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MARCEL PROUST by William C. Carter

MARCEL PROUST

A Life

By William C. Carter

Pub Date: March 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-300-08145-6
Publisher: Yale Univ.

A masterful life of the eccentric pioneer who mapped the modern mind in Remembrance of Things Past (more accurately

translated here as In Search of Lost Time), by the noted Proust scholar (French/Univ. of Alabama at Birmingham; The Proustian

Quest, not reviewed).

In seeking to reveal how one of the century’s towering novelists (1871–1922) "came to produce what is arguably the most

brilliant, sustained prose narration in the history of literature," Carter has produced a long, loving annotation to the

autobiographical In Search. He explores his subject with a scholar's care, a novelist's eye, and a generous tolerance for readers

without French. His hero is invariably ill, most often with asthma, a condition he exacerbates with drugs, a nocturnal lifestyle,

and an erratic diet (in his last days he consumes only ice cream and beer; his death follows his adamant refusal to accept medical

treatment for pneumonia). Proust's legendary eccentricities are on full display: his cork-lined living quarters (to ensure the quiet

he craves), his vampirish avoidance of daylight, his endless revisions of his texts (In Search requires "one of the most demanding

productions in the history of publishing"), and his prodigality (he recklessly spends nearly all of his enormous inheritance).

Noting the fascination of Proust’s lifestyle for contemporary readers, Carter labors to explain his complicated sexuality (he fights

a duel with a reviewer who has suggested he is gay, but he also pursues young men, regarding waiters at the Ritz as a particular

delicacy) and is determined to establish that Proust "never attempted to deny his Jewish heritage." Not even Carter's considerable

narrative gifts, however, can make Proust's bedridden later years, marked by a contentious, complicated correspondence with his

publisher, as compelling as his early, more extroverted life.

A prodigious work, rich and racy, informed by fact, animated by imagination, utterly worthy of its wondrous subject. (47

illus., not seen)