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Marcel Proust (Penguin Lives)

3.75  ·  Rating Details ·  607 Ratings  ·  64 Reviews
Marcel Proust is enjoying an enormous revival. Now he has at last found a biographer who himself once produced "the finest French novel written in English" ("The Nation"). From the author of the award-winning biography of Jean Genet comes this passionate biography of the brilliant writer, famous recluse, and tormented lover. Abridged.
Hardcover, 165 pages
Published July 13th 1999 by Viking Adult (first published January 1st 1999)
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Paintings in Proust by Eric KarpelesMarcel Proust by Jean-Yves TadiéMarcel Proust by Edmund WhiteMonsieur Proust by Céleste AlbaretThe Cambridge Companion to Proust by Richard Bales
Books on Proust
3rd out of 54 books — 15 voters
Confessions by Jean-Jacques RousseauWill in the World by Stephen GreenblattCharles Dickens by Claire TomalinI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya AngelouMemoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir
Literary biographies
21st out of 339 books — 56 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,210)
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Conveniently concise. Enough to sketch you in on the main question marks over Proust the man: his Jewishness, his friendships, his relationships, his health, his writing. White portrays his infamous snobbishness as somewhat tempered by compassion, and counters the legend of ivory tower incarceration with plenty of juicy gossip from dealings with the great and the good - and the no-so-good.

White has a nice eye for a comparison that will bring his subject home to us: describing Proust's method of
Dec 16, 2015 Nicole~ rated it really liked it
Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.
― Marcel Proust

Every act of perception, is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.
― Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia

White calls Proust the most influential and respected among writers, "the first contemporary writer of the 20th century, for he was the first to describe the permanent instability of our times." His renown outshone those of "Joyce, Beckett, Wool
Jan 08, 2014 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature, biography
This is the second short biography by Edmund White I’ve read. The first was a study of Rimbaud, and there the only defect I found was its length. White writes such clear and interesting prose that one naturally wants more, but both of these short studies are meant to whet appetites and not to be exhaustive. Towards that end, White has been more than successful.

The picture he paints of the young Proust is of a spoiled dandy with serious mother issues, who could be both kind and cloying and terrib
I love Proust, but I typically do not enjoy reading biographies. Perhaps it is because, like Proust, I mostly disagree with Sainte-Beuve's opinion that an artist's art is great if his corresponding life is great, or perhaps it is because the life which I am most interested in is simply my own. I saw White's biography of Proust and it's brevity won my approval - "I can give a couple of hours to the general life of Proust, after all I've devoted months to his semi-autobiographical-novel-epic anywa ...more
Dave Holmes
Jul 24, 2014 Dave Holmes rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: None
First the good news. With no Preface, Introduction, or Bibliography, White's biography of Proust makes no pretense to scholarship and it delivers none. Written in a gossipy style with an eye toward titillation, this thin little volume reduces Proust's life and work down to filler between salacious details of the various "handsome" young men with whom Proust had trysts or affairs.
Proust was a homosexual who wrote boldly about male and female homosexuality through much of "In Search of Lost Time."
Nov 05, 2015 Ben rated it liked it
Edmund White's short Proust biography, Marcel Proust: A Life, is a very concise and readable work. I was already aware of some of the tidbits of knowledge that White shares, such as Proust's influences, like Flaubert, Baudelaire, Ruskin, Anatole France and Balzac, though White (as does every biographer) claims that certain of Proust's sources of inspiration play a greater or lesser role than other sources contend (often to fit with their own theories on the author), and I was also aware of the a ...more
Justin Evans
A little disappointing; White writes very well for the most part, and the book is well-structured for the most part... but the bits that are poorly written just stick out all the more thanks to that (if I never again read "Just as x... so, in the same way, y", I will be particularly glad). There's a tad too much repetition for a 150 page biography, as well. White tried to do something good with the structure (chapters in chronological order, with each chapter also being a bit thematic), but one ...more
Feb 21, 2010 Joshua rated it really liked it
Written by a gay author, this slim volume occasionally moves a quick pace between morsels of delightful gossip and erudite canonization. While White provides several good passages on Proust's posthumous reception and his place within the literature of the 20th C., he might spend too much time delineating the homosexual loves, affairs, and self-loathing that have either been glossed over or saved for controversy in other retrospectives on Proust's life.
David Corvine
Interesting and very readable short account of the life and work of the subject. I have some slight issues: gay is not a direct synonym for homosexual, Marcel Proust cannot be considered to be a member of a cultural and political movement prior to it existing; being Jewish is not a matter of religion, you can be of the Jewish race and be an atheist or of another faith, alternately you could be of another ethnic origin and convert to Judaism. Overall an excellent introduction to Proust.
Feb 08, 2015 Judy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this short biography of Proust readable and well written, as with other books by Edmund White that I've read. But I think I might have done better to read this after reading more of Proust himself, since it isn't really the introduction I'd been hoping for.

