Remembrance Of Things Past 2008 discussion

What Do You Hate About The Narrator?

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message 1: by Julie (new)

Julie (julies_27) I am posting that title tongue-in-cheek, but I'm finding myself wanting to mock him a little bit.

How old is he supposed to be in these memories when he's writing his mom notes to get her to come kiss him again at night? (Obviously old enough to write at the very least.)

message 2: by Patrick (last edited Jan 21, 2008 07:16PM) (new)

Patrick | 35 comments Wow, Fluffycat, that's a dynamite topic! I will have a LOT to say about that...I've complained to Diana privately on many things about this narrator...he gets even more passive and wimpy in books 2 and 3, especially when he's trying to meet a woman he's interested in!

Still looking for my copy of Swann's Way for bad1news quote thread...once I find it, I'll be sure to add more to this thread too!

message 3: by Patrick (new)

Patrick | 35 comments One thing I don't care for, that comes up throughout the three books I've read, is that everyone in his life - his parents, his friends, the servant Francoise, his grandmother, his social acquaintances - goes out of their way to coddle the narrator because he's so "weak."

#1 - Why does everyone in thse books think they have to do this? Was this Proust's personal experience/desire/expectation growing up?

#2 - Narrator, please man up a little and have some self-respect when you're treated that way, rather than accepting and being grateful for this treatment!

Note to all: this are just my reactions to the narrator...not claiming any expertise on proust...if you have a different take on what I'm complaining about, please chime in...I won't be offended in the slightest...

message 4: by Robert (new)

Robert | 6 comments The narrator is completely coddled and narcissistic, and I think this is reflected in some of the poor choices he makes later in the books. He also shows a lot of interest in other characters (Swann, Charlus) who share his self-absorption to a fault.

In other words, I think Proust recognizes this weakness in his character and makes it one of the novel's themes.

message 5: by Julie (new)

Julie (julies_27) Patrick, he gets more passive? Like has someone else write these notes to his mom because he's too kick back to do so?

So far, the book really reminds me of 19th century works where the characters don't have real jobs, just lots of money and sit around talking crap about their neighbors.

message 6: by Patrick (last edited Jan 21, 2008 09:36PM) (new)

Patrick | 35 comments Fluffy, Richard's spot on...the tendencies you see in Swann's Way with the narrator become more pronounced in the next two books (which is far as I've gotten). And you're right, very few people here seem to have any jobs. They work, but work never seems to take precedence over teh endless rounds of social affairs.

The famous "mom stop what you're doing and come give me a kiss" sequence has its parallels in a lot of other things the narrator does later. He always seems to be thinking about how to get friends, family, or servants to do things for him so that he can accomplish something else, more often than not meeting a new lady he is attracted to. Of course almost all of these other characters are only too happy to oblige, as if it's their greatest pleasure in life. I haven't quite figure out why they're so willing to do things for this narrator -- he doesn't seem to be a particularly interesting person. This is one of those areas where I suspect I'm missing something in the text that Proust has related but that I didn't catch because of the sheer volume of words, sentences, and paragraphs that seem to go on forever, almost uninterrupted.

I know that last sentence reflects poorly on me as a reader, but since we all have the same goal here, we might as well share our challenges with this novel. I have always read tons of non-fiction, and since joining Goodread six months ago I have read quite a bit of quality fiction, so I can handle detailed and scholarly works. However, this book is definitely unlike anything I've ever read.

If anyone has any recommendations about "how to read" Proust to attain the fullest appreciation for what he's done here, please share. I bow before your fiction reading expertise and humbly beseech you to share your wisdom, enlightened ones!

message 7: by Robert (new)

Robert | 6 comments It's worth remembering that Marcel is deeply neurotic and while much of the novel involves his attempts to justify his neurotic behavior - something that his environment encourages - it also leads to tragedy as the story progresses.

message 8: by Kimley (new)

Kimley | 3 comments Also, I think that the importance of art (in all forms) is a huge theme in the book and hugely important for Marcel. His creating a world for himself removed from reality and full of artifice makes sense even if it's taking it too far.

message 9: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 22, 2008 04:09PM) (new)

I don't know if I can add anything of substance to this particular discussion since I've read so little of the book so far but something occurred to me earlier today regarding why the fictional Marcel is so indulged.

This book is very autobiographical and since Proust was much admired and liked (from what I've read of his life) he may have transfered how people reacted to him onto the fictional Marcel, despite Marcel's lack of qualities that may justify such indulgences and affections.

Proust may have only used this fictional Marcel as a filter through which he could make his observations, not perhaps seeing him as a "real" character but simply as a tool to use for his purposes. Maybe this is why Marcel is so neurotic and often charmless. Only the characteristics that Proust needed to make his points were used and since often these points involved hand-wringing of some sort or another, Marcel's negative attributes are emphasized.

I'm not sure if any of that makes sense or is even justified based on further reading, but it would be nice it if were true. It would make Marcel more tolerable.

