Remembrance Of Things Past 2008 discussion

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message 1: by Robin (new)

Robin (robinh-b) | 22 comments Ahoy there! So glad you’re joining us. I am loving my (re)reading of Swann’s Way, and hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am. So much to talk about, it’s hard to know where to begin. So I’ll begin with one part of a gazillion that stands out for its amazing insight. Personally, I really got into his description of his mother reading to him (p.57 paperback of the Modern Library Montcrieff/Kilmartin/Enright edition, p.42 in the hardback of the Penguin Lydia Davis edition). Almost (!) justifies his Oedipal feelings toward her:

“If my mother was not a faithful reader, she was, none the less, admirable
when reading a work in which she found the note of true feeling by the
respectful simplicity of her interpretation and by the sound of her sweet
and gentle voice.[…] And so, when she read aloud the
prose of George Sand, prose which is everywhere redolent of that
generosity and moral distinction which Mamma had learned from my
grandmother to place above all other qualities in life, and which I was
not to teach her until much later to refrain from placing, in the same
way, above all other qualities in literature; taking pains to banish from
her voice any weakness or affectation which might have blocked its channel
for that powerful stream of language, she supplied all the natural
tenderness, all the lavish sweetness which they demanded to phrases which
seemed to have been composed for her voice, and which were all, so to
speak, within her compass. She came to them with the tone that they
required, with the cordial accent which existed before they were, which
dictated them, but which is not to be found in the words themselves, and
by these means she smoothed away, as she read on, any harshness there
might be or discordance in the tenses of verbs, endowing the imperfect and
the preterite with all the sweetness which there is in generosity, all the
melancholy which there is in love; guided the sentence that was drawing to
an end towards that which was waiting to begin, now hastening, now
slackening the pace of the syllables so as to bring them, despite their
difference of quantity, into a uniform rhythm, and breathed into this
quite ordinary prose a kind of life, continuous and full of feeling.”

(This is Montcrieff b/f Kilmartin and Enright -- so much easier to copy an online version of the text, such as

I hope we’ve all had people read to us in a like manner -- parents, grandparents, teachers, books on tape, whatever. THIS is what creates a reader out of a child, and what everyone needs. And of course I think he’s instructing us as well -- this is how we should read, and how we should read his prose. I read about a guy online who read all of In Search of Lost Time aloud to his wife over the course of two winters, and that sounds like such a turn-on to me. Recognizing the poetry in the spoken rhythm. Gorgeous.

For those of you not quite to p.40 or 50, I hope I didn’t spoil it for you -- yes, his mother does make it upstairs to him to read him a bedtime story! What a plot twist! (Yes, George Sand as bedtime story! Is it so surprising that he grew up to write this tome?)

How’s it going for everyone else?

message 2: by Pamela (new)

Pamela (inverness) | 24 comments I actually finished Swann's about 8 weeks ago. So, as soon as I wrap up Gogol's Dead Souls, I'm onto volume 2.

I fell in love with the opening passages about furniture and waking reminded me of Karl Marx, as crazy as that sounds. Marx said we are alienated from the everyday products on which we depend. We have no idea who made, manufactured that chair...While Marcel may not have known who made that dresser, he surely knew that object in the most profound way.

..."The door handle of the room, which was different to me from all the other doorhandles in the world, seemed to open of its own accord and without my having to turn it, so unconscious had its manipulation become; lo and behold it was now an astral body for Golo..."

Doesn't furniture take on another character at night, surrounded by shadows, and our imagination?

I also like how Marcel wasn't coddled by his parents. I like how his dad is frustrated by this little guy -- I can relate to a little distance from parents, as mean as that maybe. (I don't have kids, in case you're worried!)

I read part of vol 1. to my husband. He really does not like Proust's windy sentences (flowery, and French!) he's a Vonnegut/Dostoyevsky kind of a guy -- but he did enjoy my reading of my favorite passages.

message 3: by Kerrilynn (new)

Kerrilynn I started reading this a few years ago... I feel like I remember the first few chapters... I'm going to start it again with you all. :-) I do remember that passage about his mother and the bedtime story!!!

message 4: by Paul (new)

Paul Allopenna (pallopenna) | 3 comments I'm trying, where possible, to read several of the translations at once. Very early on, there's a passage that I think is interesting, both because I suspect that the Kilmartin/Enright & Davis translations pick up on an intended play of words, where the original Moncrieff translations does not (I don't read French, so I don't know this for sure), and because I suspect that this little passage captures something very central to the novel as a whole (but what do I know; I'm only 60 pages into it now). There is a great essay by Samuel Beckett on Proust in which he (Beckett) discusses the role of habit in the novel at great length. Of the three, I prefer the Davis translation because it both captures the play on words (if I'm right), and seems less forced than the Kilmartin/Enright version (at least for this small passage). It's a passage that has a beautiful shape, and contains very rich ideas about the complex relationship between the mind & memory on the one hand, with immediate perception, on the other. I've quoted all three translations (spelling theirs) below.