Also, while the focus on his gay relationships is very interesting, I'd have liked more about his lovers as individuals. At times they seem like little more than a list of names. Maybe excerpts from letters could have shown more of th
Jul 03, 2009 Jim rated it it was amazing
Perhaps the best short introduction to Proust. What is more, it gives a memorable and sympathetic look at the young writer who was at one and the same time a practicing homosexual and who wrote a classic work in which he portrayed himself as a heterosexual. He accomplished this by "transposing" his male lovers into women: His chauffeur, Alfredo Agostinelli, for instance, became Marcel's unforgettable lover Albertine.

What I appreciated most about this book was perhaps its selective annotated bibi
Aug 17, 2016 Anna added it
Decent enough, I suppose. It's a well done biography for something so short and at the end of the day it isn't White's fault that the only interesting bits of Proust's life were dinners he had with important people.
Jean-Paul Werner Walshaw-Sauter
Who better than Edmund White to write the biography of Proust? Not to mention the biography by Tadié of course! White's biography is told with passion, is short and concise and of great perception und depth. I read it in one sitting and savoured every second. White's sympathy and feeling for Proust shone through each page!
Dec 09, 2007 Tosh rated it it was amazing
I never read Edmund White's fiction, just his essays and bios. He did a remarkable bio on Jean Genet, and this little book is really good as well. White has a great understanding of Paris culture, so he has an understanding of the social world of Marcel Proust. I couldn't put this book down, it is such a fantastic read.
Jul 31, 2009 Jessica rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
I remember liking it, and White is a charming writer. Why can't I remember the details better? This is a great series, but few of those I've read have really stayed with me. Perhaps the one on Joan of Arc did, as well as the one on Simone Weil. I tried Mao too, but I think I didn't finish it.
Nov 05, 2014 Wayne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone wanting an intro or refresher on Proust's Life and Achievements
Recommended to Wayne by: Edmund White's Reputation

I'm racing through this and it's Grand !!!!
THANKS, Edmund!!!
(I'm wondering if it may take a Gay Man to write about One???
AND another writer too !!!
And live in Paris??
It surely can't hurt!!!!)

Otherwise,this is a brief read,
but from someone who knows his subject inside out.
Consequently it's concise AND informative and entertaining
- but not laborious, boring etc etc!!
You will come out informed and entertained.
And ready to travel elsewhere into Proust Territory.

Edmund White's concise, unverbose b
Timothy Hallinan
Apr 22, 2013 Timothy Hallinan rated it liked it
The PENGUIN LIVES' approach to biography is in part to keep it short by focusing on very specific elements of the subject's life. In Edmund White's exploration of Proust, the focus returns incessantly and at times exclusively to the impact of the writer's homosexuality on his masterpiece.