I'm open to any shooting-down of this theory :-)

message 10: by Patrick (last edited Jan 23, 2008 03:34PM) (new)

Patrick | 35 comments Briefly in response to Bad1News and Diana...

Bad1News, I guess I can see your point about how others in the society may vie the narrator...but as for his writing...if this guy actually produced anything in Combray or Swann In Love i missed it...he has spent the last two books lamenting about how he can't bring himself to write anymore...

But your mention of his going off to play with Swann's daughter Gilberte bring up the original point Fluffy made: how old is this guy? I would figure he's in his late teens by the latter part of this book, considering his adventures and the friendship with Sergeant Sainte-Loup in the subsequent books...but would he really need supervision to go out and play at the Champs Elysee if he were that old, een with his sickness?

Regarding your comments, Diana, part of what got me into Proust was a Penguin Lives biography by Edmund White, which I just re-read for the fourth or fifth time before I embarked on this project...White cautions that readers of ROTP often make the mostake of assuming everything in this novel has a basis of a real-life experience in Proust's life or that of his friends and acquaintances, but he says that's not always the case, from what I recall...I'll try to look up exactly what the biographer said tomorrow.

Besides that, though, I think your theories may have merit...seems to me that the narrator is often times just a device for Proust to make witty and catty observations of the aristocracy of his day...such as the 200 page dinner party he attends near the end of Guermantes Way.

(edited because I keep getting a character's name wrong)

message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

I'll have to check out that biography. If you've read it multiple times, it's probably safe to assume it's pretty good.

Oh, dear, a 200-page dinner party? I'm guessing we'll hear about the food in detail. I better eat first before reading that section or else I'll clean out my kitchen cabinets and fridge.

Speaking of the age thing... a few days ago I hit on a passage where Marcel and his parents catch a ride on a carriage after a particularly long walk.

Marcel sits up front with the driver and while admiring the countryside decides to jot down some thoughts on what he's seeing and feeling. At this point, because of the quality and depth of what he's written, I get the impression he's at least in his early to middle teens. But then he starts to think about how this trip is almost over and he gets to worrying about whether he'll get a kiss from his mother this evening. What's up with this guy?

The introduction of my edition of "Swann's Way" does talk about Marcel's Oedipal complex and I guess the above scene is a prime example. Does he ever get over this or will I read about more pining for mom's kisses later on?

message 12: by Julie (new)

Julie (julies_27) I am around page 160 in my edition now, and I just read the part where he sees Gilberte and describes himself as a boy, yet being in love with her... I guess somewhere in his teens.

Then he's dressed up with curls in his hair, crying over the hawthornes. That just made me laugh out loud, with the mental image. If he is really a teenager, that's pretty pathetic to be acting like that.

message 13: by Patrick (last edited Jan 23, 2008 03:32PM) (new)

Patrick | 35 comments I agree Fluffy. i laugh at stuff like that too. Pathetic...even for fin-de-siecle France! No wonder the Germans didn't have any respect for them as fighting men.

That's the sort of thing that makes me wonder why he becomes such a close friend with a very agressive French Army non-comissioned officer in the later books. I know the narrator is attracted to Sergeant Robert Sainte-Loup's virility and confidence, but I just can't see what Sainte-Loup sees in the narrator that's worth such attention.

(edited because I keep getting a character's name wrong)

message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

When I first picked up the book at the store I flipped through it and wound up reading the scene Fluffycat mentioned - curly hair and weeping over hawthornes. I was confused. I thought the narrator was supposed to be male and there I was reading about a girl talking about her curls going limp and crying over flowers. Little did I know....

message 15: by Patrick (last edited Jan 23, 2008 03:31PM) (new)

Patrick | 35 comments Bad1news

But then at the start of book 3 he starts hanging out with Sainte-Loup again, mainly to meet a married relative of Sainte-Loup's....the Sergeant takes the narrator to see his girlfriend in Paris...and he introduces the narrator as his best friend in the world. This comes after the narrator hangs out with Sainte-Loup's enlisted comrades for a couple of weeks.

That scene down at the barracks really shows up the narrator in all of his effeminacy (is that a word?).

I can't believe I feel like I'm posting ROTP spoilers here. If anyone wants me to knock it off, just say so....

I think this speaks a bit to Robert's point above that events in later books in the novel may change your perspective on the characters, especially the narrator (I'm wondering what that tragedy is that Robert refers to).

So if my ruminations are spoiling the reading experience for the rest of you, let me know.

