In Search of Marcel

Notre Dame Cathedral

It’s one of those inescapable facts of life, that when you become interested in something, all of a sudden it seems to be everywhere. You buy a new car, and suddenly the road is filled with the same model. You hear a piece of music you like, and everyone is talking about it. You become fascinated with an author, and they pop up in the most unexpected places. So it has become with me and Marcel, and so I am going to start recording these sightings here. If you have a Marcel sighting, or spot him in a piece of writing (I see the word “Proustian” used a lot), feel free to add it here.The latest “sighting” I had was in the magazine that the Chrysler Museum, in Norfolk, Virginia, sends to its members. The director of the Museum, William Hennessey, writes a “Director’s Note” in each issue. In this one, he tells of his recent visit to Paris during which he decided to attend a Mass in Notre Dame Cathedral. “Trapped” by an unexpectedly long service in a foreign language, he had the time to really look at, admire and absorb the architecture and ponder the meaning of what the builders were attempting to achieve. He says: “What had been an obligatory tourist stop- an image on a postcard- had suddenly become something rich and resonant, deeply and movingly human”.After he returned home, he related this experience to a friend and she replied that she knew exactly what he meant, “because of her devotion to the writings of Marcel Proust. In her view, Proust, through his endlessly complex sentences, his subtle evocations of mood and tone, and his embrace of ambiguity and multi-layered overlapping meanings, wrote with the deliberate goal of forcing his readers to slow down…Proust compels us to engage with the delicate nuances of situation and personality that provide the raison d’être for any action.”

Mr. Hennessey goes on to say that, “armed with this insight”, he took up reading Swann’s Way again, and allowed himself the time to savor and reflect as he read, and in doing so discovers an “incomparably richer and more satisfying” experience. His conclusion: “The pleasures of reading and seeing conceal a truth we all know, but seldom embrace: great works of art only reveal themselves slowly through thoughtful engagement.”

As a final thought on Proust, Mr. Hennessey notes that “The last time Proust left his house, just before his death in 1922, was a visit to the Jeu de Paume where his favorite painting, Vermeer’s View of Delft was on view. He clearly understood that art is the only means we have of regaining lost time”. That, Mr. Hennessey, and a bite of madeleine dipped in tea.

For more about the Chrysler Museum:


3 comments on “In Search of Marcel

  1. imogen88 says:

    What you say is so true. Great to read this. Will look out for Proust and see where he pops up, now 😉

  2. Keri says:

    Trying to muddle through “Swann’s Way” myself right now. I haven’t read it before, so it’s a challenge. Took him 60 pages to get to the famous teacake. 🙂

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