"Life can be realised within the confines of a book"-Proust,
This review is from: In Search of Lost Time, Volume 6: Time Regained, A Guide to Proust (Hardcover)
The melancholy atmosphere that pervaded the close of The Fugitive is carried over into this final part of Proust's huge work. Whereas, in the preceding part, Marcel laments the loss of Albertine and his changed relationship with his long time friend, Saint Loup, the author's concerns are now much greater. France is in the midst of World War I, Paris experiencing night time air raids; and the distinction between the Guermantes' Way and Swann's Way has become even more blurred as both Gilberte, the daughter of a courtesan, and Mme. Verdurin, the insufferable salon hostess, have become members of the mystic Guermantes family. Furthermore, Saint Loup is killed in action and Marcel's hometown is occupied by the Germans. But in spite of the gravity of the events surrounding him, Marcel becomes even more self-absorbed. He still holds onto his drean of becoming a writer, but this desire begins to wane as he becomes convinced that he has neither the temperament, the knowledge nor the fortitude to follow a literary career. Then the pivotal event of the whole novel takes place: he is invited to a matinee at the new home of the Prince de Guermantes.
While waiting in an anteroom for admission to the Guermantes' reception, the author is beset by a series of sensory experiences that bring back several happy memories from his past. These recollections, both powerful and joyous, convince him that he has the ability to undertake a literary career, to be able to communicate those ecstatic moments from the past to readers of the present day. His melancholy lifted, he enters the reception to discover that his recent epiphany is only bolstered by what he finds. All around him are the decaying remnants of a fast fading aristocracy. Many of the characters that have been introduced to the reader throughout the course of the novel are met again, but now in the final years of their lives: the proud Charlus, now an obsequious old man; the Duc de Guermantes, described as a "magnificent ruin"; Gilberte, now confused with her aging mother; even Marcel becomes aware that he, too, is quickly getting old. But now seeing things with an artist's eye, Marcel becomes aware that each of these characters, as well as all those people remembered from his life, are "like giants plunged into the years, [touching] the distant epochs through which they have lived, between which so many days have come to range themeselves - in Time." Marcel's goal is clear. He will spend the rest of his life carefully bringing these giants back to life. In other words, he is ready to embark on the huge task of writing the book that the reader has just finished reading.
This part of the novel was published five years after the author's death and suffers from a lack of editing. There are many ellipses, contradictions, and time and place juxtapostion mistakes, errors that Proust would surely have tidied up if he had lived to see his work published in full. But these are paltry criticisms wthen compared to the brilliance of the total work. Unfortunately, Proust is little read these days, and many of those who attempt to read the novel are motivated by the challenge of a literary marathon more than from an awareness of the intrinsic value of the work (as I was). But regardless of the motivation, the effort (and it is an effort) is totally rewarding as the reader sees in Proust's world reflections of his own. It took me a part of seven years to read the complete novel, a period of time in which Proust's search for lost time and my own reminiscences often became linked together as the author's characters shared my own thoughts regarding things past, the specious present, and the eventual fate that awaits us all.
Kilmartin's A Guide to Proust, which is included in this volume is well worth the price of the book by itself. The guide consists of four distinct inexes to Proust's novel: characters, historical persons, places and themes. The scholarship that went into compliling these indexes is outstanding and makes it possible for the reader to spend several years (if he so wishes) in working his way through the novel without losing track of the hundreds of characters and personages included therein. One reviewer remarked, "buy this volume first"; I would only modify this advice by suggesting that the prospective reader get this volume when he purchases Swann's Way.