MARCEL PROUST: SELECTED LETTERS: Vol. II 1904-1909 by Marcel Proust


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Proust being history's greatest chronicler of social existence, any of his letters--no matter how effusive or fawning or baroquely trivial--serves as evidence of language put to use in support of human infrastructure. These letters, meticulously edited and footnoted by Philip Kolb, are invaluable as source tools for reading Recherche, of course; but the period they isolate in Proust's life was transitional. He has just come to the end of his translating labors on John Ruskin, and is only tentatively considering starting on his own work. Thinking about the work he's eventually going to call Contre Sainte-Beuve, Proust writes to Madame de Noailles in 1908: ""The idea has taken shape in my mind in two different ways between which I cannot choose, but I have neither the willpower nor the clearsightedness to do so. The first would be a classical essay, an essay in the manner of Taine, only a thousand times less good (except for the content which I think is new). The second begins with an account of a morning, my waking up and Mas coming to my bedside; I tell her I have an idea for a study of Sainte-Beuve; I submit it to her and develop it."" To discover where Sainte-Beuve dropped out of the idea and Mama and the bedside began to replace it totally; to see what glory came out of the idea of the essay-cum-novel--this is not inherent yet in this period's letters. But everywhere is Proust's manipulation of politesse, self-denial, and utter consciousness that will make what eventually will come forth inevitable.

Pub Date: Sept. 4th, 1989
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press