Proust: Hints of the “Accomplishment”

August 29, 2013

(midway through  “Within a Budding Grove”


as before,  overwhelmed by the scope of Proust’s ambition and by how successfully he is accomplishing it.  I use the present participle “accomplishing” because the narrative has not yet arrived at the conclusion, the “accomplishment” that I don’t yet know how to define. But I suspect that it will get there. I sense that there is a grand design to this book despite the superabundance of detail and the minute examination of words and gestures that seem tangential, sometimes irrelevant. But irrelevant to what?  I bring to the reading an expectation that there be “dramatic arc.” There is none that I can yet detect, 600 plus pages into the novel. It is rather an “architecture” assembled out of an astounding collection of details – material things, petty concerns and social transactions, the injuries and triumphs of a caste of humans whose main occupation seems to be to refine the arts of the snob – aristocrats and haute bourgeoisie alike –


among whom, however, is a completely believable gathering of real people, amazingly rich and true in psychological detail: Francine, (the family servant and the narrator’s nanny,) Odette (now Mme Swann,) Charles Swann, their daughter Ghilberte, M. de Norpois, the writer Bergotte, and of course, the central figure in the novel, Marcel, the narrator, the would-be writer, “would be” because in “Within a Budding Grove”  he is still an adolescent, the young adult who has literary ambitions


–and  who, at the same time, is the one who is writing the book. This creates one of the most interesting frissons in the narrative, moments when the narrator is both in the present, suffering, thinking, loving, and in the distant future remembering, looking back. These are like moments in a movie when a character steps out of character and addresses the audience across the brain barrier of the screen,  (Mrs. Waters, formerly Jenny the servant girl, in Richardson’s “Tom Jones” comes to mind.)

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