“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.” Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time
Perhaps Proust got the idea that his one self was actually many selves because of the name his parents gave him: Marcel-Valentin-Louis-Eugene-Georges Proust. He was born on July 10th, 1871, in Auteuil, France, just outside of Paris and will live all of his life in Paris, with occasional vacations by the sea, until his death in 1922. His father (Adrien) was a doctor and his mother (Jeanne) was from a wealthy family, so Marcel will grow up knowing he’ll never have to really earn a sou. A brother, Robert, is born two years after Marcel and will become a doctor like their father, get married, have children and live a “normal” life.
Marcel will never have a paying job, his serious relationships are with men, and he’ll spend most of the early years of his life as a social-climbing, party-going dilettante who occasionally writes fluffy pieces about parties or plays or concerts for local papers. This worries his parents, particularly his father, who pushes him to get a “real” job (Marcel will get a job, for one year, but it doesn’t actually pay anything which works out well because Marcel, through repeated requests for leave, will never actually work) while at the same time his mother, feeling guilty that it’s her fault that Marcel was such a sickly child, coddles him and encourages his “dream” of becoming a writer. Marcel will eventually begin to sleep for most of the day and write at night, having had the walls of his bedroom lined with cork to keep out light and noise, as well as dust and pollen and anything else that might aggravate his asthma.
His health is also used by Marcel as an excuse when he begins to withdraw from the society life he’d worked so hard to enter. It is true that his illness did force him to make choices in his life that might seem odd, but it’s hard to say how much his illness really forced these choices, or if he just used the excuse of his ill health to live the way he wanted to live without having people (parents included) be too critical of him. Illness may be the excuse he used to those who might be critical, but Marcel reveals the truth behind the excuse to his housekeeper, Celeste Albaret. The reversal of night and day, the soundproofed room, the retreat into seclusion, are, in a way, Marcel’s 19th century version of the 20th century’s sensory deprivation tank, all done in service to the writing of the novel. Celeste says: “Now I realize M. Proust’s whole object, his whole great sacrifice for his work, was to set himself outside of time in order to rediscover it. When there is no more time, there is silence. He needed that silence in order to hear only the voices he wanted to hear, the voices that are in his books”.
In my half century (plus three) of life, I have seen many ghosts. When I was a child they would appear beside my bed, with questioning looks on their faces, hands held out as if they were asking me for something. Later, after my maternal grandfather died, he also visited my bedside, I think just to say goodbye. He also spoke to me a few days after he died, as I was driving a little too fast; he said, “Slow down, Suzy”, calling me by the nickname he used for me when I was little. Years later, after my husband’s father died and we were there in his house, closing it up and preparing to sell it, I saw him twice, once asking me for a drink (he died an alcoholic) and once to tell me to get out. He didn’t like people prying into his things, even if he was dead. And now, in the old house we live in, a previous owner who died here makes her presence known, although I’ve not seen her. I have seen, however, a man standing in the kitchen doorway several times, and once, a little boy.
Not too long ago I went to the local cemetery to photograph the grave of the previous owner I mentioned earlier, the one we have not seen, and as I took the picture I mentally invited her to show herself in the photo. When I got home and looked at the pictures, I was disappointed that there was no image of her. But looking closer at the tombstone of her husband next to hers, I saw an image of the face of a man wearing a hat similar to the one the man I had seen in the kitchen doorway wearing. I would not be surprised to discover that the little boy I’ve seen was a child of theirs that died young.
With all of these disembodied spirits wandering around, you’d think the dead guy I fell in love with would show up. I’ve certainly looked for him enough, held doors open for him, invited him into my lucid dreams…wrote my first book about him. Mais non, he hides himself as he hid from the world of the Belle Epoch, his time, in his cork-lined room, eating croissants, drinking gallons of coffee and writing In Search of Lost Time. November is his death month, on the 18th, but in 1913, nine years before his death in 1922, his novel was born, or at least the first book of it- Swann’s Way. This year of 2013 is the 100th anniversary of it’s publication.
Lovers of Marcel Proust and In Search of Lost Time pledged themselves, in this 100th year anniversary, to a Year of Reading Proust. This would be the year that they finally read that greatest of all novels, that magnum opus with the famous long sentences and even more famous madeleine scene. All over the world, in book clubs, on Goodreads, in private homes (in cork-lined rooms?), folks signed themselves up and gave themselves a year in which to do it.
