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.
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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 dchaikin
This isn’t a review so much as response. With Proust, anything deeper is beyond me. And even just a description is tough in the sense that his writing creates its own atmosphere that I can’t possible capture.

Swann’s Way is divided into two very different parts (there’s a short third section too: ‘Place Names – The Name’). The first part is Proust’s fictional ‘Combray’, a small village in a rural area with a very old church and a lot of obscure history. It took a little patience to get into this and a lot of mental prep of getting myself into something like the right mood, but then Proust hits Combray – the village – and something happened. Some kind of awe broke out, the pages got blurry and a bright light shined across my emotional spectrum and…I no longer have a clear idea what Proust actually said, but it did things to me that, while desired, are never actually done by books. It was wonderful experience in everything that the word ‘wonderful’ in reading should mean.

Then comes the second section, ‘Swann in Love’ and a jarring change comes. Proust still has his way of writing sentences so complicated you need to keep little places reserved in your mind for all ten hanging fragments he hasn’t quite gotten back to yet, which slows you down and also quite firmly instills his point – if you’re still able to follow. But it’s just words and thoughts and ideas and observations and nothing particularly special.

What changed? Well, ‘Combray’ was in 1st person, and ‘Swann in Love’ is in 3rd person, so we lose the intimacy. But, it’s not just that and it’s also not something I completely understand, or know how to put into words. Proust, as I’m learning, excelled at place and at making a place intimate - at integrating the whole thing - its look, feel, taste, colors, character, history, mysteries and so on. He descriptions feel exacting sort of like a mythical naturalist’s description of a newly discovered animal. It formal, precise and somehow enthralling or at least it can be. He does the same kind of thing with people, as observed, and most remarkably, with his own semi-fictional emotions. But, it’s in his description of place, in the nature of how he goes about it, that, I think, most clearly shows his strengths. These descriptions come directly from his autobiographical narrator’s self and they are all sensual descriptions, and very personalized.

When he tries to do the same thing in 3rd person, in his study of Swann, two things happen. He tends towards pronouncements which are open to criticism (at least to mine). Proust ideas can be great, but not always. But, more importantly, people are more complicated and they change – or at least their emotional states change in a connected swirling time-dependent kind of chain. Proust, by his writing nature, tries to capture every subtle aspect in the state of mind, and how it changes and how the nature of the changes affects this whole thing. In a way it actually works, but not in the same way or with anywhere near the same magic. Quite frankly, Swann drags, and, coming after Combray…

But, still, Proust is special. I think what makes Proust particularly special is the mental state he puts you, the reader, in. You can’t get Proust idly. In order to read him and really follow, he demands a clear, careful and active mind. And then he rewards you. What a state of being?
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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 therebelprince
For a long time I would go to bed early.

With those words, one of the greatest achievements of Western literature begins. Despite being a lit major, classicist and language-lover, I have somehow lived 28 years without ever committing myself to read Proust. In retrospect, I'm not sad about that, as I feel my heart, soul, and mind are more open to understanding the Frenchman's great 20th century tome with every passing year of my life.

In the opening volume, Du côté de chez Swann (Swann's Way, perhaps better translated as The Way By Swann's), the Scott Moncrieff-twice-updated-by-Kilmartin-and-Enright translation depicts the narrator's youth at Combray, his first crushes, and his elderly reminiscences of a world now gone by. Meanwhile, piecing together a tale that occurred before his youth, the narrator tells us of Charles Swann and his love for Odette de Crecy, in the fractured world of Paris society. It's a portrait filled with endearing and frustrating characters, precise observations about all kinds of humanity, always painful or poignant, hilarious or sly, erudite and insightful. I am eager to read the second volume, and excited for the journey I will take with Proust for the rest of my life.

Oh, marvellous independence of the human gaze, tied to the human face by a cord so loose, so long, so elastic that it can stray alone as far as it may choose!

Of course, it's no surprise that most people of my generation would never dream of reading these books, and many who start won't finish. Proust (or, perhaps, his narrator) is absorbed by description and detail. Pick any 20 pages and it's unlikely that much will happen - although I believe that's partly because this is the opening book in the series, and there is still much setup. Yet, for me, I've rarely been so delighted by a novel in all my life. Even when little plot moves (for instance, the sequence in which Swann grows increasingly jealous of Odette takes a good 100 pages), there is so much dense character development, growth of the novel's world, and immense understanding of human nature. After all, unlike what today's soap operas would tell us - or, indeed, what the 19th century romances before Proust would either - the story of love and human connection is not told in big revelations. It is told in those tiny moments, those repetitions, those instances. And they are so ably captured here. I've been reading an intelligent (if tragically brief) blog as I go, "182 Days of Proust", and have thus learned that many of the characters and places here will go on to develop later in the seven-volume sequence. This was something that, of course, Proust's contemporaries could not have known, which explains why some found the novel meandering. Everything has a place in this great study of memory; it's just a case of waiting for when.

