Robin's Reviews > The Captive & The Fugitive

The Captive & The Fugitive by Marcel Proust
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Sep 30, 10

bookshelves: classics
Read in August, 2010

My reactions to Proust are so all over the place. I find him very easy to read; it just takes me forever because every paragraph or so he is taking me off on a tangent with some personal connection he has forced me to make. And then he forces me to analyze that personal connection and evaluate whether or not I think Proust’s philosophy holds for me. And half an hour later I’m ready for the next paragraph.

But another overwhelming reaction to the guy is deep sympathy tempered by anger. Love for him is reciprocal torture? Friendship is a fallacy? The dead don’t leave even a ripple in reality? The intellect of women isn’t interesting? Poor people have less regret when parted from a loved one because they know s/he is inaccessible, as opposed to the wealthy who have more access to immediate communication, and thus suffering and desire?

And, for good measure, he’ll throw in some Buddhist philosophy, like how forgetting negates love, which leaves us with an absence of suffering, leading to happiness within the extinction of desire. I’ve always had a problem with that.

But of course he’s not going for this extinction of desire – he’s all about the remembering – you know, searching for that lost time, grain by grain savoring the past within our memory’s library of tectonic underpinnings. And pressing those sad memories “voluptuously” to our hearts. He redeems himself with hopeful phrases like, “Love is space and time made perceptible to the heart.”

And then he’ll throw in a fun plot twist, like being charged for abducting a minor, a stranger he brings back to his house to hold on his lap….

I love how Proust plays with the idea of a fictional autobiography – saying that “if” we give his narrator the same name as the writer, it would be Marcel. And that Swann achieved fame as a result of his story being a large part of Volume I. And that lying is acceptable under the guise of “narrative tidiness.” As well as lots of other fun little references to his readers. I have avoided reading criticism of Proust until after I’m all done with all six volumes (which will be this week!!!!!!!), and I’m very curious to see how this all pans out.

Where Proust’s prose really soars for me in his hall of mirrors is when he discusses the artist’s craft. I’ll quote four examples that really do it for me in the comments below this review. In summary, they are about the tension between a healthy respect for the limitations of human endeavors and the other-worldly obligation that drives the artist to produce profound works of the intellect. Works that hint at this other-worldly lost fatherland, this unknown country, like a visit to a personal, intimate star, the elements of which compose the permanent part of the soul. Works of art that exteriorize the unsayable. At times he appears to be a cynical atheist who derives an incredible amount of transcendental joy from art, and he can’t explain this joy without reference to some other reality, a reality separate from “a life hagridden by people who have no real connexion with one.” (When I read this last phrase, I had a greater appreciation for why he goes on and on about the dinner parties of the Guermantes and the Verdurins.) Of course, this is assuming Proust and his narrator are one and the same. Even though they’re not, I’m guessing that those sentiments are what he wants us to take away.

In the end, while his cynicism and depression are hard to take, what he has done is taken me on an intimate voyage to his star, and through that deeper into my own star. And for most of us, that’s probably why we read fiction.
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Reading Progress

05/02/2010 "I finished The Captive! Whoo hoo! LOVED the ending. Will say more later. On to The Fugitive!!" 1 comment

Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Genevieve (new)

Genevieve Good for you! You're a better reader than I am... I don't think I could even try it!


Robin Oh, no no no -- you're so much the better reader. But I may be more of a masochist. Man, I love this guy. I'm going to be lost when it's all over. I think that's part of the reason I'm dragging it out.

Chabon was on Fresh Air today -- you may want to check out the podcast. He's very charming. I loved the end part about his purse. (Even though I still refuse to read his fiction.)


message 3: by [deleted user] (last edited Oct 07, 2009 03:51PM) (new)

Robin, these are my two least favorite volumes in the series... They're still good an' all, but... y'know... good luck.


Robin Thanks for the encouragement! Since Bram liked them, I'm feeling optimistic. But I know most share your opinion. Since I've gotten this far, there's no turning back.


message 5: by Dottie (last edited Sep 30, 2010 01:15PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dottie Hooray -- glad to see you perservere in the Proust volumes! You will NOT regret having done so -- I kseep saying that -- but I truly feel it is so.

And your review here just blows me totally away, Robin -- WONDERFUL!


Bram Nice! Yeah, the plot twists in these last few volumes are quite strange considering the near complete plotlessness of the first 3.99 volumes. Can't wait to hear your final thoughts when you finish Time Regained.


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