"Custom! that skilful but unhurrying manager who begins by torturing the mind for weeks on end with her provisional arrangements; whom the mind, for all that, is fortunate in discovering for without the help of custom it would never contrive, by its own efforts, to make any room seem habitable."


"Habit! that skilful but slow-moving arranger who begins by letting our minds suffer for weeks on end in temporary quarters, but whom our minds are none the less only too happy to discover at last, for without it, reduced to their own devices, they would be powerless to make any room seem habitable."


"Habit! That skillful but very slow housekeeper who begins by letting our mind suffer for weeks in a temporary arrangement; but whom we are nevertheless truly happy to discover, for without habit our mind, reduced to no more than its own resources, would be powerless to make a lodging habitable."


message 5: by Kerrilynn (new)

Kerrilynn the version I have was originally translated by Moncrieff and Kilmartin, then later revised by Enright. Do happen to know which page that passage is from.

Anyway, I'm actually really curious to read the French version, although my French is quite rusty. I used to be fluent... and perhaps reading these in French could be refreshing. lol. It is interesting how people translate things... Which is one of the main reasons I want to read this in French and compare to the translations.

message 6: by Pamela (new)

Pamela (inverness) | 24 comments Your quotes are a perfect way to start our journey.

An acting teacher said, "Discipline opens the door to freedom." This is certainly more prosaic, but apt. Thank you for sharing.

message 7: by Paul (new)

Paul Allopenna (pallopenna) | 3 comments Yes, sorry I did not reference these quotes. For the Moncrieff (Penguin books, 1999), the quote is on page 6, near the bottom of the page. If you have the old vintage editions from the 1970s, it can be found in the middle of page 7.

I have the Modern Library Paperback version of the Moncrieff & Kilmartin/Engright translation from 1998. There is a newer version of this paperback edition and I can't be sure that the pagination is the same. In my edition the passage can be found at the bottom of page 8 continuing to page 9.

For the Davis translation the passage can be found in the last full paragraph on page 8 of the US printed paperback.

I am interested in finding out if anyone is reading secondary sources along with the novel.


message 8: by Maundering (new)

Maundering | 1 comments I just started reading this for the first time yesterday (42 p in) and stumble upon this group today. What awesome luck/timing for me! It's easily, already, one of my favorite reading experiences ever. I really look forward to making this group a daily part of my Remembrance experience.

message 9: by Arthur (new)

Arthur | 5 comments Do many people too have unclear ideas about this book? I started two days ago. A rough beginning, I believe what everyone is saying. But read on, I promise to keep up. I believe everyone will have a say. I'm interested in what everyone has to say so far.

message 10: by Robin (new)

Robin (robinh-b) | 22 comments Welcome, Maundering! Very serendipitous. And glad that you're already having fun.

Pamela, I love your Marx comment -- very apt here.

And Kerrilyn, that would be awesome if at least one of us were reading it in the French! Go for it. Or were you saying you read it in French too, Pamela?

Paul, I was just thinking about habit while reading last night (probably helps that I recently finished Ann Patchett's The Patron Saint of Liars set in a town called Habit which she used to great effect, although the book was so-so), so I'm happy to hear that Beckett gave it some thought. I'll get my hands on it one of these days. My secondary sources are going to be pretty sparse right now due to time constraints, but I would love to hunker down with some. I did do a little reading online about the various translations, and since I've read the Kilmartin/Enright version twice before, I got the Davis one out of the library. I do like it (and LOVE Davis' collection of short stories entitled Samuel Johnson Is Indignant), but I haven't yet studied passages side-by-side other than here:

Arthur, if you need a little synopsis to help you along, that website provides a decent one, and if you're reading the Modern Library or Penguin editions, there's a passage-by-passage synopsis in the back that could help you as well.

message 11: by Pamela (new)

Pamela (inverness) | 24 comments Robin, no French for me! The English version is challenging enough.

