1 November 2022 Susannah

Marcel Proust Centenary

Marcel Proust

On the 18th November 2022, it will be a century since the death of the great Marcel Proust. Considered to be one of the most influential authors of the 20th century, Proust left us In Search of Lost Time (also known as Remembrance of Things Past), a seven-volume novel, featuring more than 200 characters and coming to a massive total of 1,267,069 words. Have you read it? If not, then you are in the majority, for reading Proust’s great autobiographical novel is a daunting task. But it is also an extremely rewarding one, as I discovered after making my way through the seven volumes to prepare for a visit to Proust country in France. W. Somerset Maugham evidently found parts of Proust “exquisitely boring”, but went on to remark that he’d “sooner by bored by Proust, than amused by anyone else”. Critic Roger Shattuck described the work as “the most oceanic – and the least read”.

The book links brilliantly with French history, with art and music, with food (there’s a book on Dining with Proust), it is a philosophical interrogation of time, an acute study of perception, it analyses the full spectrum of human sexuality, and it urges us to comprehend and deploy all our faculties.

Joseph Conrad said of the novel: “I don’t think there is in all creative literature an example of the power of analysis such as this”, while Virginia Woolf sighed “Oh, if only I could write like that”. Writer Shelby Foote rewards himself for completing a difficult task by reading Proust and says the book is “like a two-month vacation … better than going to Palm Beach”.

Alain de Boton has written How Proust Can Change Your Life. I can also recommend Proust’s Overcoat: The True Story of One Man’s Passion for All Things Proust by Lorenza Foschini, and Paintings in Proust: A Visual Companion to ‘In Search of Lost Time. But mostly, I recommend that you mark the one hundred years since Proust’s death by making a start on Swann’s Way, the first of the seven volumes. Pour some lime tea, buy a madeleine, open the pages and you too might find that reading Proust can change and enrich your life.

Proust country features in my video talk ‘Top Ten Places in Literary France’, or you may like to explore it with me and eat madeleines on my tour ‘In Search of Literary France’ in June 2024.

Have you read any of Proust? Have I prompted you to give him a go? Let me know your thoughts in a comment.

I love the society’s logo, which depicts Johnson imitating a kangaroo. He heard about the creature from Joseph Banks (later Sir Joseph Banks) and Johnson astonished the group then present by rising from his seat and attempting to imitate this strange creature. The logo was drawn by cartoonist and print-maker John Spooner.

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Featured image- Marcel Proust, from https://twitter.com/nypl/status/761276205052100612; In Search of Lost Time, https://www.amazon.com.au/Search-Lost-Time-All-Volumes-ebook/dp/B0771PZY62

Comments (4)

  1. Hello

    I am studying Proust and am curious whether an event might be held or scheduled to commemorate his 11.18.22 centenary. I am trying to pull some thoughts together but the task is daunting.

    rob clemenz

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I am not aware of any event being planned – sory. It would be a good time for a celebration of his works.

  2. Leon Robinson

    I’ve read Proust ‘s work . I particularly enjoyed the final Volume Time regained .
    I’ve also just bought his letters to Antoine .Bibesco. A limited edition signed by the translator .
    Things that turn up on eBay?

    Would love to visit the 10 literary places in France with you .

    Keep well Leon

    • Susannah Fullerton

      That was an interesting Ebay find! Proust is a challenge, but an ultimately very satisfying one.

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