Also reviewed here:
email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
10th Grade202432 Stories4th of July99 DaysA Change in AltitudeA Demon in My ViewA Dream of WolvesA Falling KnifeA Finely Tuned Apathy MachineA Heart of StoneA Life Lived RidiculouslyA Multitude of SinsA Parting GiftA Question of BloodA Quiet PlaceA Red Heart of MemoriesA River SutraA Short History of Tractors in UkrainianA Slight Trick of the MindA Stir of BonesA Thousand Miles from NowhereA Voyage Long and StrangeA Wedding in December About a BoyAbraham LincolnAcross the River and Into the TreesActs of GodAfrican PsychoAfter DarkAfter YouAfter You'd GoneAfterwardsAgenda for MurderAliens in the Prime of Their LivesAll Alone in the UniverseAll Families Are PsychoticAll in the MindAll the Way HomeAltered LandAlternatives to SexAmanda's WeddingAmelia RulesAmericaAmerica AmericaAmnesiaAmong the DepartedAn Object of BeautyAngelsAngry Youth Comix #2AnimosityAnne SextonAre You Experienced?Aristotle and Poetic JusticeAristotle DetectiveArlington ParkArtemis FowlAs Hot as It Was You Ought to Thank MeAsking For MurderAtonementAway Laughing on a Fast CamelBabylon and Other StoriesBad BoyBad SeedBag Of BonesBalancing ActsBarbara the Slut and Other PeopleBeach RoadBeat the ReaperBeautiful GirlsBed of RosesBefore I Go to SleepBefore the FrostBeg the QuestionBeginner's GreekBellyBeneath the SkinBenedictionBest New American VoicesBig BrotherBilly and GirlBiteBlack & WhiteBlack HelicoptersBlack Market TruthBlameBlanketsBleed for MeBlind SightBlonde FaithBlood, Salt, WaterBlueprints for Building Better GirlsBody SurfingBoneMan's DaughtersBoneyardBoneyardBoomsdayBorder CrossingBoth Ways Is the Only Way I Want ItBoysBracketBrain TrustBrava, ValentineBreaking Out of BedlamBreathing UnderwaterBrick LaneBridge of SighsBridget JonesBridget Jones's DiaryBrief Interviews with Hideous MenBruisesBrüselBullyBurn, Bitchy, BurnButterflyBy BloodBy The Sea ShoreCalled to KillCanadaCanvasCaricatureCase HistoriesCellCemetery DanceChange of HeartChangesChasing the DimeChild 44Cinema PanopticumCinnamon KissCirceCircle NineCity of the LostClay's WayClose toYouClose Your EyesCloud 9 AffairCoincidenceCold CaseCold HitCold in HandCollected StoriesCome Up and See Me SometimeComfort and JoyCompulsionConfessions of a ShopaholicConfessions of an Ex-GirlfriendConsider LoveCouch FictionCrispinCross CountryCruddyCrumpleCutCypherDaddy's GirlsDakotaDamageDancing After HoursDanger in High PlacesDanger! Cross CurrentsDante's PoisonDante's WoodDarkest FearDating Without NovocaineDead BoysDead Canaries Don't SingDead EndDead EvenDeadly AdviceDeadly ButterflyDeadly GambleDeaf SentenceDear American AirlinesDear Zoe,Death of a Department ChairDeath of an AddictDeath with InterruptionsDeath Without TenureDeceitDecemberDeceptionDefending JacobDeliverance From EvilDemonologyDepraved HeartDictatorDisobedienceDisturbing GroundDivine JusticeDivisaderoDixie RoadDon't Wake UpDr. Jekyll & Mr. HydeDriftlessDuplicityEcstasyEmerald City BluesEmpire FallsEmpress of the WorldEnd over EndEven DeadlierEven Dogs in the WildEvenings at FiveEvery Note PlayedEvery Visible ThingEye ContactFaking ItFalling ManFamily and Other CatastrophesFamily