"Only in suffering do we realize beauty".Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust
was a French novelist, critic and essayist best known for his monumental À la recherche du temps perdu
(In Search of Lost Time
; earlier translated as Remembrance of Things Past
). It was published in seven parts between 1913 and 1927
Proust was born in Auteuil (the southern sector of Paris' then-rustic 16th arrondissement) at the home of his great-uncle, two months after the Treaty of Frankfurt formally ended the Franco-Prussian War. His birth took place during the violence that surrounded the suppression of the Paris Commune, and his childhood corresponds with the consolidation of the French Third Republic. Much of In Search of Lost Time concerns the vast changes
, most particularly the decline of the aristocracy
and the rise of the middle classes that occurred in France during the Third Republic and the fin de siècle.Proust's father
, Achille Adrien Proust, was a prominent pathologist and epidemiologist, responsible for studying and attempting to remedy the causes and movements of cholera through Europe and Asia; he was the author of many articles and books on medicine and hygiene. Proust's mother
, Jeanne Clémence Weil, was the daughter of a rich and cultured Jewish family from Alsace. She was literate and well-read; her letters demonstrate a well-developed sense of humour
, and her command of English was sufficient for her to provide the necessary assistance to her son's later attempts to translate John Ruskin
By the age of nine, Proust had his first serious asthma attack, and thereafter he was considered a sickly child. Proust spent long holidays in the village of Illiers. This village, combined with recollections of his great-uncle's house in Auteuil, became the model for the fictional town of Combray
, where some of the most important scenes of In Search of Lost Time
take place. (Illiers was renamed Illiers-Combray on the occasion of the Proust centenary celebrations.)
In 1882, at the age of eleven, Proust became a pupil at the Lycée Condorcet, but his education was disrupted because of his illness. Despite this he excelled in literature, receiving an award in his final year. It was through his classmates that he was able to gain access to some of the salons of the upper bourgeoisie, providing him with copious material for In Search of Lost Time
Despite his poor health, Proust served a year (1889–90) as an enlisted man in the French army, stationed at Coligny Barracks in Orléans, an experience that provided a lengthy episode in The Guermantes' Way
, part three of his novel. As a young man, Proust was a dilettante and a social climber whose aspirations as a writer were hampered by his lack of discipline. His reputation from this period, as a snob and an amateur, contributed to his later troubles with getting Swann's Way
, the first part of his large-scale novel
, published in 1913.
Proust had a close relationship with his mother
. To appease his father, who insisted that he pursue a career, Proust obtained a volunteer position at the Bibliothèque Mazarine in the summer of 1896. After exerting considerable effort, he obtained a sick leave that extended for several years until he was considered to have resigned. He never worked at his job, and he did not move from his parents' apartment until after both were dead.
Proust, who was homosexual
, was one of the first European novelists to mention homosexuality openly and at length in the parts of À la recherche du temps perdu
which deal with the Baron de Charlus
His life and family circle changed considerably between 1900 and 1905. In February 1903, Proust's brother Robert
married and left the family home. His father died in November of the same year. Finally, and most crushingly, Proust's beloved mother died in September 1905. She left him a considerable inheritance. His health throughout this period continued to deteriorate.
Proust spent the last three years of his life mostly confined to his cork-lined bedroom
, sleeping during the day and working at night to complete his novel. He died of pneumonia and a pulmonary abscess in 1922. He was buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
The books which compose the À la recherche du temps perdu cycle :
- Du côté de chez Swann (Swann's Way), 1913
- À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (Within a Budding Grove), 1919
- Le Côté de Guermantes (The Guermantes Way), 1920-21
- Sodome et Gomorrhe (Cities of the Plain), 1921/22
- La Prisonnière (The Captive), 1923
- La Fugitive/Albertine disparue (The Fugitive), 1925
- Le Temps retrouvé (The Past Recaptured, sometimes rendered as Time Regained), 1927
Other books :
- Les Plaisirs et les Jours (Pleasures and Days), 1894
- Jean Santeuil, unfinished
- Ruskin translations
- La Bible d'Amiens, 1906
- Sésame et les lys, 1906
- ''Contre Sainte-Beuve'', 1954 (posth.)
- Pastiches et mélanges, 1919
Marcel Proust's work provides examples of :
- Ambiguously Gay : Robert de Saint-Loup.
- Attention Whore: Charlus.
- Bi the Way: Swann, Odette and so on...
- Blue Blood: All the Guermantes family.
- Camp Gay: Charlus manages to combine this trope with its near-opposite, Armoured Closet Gay. His behaviour is Camp Gay in that he tends to be monumentally bitchy, only has sex with men and loves gossip, but on the other hand he dresses absolutely straight, conducts all his sexual affairs in secrecy and takes great offence at any suggestion that he's not thoroughly manly. (Then again, he takes great offence at pretty much anything.) Justified in-universe, insofar as although homosexuality hasn't been illegal in France since 1791 it was a potential source of social disgrace.