There's no doubt that this is an important key to REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST. Proust, throughout his life, believed he was closeted although virtually everyone who knew him considered him to he gay. A reader's k
Oct 23, 2013 Dayla rated it it was amazing
Yesterday, I finished "The Education of Henry Adams" and today I finished Edmund White's biography on Marcel Proust.

White sums up Proust as the first contemporary writer of the 20th Century, for "he was the first to describe the permanent instability of our time." While Adams took it one step further to provide the reason why. Adams came to the conclusion that what we see as God, superstition, or even evolution are really forces in the universe pressing in.

As with most things in life, we can e
Jan 28, 2013 astried rated it liked it
A warm up before deciding to read Proust's magnum opus. Which is rather silly since I usually just jump into a book, regardless of any knowledge on the book's author or background. In fact I realized that those books where I think a lot before starting usually the ones that ends up unread. Just like most of my knitting projects are started on a sudden craving and not the ones with swatches.

Anyway, this is the second book about Proust that I've read and I don't think it's better than de Botton's
Joseph Sales
Aug 01, 2011 Joseph Sales rated it really liked it
How could I possibly consider myself an aesthete without having read Proust? (eyes rolling)

Alternately dazzled, indignant, intrigued, frustrated, just plain worn out, my reactions were unlike anything I'd experienced before or since.

So when I finished Volume 1 of Remembrance I was overcome with this compulsion to know more about its author. I took a break from Hume and picked up Edmund White's slim biography at the library.

The details of his life (attachment to mother, various unrequited or unfu
Apr 20, 2008 Patrick rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Diana, Chad, Fluffy, et al.
I just listened to this book again, having found an audio CD copy at the Newport Beach library. Having read three quarters of Remembrance of Things Past at this point, and thus being familiar with all of the major characters in Proust's epic novel, I have a new appreciation for how good this short biography is. The author Edmund White makes much of how Proust disguised his friends and acquaintances as characters in his book, just as he also recreates experiences from his life (often absurd scene ...more
Oct 30, 2012 Kate rated it liked it
Marcel Proust holds a rare distinction on my reading list. (And I don't mean "Most Influential Author of the 20th Century" because that is a load of baloney francais.) He is the only author I don't want to read, but I do want to read about... I reject his fiction and embrace his biography.