HistoryFascinationFat Angie Fear of the DarkFeeling Sorry for CeliaFellsideFeminist Philosophy And Science FictionFever 1793Field of BloodFinal JeopardyFlashpointFlat Lake in WinterFlorid StatesForgive the MoonFortunate SonFortune's RocksFour Blind MiceFour CornersFred the ClownFrom Girls to GrrlzFull DisclosureGallatin CanyonGaudi AfternoonGenerosityGeorgia Under WaterGhost at the WindowGiftedGiganticGirl in TranslationGirl Walking BackwardsGirls Closed InGirls Like UsGod HeadGod Is DeadGod Is Not OneGods and BeastsGoldengroveGone GirlGood and GoneGood GriefGrace, Tamar and Laszlo the BeautifulGuises of DesireHalf In Love With DeathHappiness Sold SeparatelyHappy FamilyHappy Mutant Baby PillsHappy Now?HarleyHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s StoneHe Counts Their TearsHeartbeatHeftHell's IslandHey, Wait...High HeatHolidays On IceHope in a JarHot MilkHotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel WorldHotels of North AmericaHouse of JavaHow a Gunman Says GoodbyeHow People ChangeHow to Be GoodHow to Set a Fire and WhyHow to Stop TimeHug MeI Can See YouI Don't Know How She Does ItI'd Know You AnywhereI'm Traveling AloneIf I Fall, If I DieIf You StayImagine Me GoneImposter for HireIn ZanesvilleInfinite JestIngloriousInnocentInnocent WorldInnocentsInspired SleepInvisibleIronshoreIs This What Other Women Feel Too?It Takes OneIt's Love We Don't UnderstandIt's Not Me, It's YouJacob Have I LovedJimmy CorriganJohn Dies at the EndJournal d'une femme adultèreJust LifeKhalifahKick the Animal OutKicking the SkyKim: Empty InsideKisscutKissing DoorknobsKissing in AmericaKnife CreekKnockout MouseLambLast Chance SaloonLast NightLaura Numeroff's 10-Step Guide to Living with Your MonsterLawnboyLayoverLeft NeglectedLeisureLeo the Lightning BugLeslie's JournalLet Me Be Frank With YouLie to MeLies My Girlfriend Told MeLife After LifeLife ClassLife Is a Strange PlaceLife of PiLike the Red PandaLike You'd Understand, AnywayLikely to DieLillian in LoveLisa, Bright and DarkLisey's StoryListen to the SilenceLithium for MedeaLittle Black LiesLittle ChildrenLittle LitLittle ScarletLi’l SantaLonerLord of the FliesLosing JuliaLostLost GirlLost in the ForestLost Memory of SkinLove and Shame and LoveLove in the AsylumLove Songs for the Shy and CynicalLovely Green EyesLowboyLucy Sullivan Is Getting MarriedMade for LoveMagnificenceMaking ScenesMaliceMan and BoyMan in the WoodsManstealing for Fat GirlsMary, MaryMercy StreetMerry Christmas, Alex CrossMiddlesexMischlingMisfortuneMissing PresumedMoby DickMomma and the Meaning of LifeMonsterMonths and SeasonsMr. CommitmentMrs. DallowayMunich AirportMurder BookMurder in ByzantiumMurder in the InnMusic for TorchingMy AbandonmentMy Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me UpMy Life with CorpsesMy Name Is RedMy Sister's KeeperMystery Time StoriesNasty, Short and BrutalNecessary NoiseNelson Mandela's Favorite African FolktalesNemesisNeuroticaNever Fade AwayNever Let Me GoNew Australian StoriesNew York 2140Night FilmNina: AdolescenceNo One Can Pronounce My NameNo Place to HideNone of the AboveNorth of BeautifulNothing RightNovel About My WifeObjects of My AffectionObservatory