Sharing Madeleine Moments

MadeleinesMy deepening interest led me to creating (with the help of my husband, Rod) a website devoted to Marcel Proust, his novel, In Search of Lost Time, and his city, Paris.   I called this website “Madeleine Moments” because of the most well-known scene from the novel, in which the narrator tells of eating a piece of madeleine (a small, scallop-shaped cake/cookie) dipped in tea and subsequently experiencing what he calls an “involuntary memory”; what I call a madeleine moment.   We’ve probably all had them, now here’s your place to share them.  Marcel first, then me, then you?

Here’s what Proust wrote:  

“And suddenly the memory returns. The taste was that of the little crumb of madeleine which on Sunday mornings, when I went to say good day to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of real or of lime-flower tea…And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in the decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me, immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set…and with the house the town….the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine…the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.”

 (Adapted from Swann’s Way, In Search of Lost Time) 

And from my website, here’s my “madeleine moment”:

“First, a little history. When I began painting in my early teens, I began with oils, on my own and learning from the book that came with the set. But at some point I switched to acrylics and watercolor, probably because they are easier to work with and clean up after and so therefore, are the mediums of choice in public school systems, where I began taking painting classes. I continued taking painting classes and painting on my own right up to the present, but only in acrylic and watercolor, not oils. This past Christmas I requested and was given a set of oil paints (Yes, Virginia…) but discovered that I was actually intimidated by the prospect of painting with them. Scared, really, that I wasn’t good enough to use them and they were difficult to use and I had no experience and had never been officially “taught” how to use them. I finally got a book that had exercises for a novice oil painter and told myself to just do the exercises and gradually I’d feel confident enough to paint a picture with them. So I sat down at my painting table, opened the jars of linseed oil and turpentine and squeezed some paint out onto my palette and… Madeleine Moment: I was a young teenager again, sitting at the kitchen table, painting a still life of some apples. The combined smells of the linseed oil, turpentine and paints had caused the scene to rise up around me, as Marcel says, like a stage set; I could see the plastic tablecloth design and the apples arranged on the table, I could feel the brush in my hand and the texture of the canvas through the brush, and perhaps most significantly, felt the way I did when painting with these oils. It was like being in two places, and two times, at once. An immediate effect of this experience was that my fear of painting with oils was gone, I felt as I did then- eager to learn and excited to create and not in the least intimidated. Of broader consequence was an understanding of Marcel’s madeleine moments and how they revealed to him a way of existing outside of time itself. “That explained why my apprehensiveness of death vanished at the moment I instinctively recognized the savor of the little madeleine, because at that moment the person within me was a timeless person, consequently unconcerned with the vicissitudes of the future.” Death becomes meaningless. Not bad for a little piece of madeleine.”

If you would like to share a madeleine moment of your own, or read moments others have shared, click on “comments” and leave a moment of your own.


12 comments on “Sharing Madeleine Moments

  1. cindy white says:

    The sweet and hearty aromas of baking on cool,cloudy days can take me back to my mother’s kitchen. Once again I’m 5 years old and “helping” my mom make cookies and bread. I feel like I did then when measuring cups and spoons became new and wondrous agents of this transforming mystery where plain ingredients like flour and eggs become something delicious and restoring.

  2. sammiam says:

    the sound of currawongs in the distance, magpies warbling their conversations, the smell of rain, fresh in the aussie bush all remind me of happier, childhood times, living on acres of farmland, rushing home from school, changing into jeans and an old teeshirt and playing outside till dinner time.

    cicadas singing in summer bring back hot childhood days watching test cricket on the telly with the fan going full blast to keep us cool.

    listening to “macca all over” on sunday morning abc radio, more childhood memories and a longing to travel this big country.

    i have a big huge box of wool that i inherited from mum who inherited it from her mum. as soon as i open the lid i am transported…. wham….. straight to grandma’s house, sitting at her feet watching her knit away at her current project.

    memories like these, our own madeline moment, are so evocative and oh, so important to our sense of being. thank you for this post, you have cheered me up no end

  3. This is work that needs not only a single reading with the entirely wrong audience but re-reading and some very careful thought. The matter of detail in making the word come alive for the reader as well as the writer himself is so very vital. I will be back several times. Fran

  4. Thank you for this information. 🙂

  5. stephanie says:

    sweet it looks so good cant wait to try it when i cook it … LOL 😛

  6. steven1111 says:

    I have had these moments of time travel often when I spend time in the wild, in real wilderness. I’ve done it a lot and each time it takes me back to my youth and the many years I spent hiking in the High Sierras and visiting the upper limits of the landscape above the treeline. I see the craggy trees all windblown and feel the wind on my face and it’s like I’m there at the same time as I’m here in this time and place. It’s a lively feeling and it’s the smells of the places in mind that will do it for me. Sometimes it even happens in the Arboretum or a garden walk. Smell is the key for me as I’m sure it may be for others. It’s a strong sense. Thanks for posting this and for visiting me again. All the best to you.

    • marimann says:

      Yes, smell did it for me with the oil paints, and with Marcel it was the taste and smell…of course, his madeleine memory is the most famous of his involuntary memories but in his books, there are others, like a passage of music, the clink of silverware on china, and perhaps the most intriguing, a stumble on cobblestones! I guess he wanted to cover all the senses….

  7. AVM says:

    A Madeleine Moment

    Not a tea-dipped madeleine
    But an old fur coat
    Draped on my daughter’s shoulders
    Through her laughing eyes
    My mother smiled at me:
    Was present for one intense moment.

    • marimann says:

      Thank you so much for this lovely poem, AVM. So evocative of Proust’s belief in the persistence of memory that resides in objects. Have you read Proust’s Overcoat by Lorenza Foschini?

  8. johnlmalone says:

    I’m reading an article in a recent ‘New Yorker’ in which an amnesiac experiences a ‘madeleine moment’ [march 30, 2015]

    • marimann says:

      I read that too! It was fascinating. If you look around this blog at other articles I’ve mentioned that reference Proust or In Search of Lost Time, you’ll see that a lot of them are from the New Yorker. They almost always have at least one mention and sometimes several!

  9. ewcollins says:

    I have Madeline moments all the time.

    Just now, I remember that before I could read, my mom would read to me about “an old house in Paris that was covered with vines”. The story ended with “she turned out the light and closed the door and that’s all there is, there isn’t any more.”

    And I read the same story, from the same book, to my son, and I still have the book.

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