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Member ChallengeTracking 2016-20 > Theresa's Journey Through Proust

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message 1: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 6125 comments I start a monthly discussion class this week that between now and June 2020 will [hopefully] encourage me to reach one of my reading life goals: to read the entire 'In Search of Lost Time' or, as entitled in the 1981 edition we are reading, 'Remembrance of Things Past'. In English, not French as I iriginally fantasized in my 20s when my French was 'fresh' in my mind.

I have taken the first steps, as you see from my Combray review undrr this month's *cultural* theme. But I would love hearing thoughts and encouragement ... or discouragement 😉... about the books, my posts, Proust, your own efforts to read it, and even 'are you nuts?' I figure this is one group who probsbly understands having a 'reading bucket list'.

A comment or two that were not put in my review...

Back in college, I had to read Proust on 2 occasions, both times just Combray. First was for a 20th Century literature class ... in French. Yeah...slow as reading the English version is for me now (between 10 and 15 pages an hour...took me 11 days to read the 204 pages of Combray), it was positively glacielly paced reading it in French! Yet, as I hit specific sections, I would suddenly, over 40 years later, remember reading that exact passage in French. I have zero memory of class discussion. Ditto for the 2nd time I had to read it, this time in English for a Philosophy in Literature class, one that included reading all of James Joyce and something of Samuel Beckett. Actually, I am pretty sure I skipped reading it a second time and just relied on my prior struggle...er, reading.

I definitely appreciate more reading it now. I understand the class divisions, petty tyrannies, hypocrasies, and social restrictions at play which were outside my frame of reference in college. Much of that definitely is the result of my fondness for historical fiction, particularly (don't laugh!) all those regency, georgian, and victorian era romances! For example, one thought that kept recurring as I read Combray was how rigid the lower aristocracy strictures on behavior and class divisions are highlighted by Proust, offset by hints of a looser, more flowing set of rules and divisions among the true nobility, the higher aristocrats. This is a concept I remember Stephanie Laurens exploring to great effect in her regency romance The Lady Risks All. OK, you can stop laughing now...of course much of my knowledge comes from years of serious reading, travel, and such.


message 2: by Holly R W (new)

Holly R W | 1116 comments Your monthly discussion class sounds like it will be fascinating, Theresa. Is this through a college? I'm pitifully ignorant of Proust's work (there, I've admitted it!) However, I'm definitely going to enjoy hearing about your experiences on your journey!


message 3: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 6125 comments Holly R W wrote: "Your monthly discussion class sounds like it will be fascinating, Theresa. Is this through a college? I'm pitifully ignorant of Proust's work (there, I've admitted it!) However, I'm definitely goin..."

No, it's through a NY institution called Center for Fiction. Here's a link: https://www.centerforfiction.org/. They offer all kinds of options for writers and readers - a friend of mine discovered them years ago and has been going to various discussion groups, book clubs, etc. for years. I'm not the book or discussion group type plus I work very late into evening, so I've only been there to shop in their lovely bookstore. But...I learned years ago that they regularly offer long term reading groups for Proust pretty regularly. I promised myself I would sign up the next time they started a new one.

So here I am!

And no need to be shy about not knowing Proust. Even though considered one of the greatest writers of 20th Century, and Remembrance of Things Past perhaps the greatest novel of the 20th Century, very very few people have actually read any of it. it's intimidating.


message 4: by Holly R W (new)

Holly R W | 1116 comments I opened the link you shared. How nice to have a Center for Fiction. Here's hoping that you'll meet like-minded people and have thoughtful discussions.
The reason that I'm not the book group type myself is that I found that I disliked the majority of the books being discussed in the club I had joined.
I'll be interested in hearing your impressions as the group gets going.


message 5: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 6125 comments Holly R W wrote: "I opened the link you shared. How nice to have a Center for Fiction. Here's hoping that you'll meet like-minded people and have thoughtful discussions.
The reason that I'm not the book group type ..."