MansionsOdd Child OutOdd HoursOddsOld SchoolOn Chesil BeachOn the CouchOnce You Go BackOne Flew Over The Cuckoo's NestOne Good TurnOne More WednesdayOne Pill Makes You SmallerOptic Nerve #11Our Souls at NightOver Tumbled GravesPaint It BlackPanicParadiseParadise LodgeParanoiaParty GirlPeculiaPerfect LivesPharmakonPhobicPianoPictures of YouPilgrim at Tinker CreekPlaying with FirePlea of InsanityPopCoPoppy ShakespearePower SplitPreaching to the CorpsePrepPresumed InnocentProzac HighwayPumping Up NapoleonPureRachel's HolidayRacing the DevilRadiant CoolRaptors Red SnowReleaseRelentlessRemembrance of Things Past, Vol 1: CombrayRescueReturn to IsisReunion at Red Paint BayRevolting YouthRevolutionary RoadRight LivelihoodsRippleRoomRun DownRun for Your LifeSamaritanSand DollarSaturdaySaturday's ChildSay You Are My SisterSay You're One of ThemSay You're SorrySaying It Out LoudSchopenhauer's TelescopeSeason to TasteSecond LifeSee How SmallSeed of the Dogwood TreeSelf-Portrait with BoySerious GirlsSexyShades of BlueShadow BabyShamelessShatteredShooterShort PeopleShutter IslandShy GirlSigned, Mata HariSilencedSilent CruiseSince You AskSister CrazySister MischiefSisterlandSkin DeepSleeping BeautySleepwalkSlip of the KnifeSmackSmall Avalanches and Other StoriesSmutSnowSo Brave, Young and HandsomeSo LuckySome Thing BlackSometimes It's New YorkSong for EloiseSongs for the MissingSongs Without WordsSounds from the Bell JarSourlandSpeakSpeaking With the AngelSpeed ShrinkingSquirrel Seeks ChipmunkSshhhh!Stealing TimeSteel BreezeStill AliceStill MissingStir-FryStoner & SpazStop PretendingStraight ManStrange FleshStrange Stories for Strange Kids StrayingSummer BlondeSunstrokeSupreme CourtshipSwimmerSwimming Sweet ArrowSwimming to ElbaSwimming with StrangersSworn to SilenceSycamoreSylvia PlathTaking FlightTales of PsychotherapyTalking to AddisonTeaseTell the Truth, Shame the DevilTestimonyThat Old Cape MagicThe DrifterThe 101 Best Graphic NovelsThe 7 Deadly Sins SamplerThe Abortionist's DaughterThe Abstinence TeacherThe AccidentalThe AdultsThe AlienistThe Almost MoonThe Arctic IncidentThe ArrangementThe Artist of DisappearanceThe Austere AcademyThe Average American MarriageThe AwakeningThe Babes in the WoodThe Bad BeginningThe Beach HouseThe Beast of CretaceaThe Beat Goes OnThe Bell JarThe Best AwfulThe Big GirlsThe Big KissThe Big LoveThe Bird HouseThe Bird WomanThe Birthday RiotsThe Bitch PosseThe Blue Moon Erotic Reader IIIThe Blue NotebookThe Boat RockerThe Book of JamaicaThe Book of JoeThe Book of LeedsThe Book of LiesThe Book of LiverpoolThe Book of the DeadThe BramblesThe Brass VerdictThe Brimstone JournalsThe Burden of ProofThe Cake HouseThe CallingThe Castle in the ForestThe ChemistThe Children ActThe Children of MenThe Christmas TrainThe Christmas WeddingThe ClosersThe Consciousness PlagueThe Conspiracy ClubThe CorrectionsThe CorrectionsThe Covery and ThenThe Cuckoo's CallingThe CureThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeThe Dark HouseThe Dark RoomThe Darkest Evening of the YearThe Day I Ate Whatever I WantedThe Dead Fathers ClubThe Dead Fish MuseumThe Dead HourThe Dead of SummerThe Death of Bunny MunroThe Delight of Being OrdinaryThe