Now here we are with November half over, so only a month and a half left to finish. I am curious about the percentages: how many of those who set themselves to doing this will actually finish, how many are on track, how many hating it but determined to finish, how many, like me, loving it and after finishing it, turning around and reading it again, along with every other book by Proust or about him and anything else related to Marcel that I could get my hands on? In fact, I just finished Proust’s Overcoat, a small book by Lorenza Foschini that tells the true story of a man who collects as much Proust paraphernalia, some years after Marcel’s death, as he can get his hands on, with the piece de resistance being the overcoat that Marcel practically lived in and literally slept in- he used it as a blanket. Reviewers of Proust’s Overcoat on Goodreads used words like “crazy”, “obsessed” and “fanatic” to describe the collector’s zeal; if it were me, I’d use words like “yes”, “yes”, and, “hell yes”.
Alas, on not having the money to become a crazy, obsessed fanatic for collecting Proust’s things, and because the ghost of my writer has not appeared in my life or in my dreams, I turned to creating my own Proustian reality in my book, Parisian by Heart. And if you were one of those who said “this is the year I finally read Proust!” but alas, fell short of your goal, may I suggest that as a consolation, you read my book. Like In Search of Lost Time, it deals with the persistence of memory, the continuation of life past death, and although it is not a very long book, it does have some long sentences. There are a few ghosts as well, seen and unseen, and best of all there is Marcel Proust, in search of lost…well, you have to read the book to find out.
Today, July 10, 2013, is the anniversary of Marcel Proust’s birthday; he would have been 142 years old, had he managed to hang on for this long. Not that he probably would have wanted to; in ill health since childhood, in pain and and frequently unable to breathe to the point where he thought he would suffocate to death, when he wrote the ending to his magnum opus, In Search of Lost Time, he told his companion Celeste, “Now I can die”. He was only 51 when he died in 1922, but today, we will celebrate his birth and his life. Bon Anniversaire, Marcel.
Marcel Proust, the greatest novelist of the 20th century, was as great a reader. He read, among many others, Balzac, Ruskin, Baudelaire, Shakespeare…and his French counterpart and alter-ego, Colette. He said that reading was “…that fruitful miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude.” Anyone who has ever lost themselves in a book, letting pots boil over and the madeleines in the oven burn while they wander the halls of Tara or the hills and hollows of Middle Earth, only coming back to the “real” world dragged by the smell of smoke or the sirens of the fire engine, will nod their heads in agreement with Marcel. A good book speaks directly to our souls, bypassing our ears, and we listen with every part and fiber of our selves, the madeleines be damned.
Parisian by Heart, my first novel, was written out of my love for Marcel and the work of his life. To honor Marcel, who features prominently in my novel, on his birthday, I have two signed copies of Parisian by Heart to give away. Just leave a comment here on this post, or like this Facebook page. The giveaway will end at midnight on July 12, 2013.
“There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.” Marcel Proust
May those fully-lived days of your childhood continue throughout your life.
It seems that in this, the 100th year anniversary of the publication of Swann’s Way, you can hardly turn over a page without finding Marcel Proust hiding within it. And that’s not even counting the sightings found in the New Yorker magazine, every week, any year. I keep little sticky notes nearby when I am reading, so that whenever Marcel jumps out from a page, yelling “boo!” and laughing maniacally, I can write his name on the sticky note and slap it on the page, thereby quieting Marcel and my own fears that I will lose the sighting if I don’t mark it’s place. Or that maybe, the whole thing was a hallucination…
Non, I was not hallucinating the not one but two sightings of Marcel in Oliver Sacks’ book Hallucinations, unless they are unusually persistent hallucinations. On page 9, writing about a patient of his experiencing hallucinations, Dr. Sacks says: “Her hallucinations had become ‘shyer’, she said, and now occurred only in the evening, if she sat quietly. I thought of the passage in Remembrance of Things Past where Proust speaks of the church bells at Combray, how their sound seemed muted in the daytime, only to be heard when the hubbub and blare of the day had died down.”
And on page 154, while writing about how the brain stores and retrieves memories, he tells us: “We now know that memories are not fixed or frozen, like Proust’s jars of preserves in a larder, but are transformed, disassembled, reassembled, and re-categorized with every act of recollection.”
