2016年7月10日 星期日

Proust's Lasting Appeal. Proust: The Search By Benjamin Taylor, Reviewed By David Herman


"'Always try to keep a patch of sky above your life, little boy,' he added, turning to me. 'You have a soul in you of rare quality, an artist's nature; never let it starve for lack of what it needs'.”
--from SWAN'S WAY by Marcel Proust

For all of you Proust fans out there.

Marcel Proust was born 145 years ago on this day in 1871.
"Marcel realizes that memory can only be recaptured and Time defeated through art. With a sense of joy, in the middle of the party, he realizes that his vocation is to write a great novel and thus bring the past back to life."
--from "Marcel Proust's Search for Lost Time: A Reader's Guide to The Remembrance of Things Past" by Patrick Alexander
An accessible, irreverent guide to one of the most admired—and entertaining—novels of the past century. There is no other guide like this; a user-friendly and enticing entry into the marvelously enjoyable world of Proust. At seven volumes, three thousand pages, and more than four hundred characters, as well as a towering reputation as a literary classic, Proust’s novel can seem daunting. But though begun a century ago, in 1909, it is in fact as engaging and relevant to our times as ever. Patrick Alexander is passionate about Proust’s genius and appeal—he calls the work “outrageously bawdy and extremely funny”—and in his guide he makes it more accessible to the general reader through detailed plot summaries, historical and cultural background, a guide to the fifty most important characters, maps, family trees, illustrations, and a brief biography of Proust. Essential for readers and book groups currently reading Proust and who want help keeping track of the huge cast and intricate plot, this Reader’s Guide is also a wonderful introduction for students and new readers and a memory-refresher for long-time fans. READ an excerpt here: http://knopfdoubleday.com/…/marcel-prousts-search-for-lost…/

Nearly 100 years after his death, why does Proust continue to appeal to modern readers?

Review: Proust: The Search

By David Herman, December 10, 2015
By Benjamin Taylor
Yale University Press, £16.99
It was perhaps the most astonishing dinner party of the 20th century. On May 18 1922, Marcel Proust attended a dinner in Paris to celebrate the première of Stravinsky's new ballet, Renard. Other guests included the Stravinskys, the Picassos, Diaghilev and James Joyce.
Paris was the centre of early 20th-century Modernism, and Proust, author of À la recherche du temps perdu, was the great French Modernist writer.
Like so many of the great figures of Modernism, Proust was Jewish. He was born in 1870, the son of Adrien Proust, a Catholic and an eminent figure in French medicine, and Jeanne Weil, daughter of a leading Jewish stockbroker.
One of the most interesting features of Benjamin Taylor's short, readable biography of Proust is his attention to the prominence of antisemitism during Proust's lifetime. He moves between Proust's life and the Dreyfus Affair, and the rise of a visceral new antisemitism in late 19th-century France, epitomised by Edouard Drumont, author of the best-selling La France Juive, which Taylor calls "the sacred text of French Jew-hatred".
Proust's relationship to his own Jewishness and French antisemitism was complicated. His lifelong friend Leon Daudet attended a salon and wrote in his diary: "The imperial dwelling was infested with Jews and Jewesses." Other antisemitic friends and acquaintances included Edmond de Goncourt. Taylor writes: "Marcel had fallen in, not for the last time, with some of the most distinguished Jew-haters in all of Europe."
Proust was an outsider twice over. The non-practising son of a Jewish mother, he was also a homosexual, who from his adolescence had a series of affairs with young men. In 1897, Proust even challenged another French writer to a duel but nobody was hurt.
His affairs tended to be brief, usually between 12 and 18 months, "a period," he wrote, "after which such affections, in medical terms, always recede and die away."
A third central subject in Proust's life was illness and death. He had his first asthma attack as a young child and suffered from asthma for the rest of his life, famously living in a cork-lined room in Boulevard Haussmann. The last pages tell a story of terrible decline into "asthma, angina, insomnia, and weakening eyesight." His final years became a race against time to finish his masterpiece before illness overtook him.
Taylor tells Proust's life story briefly and well. He writes about Proust's love of music and art, his career as a critic and essayist, and the world of literary salons. However, the problem with his book, and one which bedevils many volumes in the Yale Jewish Lives series, is his failure to do justice to what his subject is famous for: he never brings the writing to life. There are occasional insights. In À la recherche, he observes, the narrator's parents "do not die or even grow old in the course of a book spanning decades". Dostoyevksy was a great influence but Taylor never does justice to Proust as a stylist or makes clear what is distinctive about his writing.
Compare Taylor's book with one of the great writers on Proust, Gabriel Josipovici. The first chapter of Josipovici's fine account, The World and the Book (1971), begins:
"Eight words emerge from the silence, hang for a moment in the air, then fade away: 'Longtemps, je me suis couche de bonne heure'… The three thousand three hundred pages which follow provide the most subtle, tenacious and profound exploration of the problem ever undertaken, as the 'I' of the opening sentence unfolds in search of his identity."
This is a world away from Taylor's book and makes clear, in a way Taylor never even begins to, why Proust still matters to readers almost a hundred years after his death.
David Herman is the JC's senior fiction reviewer