Arthur, keep going. There are parts of the book that are difficult, but (and I know Robin will agree) there are also sublime passages. I won't give anything away, but it becomes a good old-fashioned page-turner in the last half.

message 12: by Arthur (new)

Arthur | 5 comments Thank you for your attention Robin, and Pamela. I'm also interested in history. But am enjoying Swann's Way so far, and I am going at a decent pace. I've had these books on my reading self for eleven years.

message 13: by Pamela (last edited Aug 08, 2008 04:56AM) (new)

Pamela (inverness) | 24 comments Please bear with me, as I have the kindle version. I cannot supply any page numbers.

SPOILER ALERT? About Marcel's invalid aunt:

I enjoyed this passage: "In short, my aunt stipulated, at one and the same time, that whoever came to see her must approve of her way of life, commiserate with her in her sufferings, and assure her of an ultimate victory." I enjoyed his characterization of the aunt. What is fun about PRoust (and Flaubert did this just as well in Madame Bovary) is his sense of humor. He reveals how tricky the rules of bourgeois (sp?) society is, how easily one can fall out of favor. Aren't we all this way? We want just enough sympathy, but not too much. The aunt is somewhat ridiculous -- but we all have a hint of her.

message 14: by Pamela (new)

Pamela (inverness) | 24 comments This is all I'll say about volume 2, until we're all there -- I promise.

I am re-reading my favorite passages in Vol. 1, and reading Vol. 2 at the same time. I just wanted to let those of you who haven't yet read Swann's Way (probably most of us!) through that the books transition seemlessly. Picking up 2 is like reuniting with an old friend.

I bring this up, because for me, Swann's Way was a tough read, at times, but so worth it.

message 15: by Robin (new)

Robin (robinh-b) | 22 comments Wow, Pamela -- does that mean that you're reading this all online? As I was sitting in the airport today watching all of these hip-and-happening people with their laptops, I was wondering how many of them were reading Proust. (Not!)

I love his aunt too. She is hilarious and very familiar. And the tragedy when her only two visitors happen to visit at the same time! Goodness. Her nightmare about her husband being alive and trying to get her to take a walk every day is priceless. As is her relationship with Francoise.

While the two long walks at the end of Part I of Swann's Way can seem to drag a bit amidst their gorgeous descriptions and his trying to find the meaning hidden under the beauty (and the brief "sadistic" lesbian scene), I do really enjoy his account of adolescent desire. He really nails the tone and spirit.

Thanks for assuring us that the transition to Vol. 2 is seemless, Pamela. Good inspiration. I'm feeling very optimistic. I'm 30 or so pages into the 2nd part of Swann's Way (Swann in Love) and am laughing a lot at the characterizations of the Verdurins' social set.

message 16: by Pamela (last edited Aug 11, 2008 02:04AM) (new)

Pamela (inverness) | 24 comments The Verdurins remind me of the popular kids in school, and you must behave just-so, or face social banishment. Social circles are so tricky, aren't they? Poor Swann.

Oh,Robin- I'm not reading it online. The kindle is mainly a text-reader, and used off-line. It's similar to reading a regular book, believe it or not.

message 17: by Pamela (new)

Pamela (inverness) | 24 comments Hey guys,

Before I'm off to Germany for two weeks, (Berlin promises a rich backdrop for Proust -- just think of the 20th Century!), I wanted to send you an article by novelist Jane Smiley. She did exactly what we're bravely attempting.

Be forewarned -- there are a few spoilers, so skim carefully.

message 18: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 3 comments Where is everyone in the book? I've been finishing up class and am ready to join the discussion. Thanks!

message 19: by Pamela (last edited Aug 22, 2008 05:11AM) (new)

Pamela (inverness) | 24 comments Whitney,
I was wondering the same.

I imagine many are up to the Odette story? If not, SPOILERS BELOW.

What do you think of Odette? I finished Madame Bovary just before this book, and suspect some serious misogyny. Madame Bovary was just a tad less likable, in my opinion, than Proust's Odette. I don't think Proust humanizes her enough. She was a courtesan, and I imagine that might have been an emotionally trying lifestyle, to say the least. Now, I did read this book a few months ago, though, so my memories are not so fresh, perhaps. What do you guys think -- does Proust do this important female character justice?

Of course, I feel so terribly for Swann, who is so crazily in love with her. You cannot help but want to scream, "Play much harder to get, dammit!" And -- of course, it's painful for another reason. Against our better judgement, we might make fouls of ourselves to those who do not reciprocate our love/obsession.

message 20: by Robin (new)

Robin (robinh-b) | 22 comments Hey, gang! (How many remain? And, hey, it's fine if you're still only 50 pages in!) I got a little behind in my goal because of other commitments, so I'm a little over halfway through with Vol. 1 (Swann's Way). Yes, I'm in the thick of the Swann/Odette romance.