I actually thought, as I was reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, that it was In Search of Lost Time as told by a 12 year-old girl and a middle-aged Parisian concierge. The literary allusions and themes were all there, including Vermeer’s View of Delft. This sighting is “spoken” by Paloma, the 12 year-old: “But then another idea surfaced thanks to these mirror neurons. A disturbing idea, moreover, and vaguely Proustian, no doubt (which annoys me.) What if literature were a television we gaze into in order to activate our mirror neurons and give ourselves some action-packed cheap thrills? And even worse, what if literature were a television showing us all the things we have missed?”
Speaking of action-packed cheap thrills…
One wonders what Marcel would have thought about being found in a book about the long-haired Golden Boy of the West. After all, Proust was in the military too, albeit just for the one year of his mandatory service.
Larry McMurtry’s Custer is a coffee-table type book, more a series of essays on Custer, his life and the Battle of Little Bighorn, with many photographs and pictures to augment the text. McMurtry says, on page 8: “I was attracted to the notion of a short life of Custer in part because the short life is itself a lovely form, a form that once was common in English letters: there’s Henry James on Hawthorne, Rebecca West on Augustine, Nabokov on Gogol, Edmund White on Proust, and myself on Crazy Horse.”
Somehow I don’t see Proust riding hell-bent for leather across the Southwestern plains after a band of Sioux and Cheyennes. But wait, no, there I see him, in his uniform, on a dashing black stallion, trailing madeleines and a white silk scarf behind him as he rides…..mais non. Je suis halluciné…
Thank you to everyone who participated in my anniversary contest (https://marimann.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/in-search-of-lost-time-for-100-years/); for your comments on that post and your ‘likes’ on Facebook. You are all winners in my book, I wish I could give you all prizes, but alas, names must be tossed into the hat and winners chosen, so…..drum roll please!
The two winners of the two sets of postcards are: Dorothy Randall and inksterpop!
The winner of the set of postcards and the button is: David Tripp!
And the winner of the Grand Prize, the set of postcards, button and signed copy of Parisian by Heart, is: Sheila Dalton!
Congratulations to all, and please, winners, send me an email to marimann (at) cox (dot) net with your mailing address so I can send out your prizes. And Sheila, also let me know to whom you want your copy signed (to you, or to someone else, if you wish to give it as a gift).
And congratulations, Monsieur Proust, on your 100th year anniversary of Swann’s Way, and congrats to me, on my 6th year anniversary of this blog.
Now, Calm Down and Read Proust.
One hundred years ago, in 1913, the first of Marcel Proust’s seven novels that would become A La Recherche du Temps Perdu, was published. At that time, the title was translated in English as Remembrance of Things Past; now, in a better translation, it is known as In Search of Lost Time.
Six years ago, on February 18, 2007, I began the Madeleine Moments blog, as a way to share my love of Proust and his work, which I had just finished reading for the first time. I also created this website.
There are many events and activities going on around the world to honor the 100th anniversary of the publication of the first of In Search of Lost Time’s seven novels, entitled Swann’s Way. One of the best ways to find out about these activities is to follow this Pinterest board.
Not on Pinterest? Then here’s a couple of links to follow: The Morgan Library has an upcoming exhibition, described here- “Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time is one of the most influential and ambitious literary works of all time. The Morgan celebrates the 1913 publication of the first of its seven volumes, Swann’s Way, with a fascinating selection of the author’s notebooks, preliminary drafts, galley-proofs, and other documents from the collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.” (Click here for link)
Here is a great website by one of Proust’s biographers, William C. Carter: http://www.proust-ink.com/
Always wanted to read Proust but need a support group? Join this group on Goodreads (I belong to this group for my second reading).
Or go to Etsy and buy a Mini Marcel to watch over you while you read.
What events and activities are going on all over the world to celebrate this 6th anniversary of the Madeleine Moments blog? Glad you asked, let me go look…..well, okay, there aren’t any, so how about I have a giveaway? Prizes, anyone?
Leave a comment, and you’ll be entered in the giveaway. I have two of these Year of Reading Proust buttons, and several sets of postcards featuring the first page of Time Regained (the last of the seven novels) and the final page. So here’s the prizes: two lucky winners will receive a set of the two postcards. One lucky winner will receive the set of postcards and a button. And one incredibly lucky winner will receive the set of postcards, the button and a signed copy of Parisian by Heart. You can also enter the giveaway by liking my Facebook page or leaving a comment.
What could be better than prizes? Haiku!
“Proust lures the waves, then
Sends them out again, and we
Lie, awash in words.”
Don’t forget to leave your comment, and the contest will end on February 18th, 2013, on my 6 year anniversary.