hate relationship with this book, or more accurately, a 'occastionally like - often hate' relationship. The prose is lyrical with amazing word selection. Listening to this in audio felt like I was hearing poetry. Much of the story describes Swann falling in love with his mistress who has several affairs with other men. The feelings of jealousy and frustration were so incredibly written and described. But several things drove me absolutely crazy about this book. First, the structure. The sentences are long making it difficult to parse and follow a thought. I read along with this on my Nook and many sentences took more than a screen so that I had to flip back and forth just to capture the entire thought. Much of the story is stream of consciousness musings about memory and the past making it hard to completely grasp. But my biggest complaint is that the two major characters, Swann and the narrator Marcel (Proust as a young boy perhaps?) were over the top as far as expressing their emotions. Marcel, a young boy, is devastated when his mother does not kiss him good night and when he leaves Combray, he weeps over the fact that he won't see the beautiful hawthorns. Swann's angst over his cheating lover was genuine and well described but the emotions associated with it were way too intense. This is only the first book of seven in this very LONG series. I'll definitely wait before picking up the next one.… (more)
LibraryThing member rizeandshine
I am mixed about this work. I really enjoyed the first portion of the book, Combray. There were some truly beautiful passages about fears and memory and wonderful descriptions of Marcel's childhood, summer home and family. Of course, the character of the young Marcel is too immature and emotional for my tastes, but I just made believe he was perpetually 3 years old and it worked for me. The middle section, Swann's Way, which I believe is supposed to be the most "important" section of the book, is so wordy that I was mostly bored. Proust does justice to the story of falling in love with the wrong person (especially making them out to be something they aren't, as a figure in a painting or having a different color eyes), the language is still beautiful and Proust's philosophical bits are often very interesting, but it just isn't enough to grab me completely. I could definitely relate to his thoughts on music becoming a part of our memories and altering our feelings, however Marcel's first person narrative was just easier for me to get into overall.… (more)

Language

Original language

French

Barcode

1393

Other editions

Swann's way by Marcel Proust (Hardcover)
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