I'm really anxious about it! My experience in book clubs and other discussions has not been good -- and I really don't want to read some book that doesn't interest me and by a specific date only to show up and find half of them haven't read it at all, the other half only read a third of the book...you get the picture. Plus I took a lot of literature courses and seminars at a liberal arts Ivy League college, so my expectations are very very high for discussions. None of this whining 'I didn't like the main character so I didn't like the book." Umm sometimes you are not supposed to like the main character?!

Enough whining. I figured that Proust is not the kind of reading discussion group that just anyone would join. You have to be driven, LOL.

Watch this space! I will report on Friday!


message 6: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 6125 comments Sooo, I didn't have the energy on Friday to report in. But here it is now.

The discussion group went well, sufficiently so that I plunged in and signed up for the second half of the class afterwards. I had not wanted to commit the money or time unless the group looked like it would not disappoint.

Things were a bit stiff at first. It loosened up and I have great hopes that in another couple of sessions, it will feel more relaxed.

I do think it is too big a group. 21 in the class, too many to fit around the table, leaving late-comers to be isolated along the side. I suspect some will drop off as time passes and they either lose interest or can't keep up. Until then though the format being used makes it difficult to get into any real discussions with each other.

Format - everyone points out a passage or sentence that sticks with them and -very briefly - tells why. No real discussion ensues because you need to get around all 21 in a limited time. Although of course inevitably discussion did occur but really only among about 5 of us and then minimally. I really hope others start speaking up.

Of course, you have the guy in the class who wants to go off on tangents comparing different translation editions and historical info - and just goes on and on and on with great enthusiasm and little sense of having lost the room. I actually sympathized because there were times I wanted to really *talk* about a whole section or aspect or connections I'd made. I just kept biting my tongue.

By the end of the class, though, a satisfying level of discussion and commentary had happened to make me eager for the next bit of reading and group session. Perhaps it was helped by Group Leader Damien's bringing lime-leaf tisane from Paris for all of us to drink. That's the very 'tea' drunk by Proust at the beginning of his opus.

Highlights of discussion:

There are the sections of straightforward story - expert portraits of the people and their relationships.

How extraordinary is it for a novelist of that time (this was published in 1913) to feature a clearly lesbian relationship with more acceptance than the adulturous one of Mme Swann and M. Charlus. One of the attendees made an excellent point that one (lesbian one) is hidden so does not need to be addressed socially, whereas Mme Swann and M. Charlus is public.

Proust seems obsessed with the color pink.

Francoise is both extremely loving but also at heart very cruel, and Proust has a genius in showing us these two sides of her. And also showing this in others as well.

The non-narrative parts are difficult to wade through at times -- he spends a lot of time describing church steeples, flowers, the color pink, etc.

Meseglise (Swann's) Way is dry and Guermantes Way is wet.

I believe I'm a bit out of step with most in the class. I seem to be the only one besides the leader who is comfortable hearing my voice in a group expressing opinions and participating in a discussion. Of course, being a lawyer means I'm very used to speaking up, being heard, brainstorming ideas, and expressing opinions. Having been a literature major in college, an avid reader all my life, and someone who discusses books in depth everywhere, I seem to be deeper into this than the others -- or those who are speaking up at least.

I'm curious to see how things evolve. There's a woman named Chelsea who seems to have a copy with as many tabs and notes in her copy as I do in mine. And Eve is reading from the hardcover edition -- the same one that is in hiding in my apartment. Burton, another member of the group, mentioned that you can no longer find copies of that hardcover set.

On to Swann In Love.


message 7: by Holly R W (new)

Holly R W | 1116 comments Your impressions of the group and book are so interesting, Theresa. Thank you for sharing them with us!


message 8: by Joanne (new)

Joanne (joabroda1) | 7125 comments This sounds like a wonderful experience Theresa! How lucky you are to live in NYC! I may run away and come live with you....


message 9: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 6125 comments Joanne wrote: "This sounds like a wonderful experience Theresa! How lucky you are to live in NYC! I may run away and come live with you...."