I usually go out of my way not to give out any details about a book's plot in reviews or group threads, but with ROTP it seems odd to think that there are major events in these books that I might ruin for other readers...maybe because they're so long and the "action" is so sparing.

message 16: by [deleted user] (new)


I agree with Bad1news. As with him, Proust's appeal for me lies in his perceptions and in how wonderfully he relates them. I don't think there is a danger of plot spoilers, although that may be because I've yet to run across any actual plot! I also think that you're smart enough to recognize a genuine plot spoiler so I trust you not to give away the big "reveal" if there ever should be one :-)

message 17: by Dottie (new)

Dottie  (oxymoronid) | 14 comments Just to elaborate -- and perhaps give you pause -- the person who came and inspired our reading and then left after we were well underway left because I inadvertantly let fall a ocmment which most any thorough reader would have already realized but which he felt was unforgivable no matter how much I appologized and postulated that ina discussion such as that it was inevitable that a few such slip-ups would occur and the we should simply forgive them and move along. He couldn't do it.

message 18: by [deleted user] (new)


Whoa! Is there such a profound revelation that, having been revealed prematurely, it would ruin the book for someone? Or do you think this person was just a bit sensitive?

Speaking strictly for myself now, I'm going on the record as being okay with any potential revelations. If, however, I start whining about people giving away stuff just tell me to shut up and refer me back to this post.

message 19: by Patrick (last edited Jan 23, 2008 08:04PM) (new)

Patrick | 35 comments Bad1news, your last comment in the parentheses made me laugh out loud. Well done...+1 to you, sir.

I'm actually kind of worried that I'll be so focused on the writing and Proust's ideas that i might not actually recognize a plot development when it occurs! Fortunately the Modern Library editions have a bulletized synosis in the back that mentions each small "scene" and links to a page number. Very thoughtful of them.

What other novel would the reader need sommething like that just to keep track of what happened in the book? Even two other "white whales" that most people are intimidated by -- Moby Dick and War And Peace -- don't require something like that! (thanks to Fluffy for the metaphor)

Dottie....I think that's a pretty weak reason to quit reading these books. I mean, it's hard to avoid major plot developments for almost any work of literature, yet one still reads the book anyway! Does one decide not to read Huck Finn just because you found out the ending? Or a Charles Dickens classic like Oliver Twist or Great Expectations? Sounds to me like that guy was looking for a reason to get out of his commitment.

message 20: by Julie (new)

Julie (julies_27) The book that I actually found the most daunting was Sound and the Fury... War & Peace was just long, but it had a lot of action and stuff going on. I want to read Ulysses one of these days. I kind of think if I get through ROTP, I'll get through anything.

I do think having a plot synopsis isn't a bad thing because I do get a bit lost in some of the text while reading. I suppose if spoilers get to be a problem, we can setup an all spoiler discussion or something.

message 21: by Julie (new)

Julie (julies_27) I started "Swann in Love" and that section begins with the narrator comparing himself to Swann, then going on to say how Swann is this Lothario always hooking up with the ladies (admittedly, they all seem to be of the serving class and his whole bit of having notes passed to them seems a bit lame). Does the narrator see himself as a big ladies' man?

message 22: by Robert (new)

Robert | 6 comments I can think of at least three other novels that required - at least for me - a guidebook for getting through them: "Ulysses", "Finnegans Wake" and "Gravity's Rainbow".

message 23: by [deleted user] (new)

"Ulysses", "Finnegans Wake" and "Gravity's Rainbow" --- three more books for my Bucket List.


I tried reading "Light of August" and couldn't get through the first couple of chapters. It made me feel "icky" while reading it. All I remember is lots of heat, sweat and blood. But Faulkner is considered one of our greatest writers. Would you mind, briefly, sharing why this became one of the best books you've read? I'm genuinely curious and wonder whether I should give it another try.

message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

Thanks, Bad1news. I'll put up with a lot if the writing is good so Faulkner will go back on the to-read list. It looks like I didn't give him much of a chance. Although, 70 pages comes very close to my limit of Tolerance of Stuff That Annoys Me. I'll just have to make a note to myself to stick with it.

"Oh yeah,and the hero, heroine weren't such ninnys!" -- :-D

message 25: by [deleted user] (new)

You're probably right about the 100 page minimum. But I'm an old geezer, closing in on AARP membership, and I find that my patience wears thin much sooner than it used to. However, that's why I like getting input from the folks around here to see which books deserve another chance. :-)

message 26: by Julie (new)

Julie (julies_27) I took a Russian Lit class where we talked about Brothers Karamazov and my professor pointed out that the narrator drops out of the book at around page 200, and that was where the book got really good. I think I did have more patience for getting through stuff when I was younger, but I'm better at focusing on my reading now than I was as a teen and early 20s.

message 27: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 27, 2008 09:09AM) (new)

Judging from your comments I think you're a "smart" reader and that you have a good attitude toward books. There's no doubt that when it comes to reading you'll continue to get wiser as you get older.

I agree. It seems as our reading experience matures it also becomes refined, in that we are more aware of what we really want from books and what we're willing to do and tolerate to get it.

message 28: by Julie (new)

Julie (julies_27) I'm reading the section now where the narrator goes to Balbec with his grandmother, and I'm so irritated at him. There is this one section where he compares Francoise to a dog, in that she looks at him with intelligent eyes but doesn't really understand anything. And this whole thing with going on this lovely journey and acting all sick immediately because he's out of his element, and then his grandmother being forced to take care of him. I think that this point, he's at least 18. Ugh.

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