- Proust himself shared some of these characteristics, going so far as to fight a duel against someone who'd insinuated that he was having an affair with a male friend.
- Camp Straight: The Narrator.
- Cast Full of Gay: So many major characters turn out to be either gay, lesbian or bisexual that it's probably easier to list the ones who aren't.
- Covert Pervert: Albertine. At one point, in a fit of impatience with the Narrator's clinginess, she bursts out that she'd prefer to "go and get myself b-"...then she stops herself, and he doesn't figure out what she was going to say until much later. The original note makes it clear that she wasn't thinking of getting herself bathed.
- Daddy's Girl: Gilberte to Swann.
- Did They or Didn't They? : Albertine and the Narrator. Although, if they didn't, it's hard to think what else they were doing for hundreds of pages of La Prisonnière.
- Distant Finale: Most of "Time Regained" is set at a party the Narrator attends where we meet most of the characters who have survived to that point years or even decades after they last figured in the narrative. This inverts the trope as it is the novel's present.
- Does Not Understand Sarcasm: Doctor Cottard; once, the Narrator Towards M. Verdurin.
- Doorstopper: A la recherche du temps perdu itself. Most editions clock in at around 3000 pages. It is frequently considered the longest novel ever written.
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: Albertine.
- Dying Town: Combray.
- Embarrassing Nickname : Mémé, for "Palamède".
- End of an Age : The book deals with the vast changes of that time, most particularly the decline of the aristocracy and the rise of the middle classes that occurred in France during the Third Republic and the fin de siècle.
- Everybody Knows That: The Famous Madeleine Scene.
- Gentleman and a Scholar: Swann.
- Gentleman Snarker : The Narrator, Swann and Charlus.
- Girl Watching: The Narrator does this by himself, with Albertine and her friends at Combray.
- Good Parents : The Narrator's. His Grandmother also qualifies.
- Grande Dame : The Guermantes.
- Girl in the Tower : Metaphorically, Albertine in La Prisonnière.
- Intelligence Equals Isolation : The Narrator stays locked in his room, writing.
- It's Not Porn, It's Art : Elstir, the painter.
- Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Dr. Cottard and, to a certain extent, M. de Norpois.
- Large Ham: Charlus, with a side order of Drama Queen.
- Love Hurts: The whole point of La Fugitive. For hundreds of pages.
- Malaproper: The hotel manager; it's his entire character.
- Mistaken for Gay: Happens to the Narrator.
- Nameless Narrative: The Narrator hints that he has the same name as the book's author. But only once. In seven books.
- Never Got to Say Goodbye: The Narrator and Albertine.
- Ojou: Oriane de Guermantes, subtype Sugar and Ice Personality.
- Overly-Long Name: The Marquise douairière Zélia de Cambremer.
- The Philosopher: Many characters have a crack at this: Norpois, Brichot, Charlus. The whole book is in part about how the Narrator gets to be better at it than anyone else.
- Photographic Memory: A la recherche du temps perdu is a seven-volume deconstruction of this trope, the point being that the Narrator forgets about all the things that he cares about and he can't just remember things whenever he wants to. It takes some apparently random stimulus, like the taste of a cake dipped in tea or the act of tripping over a broken flagstone, and only then do his memory superpowers kick in.
- The Professor: Brichot. Subverted in that he's an idiot.
- Purple Prose: Legrandin talks in this.
- The original English translation suffered from this, but although Proust wrote very long sentences he didn't actually use purple prose and more recent versions are much closer to his tone.
- Rich Idiot with No Day Job: Played straight with the Duc de Guermantes but averted with the Duchesse, who is considerably smarter than her husband.
- Roman à Clef: Despite its reputation, A la recherche averts this. A lot of the characters are inspired by people Proust knew but he did so much swapping-around, conflating and generally fictionalising that it's more like Very Loosely Based on a True Story.
- Scenery Porn: The earlier books are full of this. Justified as the Narrator spends a lot of time visiting old churches, and also because two of the books are named after paths that he often walks along that turn out to link up with each other.
- Split Personality: The Narrator can be very tender with Albertine, but he's also extremely jealous and possessive and forbids her to go out.
- Take That: The Narrator's criticisms of Charlus' opinions about art and literature.
- Tsundere: Albertine with the Narrator. She is from the A type.
- Unnamed Parent: The Narrator's mother and father are never named.
- Unusual Euphemism: “faire catleya” means “to make love”.
- Upper-Class Wit: Charles Swann, Charlus.
- What Do You Mean, It's Not Awesome?: This is the Verdurins' attitude towards their "little clan".
- Wholesome Crossdresser : Odette de Crécy
- Writer's Block
- You Remind Me of X: Odette reminds Swann of a painting.