Ha! Come any time!

BTW I had lunch today with a college professor friend and was telling her about it. She says that in any discussion group, you get a third who talk and contribute all the time, a third who eventually speak up once in a while, and a third who never open their mouths. I had not realized it was that consistant.

I also concluded that not only does being a lawyer make me comfortable speaking in a group of strangers, but I am used to my words being both listened to and taken seriously. That of course makes me confident, far more so tgan the average reader.


message 10: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 6125 comments ACK! I need to get reading! Next session is a week from today and I have not yet started Swann in Love and Place Names-The Name, the next installment! I did try starting it but my brain was too fried from work. I hope to make some serious progress tomorrow. Clearly this weekend will have to be dedicated to it.

I'm a very fast reader, but Proust...does not read quickly. I average about 15 pages an hour. I have about 250 pages to read by next Thursday. If I can just find blocks of time...


message 11: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 6125 comments I still have about 14 pages to read of the next segment before group discussion tomorrow night. I'll finish it tonight. But I don't like this last minute bit. I left starting the installment until late last week - too tight a time given my general busy schedule.

But I did find reading seemed a bit faster. I read about 100 pages of the 250 or so we had to read on Saturday. As it was Swann in Love which is in essence a self-contained novel within the bigger novel, this may not be surprising.

But reading it this way -- with an eye on the clock to be sure I finish - is not ideal. Will keep it in mind.

Thoughts on Swann in Love -- Swann seems to be such a cad who got what he deserved. Definitely highlights the negative aspects of an obsessive love. Also there are definitely class issues (she's part of the demi-monde, he's of the upper middle class and with access to the aristocracy) explored somewhat, along with obsessive love.

Swann seems such a fool - and Odette simply plays him like a violin. Swann in Love is all about his absorption and love affair with Odette, who is essentially a courtesan. Initially not particularly enamored with her, Odette for reasons of her own sets out to seduce him -- and does it masterfully. When, one night she's not where she told him to be, it seals his fate, and he falls passionately for her - 'do cattleyas' is the cute little way they refer to making love. He becomes her financial support and sees her evenings, becoming more and more obsessed and possessive. Odette however, seems to keep him at a distance and continues relationships with other men. Soon Swann drops away from everything and everyone except shadowing Odette - who becomes more and more elusive. By the end of this book, Swann has come full circle and fallen out of love for Odette.

The next short transition book, which brings Vol. 1 Swann's Way to a close, has the narrator meeting Gilberte and playing with her on the lawn of the Champs Elysee in Paris. You find here that she is the daughter of Swann and Odette, that Swann and Odette marry but are no longer accepted into the bourgeois or aristocractic society that Swann frequented previously. The narrator further explores obsessive love by revealing his for Gilberte - which bears a striking similarity to that of Swann for Odette. Clearly a theme for Proust.

Here we are also seeing Odette through eyes other than those of Swann for whom Odette is perfection. There's a scene where Odette is promenading in the Bois de Bologne while the narrator watches from the sidelines that is quite revealing of her coquettery, her inviting behavior towards men that is so inappropriate for someone of Swann's social standing. She seems to have dropped in social standing, in fact. One wonders if the Verdurins are still the hosts most frequented by Odette.

Speaking of the Verdurins, Proust's descriptions of them and their 'Faithful' are hilarious - perfect gems!


message 12: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 6125 comments I just finished the short book that ends Swann's Way - Place Names: the Name - in which the narrator meets and becomes a childhood playmate of Gilberte, Swann's daughter, in the lawn on the Champs Elysees. He is in love with her; Proust uses this childhood infatuation as once again a means to explore obsessive love, highlighting here some similarities to the obsessive love Swann had for Odette.

