What I Have Learned from Reading Marcel Proust
In Search of Lost Time is known as one of the most famous and highest values novels ever. And the longest, it consists of seven volumes. Only the first book is 431 pages. The famous quote on the madeleine cake dipped in linden flower tea is to be found on page 50. How many have read more than that?
This year is 100 years since it first got published, the same year the French author himself passed away only 51 years old. It’s time to have a look.
My husband happens to have this whole piece with him on our yacht. In 2019 we sold almost everything we had and bought an ocean-cruising boat to live and sail around the world. We had a huge number of books at home in Stockholm. Only the dearest was allowed to follow us. I have mostly been reading non-fiction books earlier, so it took some time for me to pick up Proust.
I read it and found it both fascinating and a bit complicated to follow his very detailed descriptions and observations, of both his outer and inner world. Proust writes about his memories from his childhood, especially his love and longing for connection with his mother. He can never get enough of her, and the bedtime kiss is eagerly important. Later, he continues sharing about other relationships with women. The language is, of course, beautiful and very well written.
Anyway, afterward, I felt a little… judgmental. My husband asked me what I got out of the first book (he’s reading number five right now). I said I thought he was so anxious all the time. It annoyed me that he wasn’t more independent when it came to contact with women. It creeped me out when he did everything he could to please her, even if it meant being dishonest with himself. Proust reflects on it himself, so no blame on him, this is just my experience reading him.
At the same point I shared above I realized that this anxiousness of course had to do with me. And I started to think about my relationship with my mother, which now is very good I first must declare. But as a little kid, I am pretty sure I also longed for more of her presence. I was the first kid, and my sister arrived five days before my one-year anniversary. And three years later my brother got born. I grew up as my father’s daughter. I started to write down my memories of my mother in my diary, now from a new angle and new layers got uncovered.
For me, this experience and connection to my own life was a sign of the greatness of the novel. It touches on the most essential to being a human. The relationship with our mother is that core. No one can escape this fact. She gave us birth. For nine months we have magically been growing in her body.
Later in an article about Proust on BBC Culture, I read that Proust’s goal was that the reader should recognize herself: my readers will not be my readers, but their own readers, my book will be nothing but a kind of magnifying glass through which they can read themselves.
He succeeded. And my husband says the intricate weave is getting wiser and more luminous about human relations the longer one reads.
I welcome you to join us in the reading of a masterpiece.
I would also love to hear from you about what you read about yourself when reading Proust.
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