An overwhelmingly comprehensive biography of the French novelist by a preeminent Proust scholar.
As a writer noted for his meditations on memory and psychology, Proust has in the past attracted biographers who indulged in a good deal of speculation and hypothesis, often mining the novels for biographical evidence. Tadié (French Literature/Sorbonne) eschews this approach, instead providing scrupulous documentation for every assertion and using verifiable information about Proust’s life to interpret his fiction rather than vice-versa. He traces Proust’s childhood in suburban Auteuil and rural Illiers (depicted as Combray in Du côté de chez Swann) and scrupulously reconstructs the writer’s student career in Paris, discussing Proust’s studies in philosophy and music as well as his complicated attachments to various young men. Proust soon discarded his legal studies in favor of a philosophy course, also subsumed before long as social and literary pursuits demanded his full attention. With financial support from his family, his career as an author began with a variety of reviews and essays while he was still a student, and it drew more attention with the publication of Les Plaisirs et les Jours. Although this collection of essays and short stories was not a financial success, Proust began to develop his material into a novel, Jean Santeuil (published posthumously). Following his mother’s death, he was debilitated by grief and chronic asthma, but he continued to write, producing articles, translations, and notes that he would draw upon for his masterpiece, À la recherche du temps perdu. This monumental work was published in eight parts between 1913 and 1927, with the last three volumes appearing after Proust’s death in 1922. Tadié excels at tracing the relationships between Proust and his many friends, admirers, and participants in the salons in which he circulated, profiling such literary luminaries as Lucien Daudet and Colette, and with equal perceptiveness he identifies the philosophers (Bergson, Emerson, and Ruskin) who influenced Proust’s work. He is less effective at recreating the atmosphere of the places in which Proust lived and traveled—disappointing in a biography of an author known for his extraordinarily vivid evocations of fin-de-siècle France.
Stil, the definitive biography of Proust and an illuminating companion to his novels.