Then the very young narrator goes to the Bois de Bologne - very much the Hyde Park of Paris in the late 19th Century - where he sees Mdme Swann promenading and falls a little in love with her as well. And we find out just who Mdme Swann is from conversation overheard by the young narrator without realizing the import. Let's just say that the hint made towards the end of Swann in Love of Odette getting fat and losing some of her looks, just before Swann breaks with her completely, is I believe a teaser by Proust of this information.

The very last few pages of Swann's Way take place in the narrator's adult years -- early 20th Century -- when one day he goes back to those walkways in the Bois only to find them changed by motorcars instead of carriages, and contemporary clothing instead of the beauty and elegance from his youth -- or what he considers more beautiful and elegant.


message 13: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 6125 comments The second discussion class last night was terrific! Size down to about half, which a friend says is typical but seemed to surprise the leader. He blames himself for not sending out an email reminder. My thought is we are all adults capable of keeping track of something like that and it being Proust, not an easy read, attrition would be high.

But it was all those who talked and became engaged last time. Lots of discussion, although I think some discussion got cut off a little too soon as the leader tried to keep things moving. However, those of us who got there a few minutes early were chatting away about it before the official start so all good.

Some interesting insights shared. Proust is a social satirist par excellence, and from what I understand, the French view him primarily as a superb humorous social satirist. However, the English speaking world reads from a different perspective - the side of Proust which is about the types of love and matters of the heart. Proust uses this and other dualities to engage the reader. For example, Odette is frequently described as very stupid by characters in the book, but she doesn't necessarily come across to the reader as stupid - uneducated, not refined, but clever and 'street smart' certainly. Swann is considered intellectually smart, a man of taste and refinement, yet to me as a reader he comes across as very shallow and hiding behind a facade of great taste and intellect, but it's just a facade and he's really stupid. Not everyone in the room agreed with me on this.

Have another 250 to 300 pages to read this next month. I'm attacking it differently - I'll read some each week, not all in the week leading up to the session!


message 14: by Joanne (last edited Oct 18, 2019 09:57AM) (new)

Joanne (joabroda1) | 7125 comments Again, I have to day that it is awesome that you have opportunities like this! Sounds so stimulating and fun! Of course only another "bookworm" would think of a literary discussion as fun.😉


message 15: by Holly R W (new)

Holly R W | 1116 comments Like Joanne, I think your discussion group sounds really interesting and well worth your time.


message 16: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 6125 comments It definitely is the way for me to read Proust - and others in the group say the same thing. I was actually a bit burned out before the class from reading 260 pages over basically 4 or 5 days, and was a bit concerned that I'd spent all this money on a reading group and am losing impetus. But the discussion last night has me ready to launch into the next book!

Being in NYC is such a blessing for anything literary from classics to latest publications. But there are so many forums on line to explore without the cost -- or needing to travel during a nor'easter to Brooklyn! Someone mentioned that they found an online read along at some point but too far into the reading for her to join.

However, I will say that you can find groups anywhere - someone just needs to ask around or suggest it. I'd start with local library. Even bookstores.


message 17: by Theresa (last edited Nov 22, 2019 02:37PM) (new)

Theresa | 6125 comments I don't know whether to pout, chastise myself, or maybe cry. I did not manage to read the full segment for this month's discussion. In fact I was a full 100 pages short and much of the discussion was about events or theme development for those 100 pages. No, I don't have a problem with spoilers - it's Proust after all and I've read different sections at different times anyway.

But I don't like not being on top of the reading. And it's also because of the reason I was not reading Proust - work has so dominated my time, my life, my mind, that I do not have the energy or time to read something like Proust. At least this month.

That means I have an extra 100 pages to read for December - which is always an incredibly busy month.

I'm going to set a schedule --- because if I keep slipping a bit, I'll be a volume behind in no time.

I still enjoyed and participated in the discussion - just not as I wanted.


message 18: by Joanne (new)

Joanne (joabroda1) | 7125 comments Theresa wrote: "I don't know whether to pout, chastise myself, or maybe cry. I did not manage to read the full segment for this month's discussion. In fact I was a full 100 pages short and much of the discussion w..."