"I love Odette with all my heart, but to construct aesthetic theories for her benefit, you'd really have to be quite an imbecile."

The country idylls at Combray present comedies of manners, in which the narrator gradually develops his psyche while a part of larger situations, some of which he cannot comprehend, even though he is often frustratingly aware that there is something he cannot comprehend. This contrasts with the middle-class character portraits of the Verdurin couple and their house parties, and the somewhat off-putting, satirised lives of the aristocracy. At this point, as a reader, I'm not yet sure how Proust felt about the class system, or where this great story is heading, but I'm quite excited for the experience. Admittedly, many of the references and social mores are now challenging for someone of my age to understand. As with any book focused on relations between people, there are parts that will always ring true, and parts that fade quickly as eras change. Yet, a little background reading and open-mindedness will cure you of that problem. Proust's lengthy sentences - and I mean lengthy, these babies can go on for a page when he feels like it - are also fascinating to us, and not always in a good way. For me, I adore the untangling of his wit. They are as luxurious as any older person's memories can be. The actor Neville Jason, who recently recorded 153 hours of the unabridged complete "In Search of Lost Time" for Naxos, said that these sentences are like music: one must find the way to phrase them, the way to link up each scattered segment. When one does, joy awaits.

I asked nothing more from life in such moments than that it should consist always of a series of joyous afternoons.

All of which is to say, starting "In Search of Lost Time" is a big commitment. Like any great work of art from a previous generation, it requires some willingness on the part of the reader to be patient, to absorb themselves in the world. Yet it will reward in spades, and is often not as hard as one might think. So many of the social jests still ring true, and certainly all of the giddiness and confusion of the young narrator - and the complexities of Odette and Swann's relationship - haunt me so. Perhaps I will find the later novels harder, as I have not yet lived through some of the experiences, but when it comes to young love and development of artistic and social temperament, it's delightful (or, occasionally, sorrowful) to feel one's own past experiences so represented in print. Particularly when the book's entire discussion is on what we have lost, and whether or not we can ever regain it.

What we suppose to be our love our our jealousy is never a single, continuous and indivisible passion. It is composed of an infinity of successive loves, of different jealousies, each of which is ephemeral...

(A note on translations - the new Viking editions, each by a different translator, are apparently quite good in bringing a more modern taste to the works. For me, I'm very happy thus far with the current Modern Library/Vintage edition. The original English translation, by Charles Scott Moncrieff, has been regarded as a classic for more than 90 years. However, it had notable Victorian traces that obscured some of the greatness of Proust, and has now been updated twice, first by Terence Kilmartin in the 1980s, and more recently by DJ Enright. One day, I will certainly read the Vikings, however I am currently enjoying the connection to the past. Scott Moncrieff lived in Proust's era; to have his works complete with expert emendations seems fitting, particularly for someone like myself interested just as much in the academic conversation around the books which, for many years in the Western world, used Scott Moncrieff as the foundation stone.)

A.E. Housman said, "This is the land of lost content". Over the course of this first volume, the narrator - and, as I'm sure will be confirmed once I read my first Proust biography - the author himself desperately attempts to return to this land, taking us all with him, reminding us all of how much we have lost with each passing year. The question becomes whether we let ourselves drift back, desperately, to that land, or whether we attempt to fashion a life out of what remains. I trust Marcel Proust to take me further on this journey, aided by the skilful English translators, and I have no doubt that the "Search" will prove to be the masterpiece of the Western canon that as so many great minds before me have discovered.

The memory of a particular image is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years.
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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 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 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 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 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 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 hellbent
Delicious exposition on falling asleep. Author very econimcal with periods.
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 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 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 stephenmurphy
Hoochi-mama. This is not for the impatient but when he hits his stride it is incomparable.
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 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 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 fraxi
Wow! An incredible reading experience. I've hankered after reading Proust for over 40 years, I'm now 63 (retired) and have the time for big reading projects. To be read slowly and carefully so as not to miss the wonderfully descriptive pieces, whether about people, places, flowers, churches, the weather and so on. It makes me want to delve into books about French high society at that time, although what Proust has to say probably says it all. I promised myself to read one volume a year, but I already have an urge to take down volume 2 and begin it very soon.… (more)
LibraryThing member Roboberto
I started reading Temps perdu some years ago in English translation, did a volume in French (can't remember which one) and now in Albertine disparue. Marcel's madness is increasingly evident--he wants to capture Albertine, to imprison her, yet he feels trapped, he wants her gone, then he wants her back--through all of it he's wracked by jealousy. Universal emotions, perhaps, but only Marcel can imprison his love in a Fortuny gown, and live in fear of her liasons with women. Proust is a humorist who can wax elegiac and philosophical and make absurdity tragic.… (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 jorgearanda
A wonder of lyrical introspection; an enthralling guide to the labyrinths of the mind.
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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