Let me start by saying, for those of you who are bogged down by the preciousness of the narrator in the first half of Swann's Way and are feeling stifled by his perspective, that Part 2 is ALL about Swann and Odette and their social circle, so you will get a break from the navel-gazing. (And I hear that the narrator eventually gets a little older at some point.) I read the article Pamela mentioned above (I'm fine with spoilers in a work like this!), and although I'm really not a Jane Smiley fan at all, she did have several good insights. In speaking of the preciousness of the narrator, she ends her article with this:

"But M.'s [the narrator's] sensibility is so fine and so unfiltered that diagnosing him is forgotten in favor of observing him as he observes himself observing everyone around him. His sense of discrimination is robust; his eye is keen; his literary being is abundance itself. He is a man too busy to mourn because he must re-create what is no longer."

As for Swann/Odette [SPOILER ALERT], I guess I'm not far enough along to feel sorry for Swann yet. And I can't judge Odette yet, either. I thought how he fell in love with her was pretty amusing -- can anyone else relate to that feeling of expecting to find someone you have a crush on in some place and then not finding him/her there, and that moving your crush along at a breaknecking pace?

And that moment b/f their first kiss where Swann

"give[s] his mind time to catch up, to recognize the dream it had caressed for so long and to be present at its realization, like a relative summoned to witness the success of a child she has loved very much. Perhaps Swann was also fastening upon this face of an Odette he had not yet possessed, an Odette he had not yet even kissed, this face he was seeing for the last time, the gaze with which, on the day of our departure, we hope to carry away with us a landscape we are about to leave forever." Ah.

(This is the Lydia Davis translation. The D.J. Enright translation is clunkier, and that last bit is written in the third person "he" as opposed to Davis' first person plural. Hmmm. Wonder which one Proust used? My Davis version was due at the library two days ago, so unfortunately I'll have to plod on without her.)

I know this is way too long, but one more thing: so far I feel a lot more sympathy for Odette than for Swann. The way he doesn't consider that she exists when she's out of his sight, and the way that he refuses to discuss Vermeer and such with her b/c he thinks she's dumb. She likes the idea of his interest in art, and I love Proust's/Davis' characterization of this: "[W]hat spoke to her imagination was not the practice of disinterestedness, but its vocabulary." (The disinterestedness being that for one's monetary interests in favor of the art/antiques of a previous century prior to this "commercial century." So she sulks that Swann won't speak to her of his chief interests in art -- beyond that darn phrase of Vinteuil's. [I mean, I can listen to some songs over and over again, but SHEESH.] And is annoyed by Swann's "broken furniture and threadbare carpets," but I don't think the narrator is chastising her for this.) Give me time to get into how Odette betrays him.

Ok, I had a lot to get off my chest. Please join in the discussion, even it it's only for a sentence or two! Really!

message 21: by Paul (new)

Paul Allopenna (pallopenna) | 3 comments I just want everyone to know that I'll be back after the first of September; I'm in the middle of moving, and my daughter's third birthday is coming up (some things take even longer than reading Proust...)

message 22: by Arthur (new)

Arthur | 5 comments I'm p.135 Going strong. I should finish sometime even.

message 23: by Pamela (last edited Aug 24, 2008 06:52AM) (new)

Pamela (inverness) | 24 comments Well, people might have noticed I like to go on a bit in my posts! But Robin, your writing is focused, and I enjoy reading it. Anyhow, it isn't always easy to be succint, when dealing with such a wordy writer!

Er, SPOILERS, for those who are not yet acquainted with the Swann-Odette intrigue

I find it interesting that you sympathize with her. I suspect a little latent sexism on my part, and had to remind myself that Swann was rather unrealistic in expecting a courtesan, of all people, to be so loyal! It reminds me of the Montgomery Clift character in "From Here to Eternity," who sweetly admits to jealousy when his prostitute crush (played by Donna Reed!) talks to another bloke. But Swann isn't (in my view) quite as likable as the Clift character.

message 24: by Arthur (new)

Arthur | 5 comments I was able to finish. Despite I’ve had it on my shelves for 11 years. It was great to read. Now what can I agree or comment about? This is just a link to my review so I wouldn't need to post it twice. Not that I mistaken this board for reviews. I just don't think how there was enough quotable passages. There were far too many to post anywhere, even with a computer.

message 25: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 3 comments I feel sympathetic to Swann, and Proust has convinced me that Odette is gauche. Maybe I feel sympathetic to the narrator - it's rough having a friend fall for someone whom you don't view as as sophisticated as they are...