This jaunty little book was a great help in my random reading quest. It has all the levity and skill of a Vanity Fair article. Edmund White wrote about the life and works of Proust -- combining biography, fine
May 24, 2014 Amber rated it it was amazing
Shelves: summer-2014
I was so impressed with White's style in his Rimbaud book, I immediately checked out this treasure. I've neither read nor heard of Marcel Proust, but this book did a wonderful job "selling" him. White does so well with dividing attention to the well-known reader (teasing how details in Proust's life translated into his works) with the clueless one, in that I don't feel lost reading about Proust in any way. I can't wait to read more from both!
George Ilsley
A slim volume on the life and work of Marcel Proust: a prolific and enigmatic writer. Of course, one can easily spend one's entire life studying Proust and the related Proustian industries, so a slim volume such as this one is all the more appealing. One can duck in and read all about it and still have time left over for some chamomile tea and a gluten-free pastry.
Dec 15, 2007 Mark rated it really liked it
Shelves: just-read
I can't imagine how daunting it would be to write this basically pamphlet sized biography of a writer who 1) it could be argued, essentially crafted a six volume novel where a central theme concerns the blurring of biography and fiction, and 2) has already been the subject of several extensive and excellent biographies. In the end, this winds up being a sort of precis of Tadie's recent work, which is not intended as a knock -- indeed it's a tremendous service. Also, the crisp writing had me full ...more
Nov 11, 2013 D rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english, biography
This short (156 pages) biography of Proust does not disappoint and it is an easy read. Obviously, it does not go into great detail but one learns about the parents, his childhood, adolescence, the 'lazy period' until he conceived of 'A la recherche du temps perdu' and the subsequent frenzy to finish all volumes before he dies. Also some of his 'love affairs' are mentioned, and how these mostly unhappy passions, together with the course of history -- notably the Great War -- caused the structure ...more
Charles Matthews
Jul 15, 2010 Charles Matthews rated it really liked it
When I finished reading "In Search of Lost Time," I looked about for a biography that wasn't 1,000 pages long and settled on this one, a mere 150-odd pages. It was, I think, a good choice. The question I might pose about it is: Is it a good choice for someone who hasn't finished the novel, or who hasn't even started it? And I think it might be. White gives you the essential facts about Proust's life mixed with some solid reasons why the "Search" is one of those books you must (at least try to) r ...more
Sean Kottke
Oct 26, 2013 Sean Kottke rated it really liked it
Taking a dive into biography between volumes 4 and 5 of In Search of Lost Time, I learned quite a few useful bits of information about Proust from this brief volume that should support my understanding of the magnum opus, number one of which is that Proust was opposed to biographical criticism. That's irony for you. Anyway, it was helpful to learn about some of the ways in which Proust turned life into art, and I like White's conclusion that Proust is nothing short of the Scheherazade of the 20t ...more
Dec 07, 2011 David added it
Shelves: gayreadinggroup
This book was so efficiently and effectively written. It went down like a good New Yorker article. Edmund White focused on Marcel Proust's relationships both romantic and otherwise and indicated how those relationships informed characters in his novels- mostly analyzing REMEMBRANCES OF THINGS PAST. White did such a great job as a biographer, informing the reader with relevant specific details but keeping it still lively with descriptions of the time period and more gossip like details. White sho ...more
Aug 16, 2015 James rated it really liked it
A juicy, enlightening little biography written with White's characteristic wit and grace.
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The Year of Readi...: Edmund White's "Proust" 11 106 Dec 07, 2014 08:11PM  
  • Marcel Proust: A Life
  • Proust's Way: A Field Guide to In Search of Lost Time
  • Marcel Proust: A Life
  • Proust's Overcoat: The True Story of One Man's Passion for All Things Proust
  • Monsieur Proust
  • Paintings in Proust: A Visual Companion to In Search of Lost Time
  • Marcel Proust's Search for Lost Time: A Reader's Guide to The Remembrance of Things Past
  • Virginia Woolf
  • Monsieur Proust's Library
  • Proust
  • Letters of Marcel Proust
  • Proust at the Majestic
  • Wild Heart: A Life: Natalie Clifford Barney and the Decadence of Literary Paris
  • Love in a Dark Time: and Other Explorations of Gay Lives and Literature
  • James Joyce
  • February House
  • E. M. Forster: A Life
  • James Joyce
Edmund White's novels include Fanny: A Fiction, A Boy's Own Story, The Farewell Symphony, and A Married Man. He is also the author of a biography of Jean Genet, a study of Marcel Proust, The Flâneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris, and, most recently, his memoir, My Lives. Having lived in Paris for many years, he is now a New Yorker and teaches at Princeton University. He was also a membe ...more
More about Edmund White...

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“Modern readers are responsive to Proust’s tireless and brilliant analyses of love because we, too, no longer take love for granted. Readers today are always making the personal public, the intimate political, the instinctual philosophical. Proust may have attacked love, but he did know a lot about it. Like us, he took nothing for granted. He was not on smug, cozy terms with his own experience. We read Proust because he knows so much about the links between childhood anguish and adult passion. We read Proust because, despite his intelligence, he holds reasoned evaluations in contempt and knows that only the gnarled knowledge that suffering brings us is of any real use. We read Proust because he knows that in the terminal stage of passion we no longer love the beloved; the object of our love has been overshadowed by love itself: “And this malady which Swann’s love had become had so proliferated, was so closely interwoven with all his habits, with all his actions, with his thoughts, his health, his sleep, his life, even with what he hoped for after his death, was so utterly inseparable from him, that it would have been impossible to eradicate it without almost entirely destroying him; as surgeons say, his love was no longer operable.” 1 likes
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