I've made it more than half way through In Search of Lost Time, which means I'm beginning to get at least some sense of the longer and deeper rhythmsI've made it more than half way through In Search of Lost Time, which means I'm beginning to get at least some sense of the longer and deeper rhythms of Proust's novel/meditation. Sodom and Gomorrah brings the gay/lesbian themes that have been present but submerged to the surface.. Interesting in itself, but more significant for the way that it recasts the textures of sexual jealousy and social evasion. So much works by innuendo and to understand it fully, I'm sure you have to follow the intricacies of Proust's social milieu and the many many allusions a bit more closely than I'm capable of doing. Nearly a century after composition, I'm wondering whether "adequate" readers aren't a severely threatened species. For me, Mann and Joyce and most definitely Faulkner are much easier to respond to without feeling as though I'm looking at a painting through a layer of gauze. Still, there are moments when Proust's psychological insight renders all of the caveats irrelevant. No one's ever written more eloquently or painfully about the ways in which lovers drive each other quietly crazy and how that craziness feeds more on what it doesn't know than on what it does.. In Sodom and Gomorrah that centers on the narrator and Albertine and M de Charlus and Morel, but it's clearly a reprise of the themes introduced in the first volume in relation to Swann and Odette. I suspect if I knew France even a little bit, I'd feel the power of place as strongly as I do when I read Faulkner, but again it's a bit distanced.
I've now reached the final volume of the new translation available in the US and, while I regret not having the other volumes (thanks copyright lawyers) I'm going to move ahead to the next volume in the old one....more
Impossible to respond adequately to this novel until I've finished reading the entire Recherche. There's a passage about 2/3 of the way through--for sImpossible to respond adequately to this novel until I've finished reading the entire Recherche. There's a passage about 2/3 of the way through--for some reason my bookmark vanished, so I can't quote it here--where Proust mediates on the fact that the full pattern of a composition isn't visible until it's completed, when the interrelationship of all of the parts becomes clear. Even without relying on the numerous readers who have certified the Recherche as a masterpiece, there are enough moments where that becomes clear to make me give Proust the benefit of my plebeian doubts.
That's crucial because there are vast stretches of this novel, which focuses in large part on the minutia of French society at the turn of the 20th century, that make me want to release a Henry Jamesian yawn. I just don't care about the intricacies of which Duc and which Princess feel superior to one another for reasons that have their roots in the 13th century. Proust kind of knows that and kind of doesn't. He's certainly aware of the arbitrariness embedded in the social relations and of how utterly ungrounded many, maybe most, of the judgments are. That doesn't stop him from giving them infinite attention.
At the same time, he's very much aware that those relationships are conditioned by, and condition, the characters' feelings about everyting--sex, politics, aesthetics. Proust does a brilliant job illuminating how our feelings and judgments, which we perceive as truly *ours*, frequently boil down to reflections of our class position. The Guermantes' Way is suffused with the Dreyfus Case, which raises issues of anti-semitism, unthinking nationalism, and radical chic. It's not difficult to see how these concerns play out in very different ways in every era of the 20th and 21st centuries. And there's no better writer about the psychology of erotic infatuation.
I'll definitely keep reading. I know that some very important things are about to change....more
The first French novel with an African protagonist (a woman born in Senegal, brought to France when very young). I read this primarily for historicalThe first French novel with an African protagonist (a woman born in Senegal, brought to France when very young). I read this primarily for historical reasons, but it's worth reading for its merits. Interesting treatments of the French revolution (background but significant), women's positions in aristocratic society and a unique version of double (or triple) consciousness. A very quick read....more