Don't be too hard on yourself-If you don't work, you cannot buy books!


message 19: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 6125 comments I am tired and cranky. I will be way better after these few days off staying with dear friends.

But for now...I am whinging.


message 20: by Joanne (new)

Joanne (joabroda1) | 7125 comments Theresa wrote: "I am tired and cranky. I will be way better after these few days off staying with dear friends.

But for now...I am whinging."


Relax and enjoy!


message 21: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 6125 comments I'm seriously lagging...but discovered something today.

I just picked Proust up again last night to catch up. I've finished the minimum needed for 2019 in all challenges (except a Shakespeare play) for all groups and personal challenges. The most stressful and time consuming work is tapering off a bit. I can give this my attention and be prepared for next discussion meeting. Since I was reading in bad lighting, I was reading the ebook version I have - a later, slightly different translation - but good for poor lighting situations. And I just needed to get back into reading it.

This morning, I read the ebook a bit more, then switched over to the print edition. OMG, I really prefer reading this particular book in print not ebook! It just is reading better on the printed page for some reason, not on a screen. Frankly, it generally is not a difference I notice. Of course I love reading print books, a lot of my reading is print books, and I love the physicality of holding a print book. But the act of reading -- the words on the page as seen by my eyes and processed in my brain -- has never really affected me this way before.

It was instantaneous too. One minute I was reading the ebook, the next I'd grabbed the print version from my bag, found where I was, and started reading. I was immediately engrossed in a way I had not been while reading the ebook.

Who knew?


message 22: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 6125 comments I finally am caught up. Now I have 10 days to read the final book of Within the Budding Grove. It is 300 pages. Hopefully I have some time after tomorrow to read chunks at a time.


message 23: by Joanne (new)

Joanne (joabroda1) | 7125 comments Proud of you! With all you had going on, you stuck with it. What a present to yourself


message 24: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 6125 comments I have wondered for years about the content of the second volume in Proust's masterpiece, A L'Ombre des Jeunnes Filles en Fleur, because that is such an evocative title to me - literally In the Shadow of the Flowering Girls'. The accepted English translation on the books is Within a Budding Grove -- evocative but not nearly as salacious or suggestive as the French.

So I had long wondered about the subject matter contained between those covers...and while I still have 300 pages to go before finishing, I'm pretty confident that I know exactly what the title hints at and the book delivers. It's about the narrator's awakening - learning about love, sexual arousal, difference between infatuation and first love and deep love. Of the 3 women who enter his life (Odette, Gilberte, Albertine) as he becomes sexually aware and active, and how important they were to his maturity to adult relationships.


message 25: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 6125 comments I'm wrapping up my 2019, finally. Just before Christmas I finished Within the Budding Grove and thus the first volume! It really was about the narrator's transition into full sexual awareness and a long adolescent summer at the shore.

As I said in class, I really don't like the narrator. I find him shallow, immature, and just plain irritating. Damien, the discussion leader, posed an interesting question: does the author intend us to like the narrator? Or is the portrayal deliberate, meant to make us dislike him? Made me think - that we are not supposed to like him without reservation. Just as we are not supposed to like any of the specific characters presented unreservedly. After all, Proust presents everyone in some unflattering way. Some way that is cruel and unsympathetic. Isn't he doing the same to the narrator?

Perhaps the trap is by not giving the narrator a name, the reader identifies him as the author, and that the author presents himself as narrator in a sympathetic, even heroic way. And thus the reader falls into the author's trap.

Many interesting characters are introduced. This is the first time we really see and meet Baron Charlus -- and you can see him from the description! Saint Loup is also a great character, one who stands in contrast to his crude friend Bloch. Plus Saint Loup pulls him farther from Swann and closer to Guermantes.

And then of course we meet Albertine...

So I will be continuing my journey through Proust in 2020. I've started a new blog discussion for it there.


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