In remembrance of Proust

swanns way girl readingPaula Marantz Cohen, The Smart Set

I have been thinking about literary celebrity. In particular, the extravagant eulogising attached to a select group of dead writers. There’s nothing like death to boost one’s literary celebrity (think Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton).

At the zenith lie  Shakespeare and Jane Austen. They’re brands. They exist as memes in western culture — and in Eastern culture too, where film versions of their work, if not the work itself, are well known and adapted to the native idiom in turn. Bride and Prejudice — Jane Austen goes Bollywood — comes to mind.

Fast-approaching Shakespeare and Austen in literary celebrity is James Joyce. Joyceans gather in Dublin on Bloomsday to follow the path of Leopold Bloom in Ulysses and engage in endless exegesis of the most minute facets of the work (i.e., was Leopold Bloom circumcised?), while fortifying themselves with plentiful doses of Irish whisky.

And so we come to Proust and the 100th anniversary of the publication of A Cote de Chez Swann (Swann’s Way), the first volume in the seven-volume masterwork, A La Recherche de Temps Perdu, popularly known (if such a phrase can be affixed to Proust) as Remembrance of Things Past, but more correctly translated as In Search of Lost Time.

Proust is a hard sell. His sentences are long, and you can sometimes get lost in the syntax, but it’s not that Proust is hard to understand that is the primary difficulty; it’s that he’s hard to appreciate without a particular kind of sensibility.

Discover how to better appreciate Proust at The Smart Set …