Anyway, I was disturbed that Swann wasn't able to admit that he liked/loved Odette until he thought of her as Zipporah in Botticelli's Youth of Moses. He had to use his idea of good taste to justify her and make her out to be someone she isn't. His objectification of her really bothered me, but then I realized that he describes lots of characters as pieces of art - the coachman as a bust of a Voge, Bloch as the Sultan, the kitchen maid as Charity, etc. Does Swann objectify everyone because he thinks he's better than them and needs to elevate them to his taste? Is it complimentary to the person? He does say that Odette and the fresco enhance each other.

What parts of Swann's personality are actually Proust's? Although I haven't read the rest of the volumes, I think that some of Swann has to be Proust...

I'm finished with Swann's Way, so I read "Proust's Aesthetic Analogies: Character and Painting in Swann's Way" by Jeffery Meyers, an article in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism (found it on JStor) - highly recommend it if the art element of Swann's Way is interesting to you.

Meyers says that art and remembering paintings is another way to weave memory into the novel. Maybe one of the most important things about the memory of a painting is what it reminds you of in life - if art has value when it's compared to life, comparing life to art isn't meant to be malicious objectification - it actually gives life more beauty, value, etc.

message 26: by Pamela (new)

Pamela (inverness) | 24 comments Whitney--

I love your observation about Swann's inability to admit he didn't fall for her until related her likeness to a highbrow work of art.

She is, at the end of the day, a courtesan -- a polite, lovely-sounding term for prostitute. She was a victim, as well. She had to serve her clients, as a matter of survival.

Let's not forget, however: Swann could be her ticket out. Her courting of him is cynical, for sure, and cruel. Couldn't the author have showed a glimpse of the dark side of her profession: the objectification, sexually transmitted diseases...Hardly an easy life, especially compared to a successful member of the bourgeosie. Yes, Odette is cruel, but I suspect she has her reasons.

I do sense a misogynist tone with Proust, and I believe this continues with the next volume, although I'm interested in everybody else's views.

message 27: by Robin (last edited Sep 07, 2008 01:12PM) (new)

Robin (robinh-b) | 22 comments I finished Volume I -- whoo hoo! I would say that I still ended up not having pity for Swann. Like Pamela, I also enjoyed what you had to say, Whitney, about his relationship with art and his appreciation of people (LOVED the description of the Saint-Euverte party, for instance). That, coupled with his continuously putting Odette down, even while in the throes of love, just made him such a selfish snob. His falling out with the Verdurin crowd was a result of his lack of civility (not that they were brimming with it):

"In reality there was not one of the "faithful" who was not infinitely more malicious than Swann, but they all took the precaution of tempering their calumnies with obvious pleasantries, with little sparks of emotion and cordiality; while the slightest reservation on Swann's part, undraped in any such conventional formula as "Of course, I don't mean to be unkind," to which he would not have deigned to stoop, appeared to them a deliberate act of treachery."

And even AFTER he's decided he can't leave Paris at all or even go one day without seeing Odette, he totally denigrates her:

"It was true that Swann had often reflected that Odette was in no way a remarkable woman, and there was nothing especially flattering in seeing the supremacy he wielded over someone so inferior to himself proclaimed to all the "faithful"; but since he had observed that to many other men besides himself Odette seemed a fascinating and desirable woman, the attraction which her body held for them had aroused in him a painful longing to secure the absolute mastery of even the tiniest particles of her heart."

So yes, Pamela, I agree -- lots of objectification and misogyny, but I like to think that the narrator is aware of it and is making fun of Swann -- and himself. Of course in Part III (Place-Names - The Name) the narrator says that he totally empathizes with Swann because of his own (related!) unrequited love. I like to think it's a little tongue-in-cheek, the older narrator looking back at his boyhood desires and comparing them to Swann's foolish ones. (After all, the narrator calls his desire for Gilberte "something purely personal, unreal, tedious and ineffectual." I would say that's a judgment of Swann, but of course Swann's desires have long-lasting consequences....

So, in short, yes, I do think Proust is saying something about himself in Swann's novel-within-a-novel, especially as supposedly all the themes of the entire work are here in the first volume, but I like to think that he's being critical of that part of himself that is pathetic like Swann.

But I'm a postmodern feminist at heart, so take my reading with a HUGE grain of salt. :)

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