DepositionThe Devotion of Suspect XThe Diary of a Teenage GirlThe Disobedience Of The Daughter Of The SunThe Diviner's TaleThe DivinersThe DollmakerThe Double BindThe Dream BearerThe Dressmaker of Khair KhanaThe Dubious Salvation of Jack V.The Dulcimer Boy The Dynamite RoomThe EcstaticThe Education of Mrs. BemisThe Elementary ParticlesThe End Of AliceThe End of EverythingThe End of Mr. YThe Erotic EdgeThe Eternity CubeThe Extinction of DesireThe Field of the DogsThe Fig EaterThe First Fifteen Lives of Harry AugustThe Fortunate OnesThe Gingerbread GirlThe Girl in 6EThe Girl in the GardenThe Girl on Mill StreetThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's NestThe Girl Who Loved Tom GordonThe Girl Who Played with FireThe Girl with the Dragon TattooThe Girl Without a NameThe GirlsThe Good PsychologistThe Great Books Foundation Short Story OmnibusThe Green ParrotThe Grief of OthersThe Grim GrottoThe Guise of AnotherThe Gum ThiefThe Guy Not TakenThe Hearts of MenThe Heretic's DaughterThe HoursThe Housekeeper and the ProfessorThe Ice QueenThe Ice TwinsThe InseparablesThe InterestingsThe IntimatesThe Keeper of Lost CausesThe Keeper of Lost ThingsThe Kindness of StrangersThe Kings of LondonThe Language of SecretsThe Last ChildThe Last MileThe Last PhysicianThe Last PrecinctThe Lay of the LandThe Lincoln LawyerThe Little FriendThe Lost MotherThe Love HexagonThe Lovely BonesThe Lover's DictionaryThe Madonnas of Echo ParkThe Madwoman in the AtticThe Man from BeijingThe Man in My BasementThe Man of My DreamsThe Map of True PlacesThe Marriage PlotThe Master BedroomThe Memory Book The Memory Keeper's DaughterThe Mercy RoomThe Mermaids SingingThe Meursault InvestigationThe Ministry of Special CasesThe MiracleThe Miserable MillThe Missing ProfessorThe Most Dangerous ThingThe MuralistThe Museum of InnocenceThe NarrowsThe New YorkersThe NewleywedsThe Night ListenerThe NixThe Notebook of Lost ThingsThe Obvious ChildThe One With the NewsThe Other Side of the StoryThe Outlaw AlbumThe Particular Sadness of Lemon CakeThe PastThe People of the VeilThe Perfect GirlThe Philosopher's LoverThe Philosophical PractitionerThe Possession of Mr. CaveThe PowerThe Pregnant WidowThe Promise of a LieThe Promised LandThe PyramidThe ReaderThe Red HouseThe Red RoomThe Red ThreadThe ReporterThe Reptile RoomThe Resurrection StoneThe ReturnThe Right MistakeThe RoadThe Rule of FourThe Same Stuff as StarsThe Savage GirlThe ScarecrowThe Schopenhauer CureThe Second GirlThe SecretThe Secret Life of BeesThe Secret of Lost ThingsThe Secret ScriptureThe Secret SpeechThe Secret Wisdom of the EarthThe SharkThe Shock of the FallThe Shutter of SnowThe Silence RoomThe SisterThe Sisterhood of the Traveling PantsThe Sky ChangesThe SnowmanThe SongwriterThe Sorrows of an AmericanThe Sound of Broken GlassThe Speed AbaterThe Speed of DarkThe Spinoza ProblemThe Stethoscope CureThe Stone GodsThe Story HourThe Story of Beautiful GirlThe Sudden Arrival of ViolenceThe Sweet Relief of Missing ChildrenThe Sweetness at the Bottom of the PieThe SyndromeThe Tenth CircleThe Tenth JusticeThe Third AngelThe Time Traveler's WifeThe Torn SkirtThe TouristThe Trick Is to Keep BreathingThe Trouble with Goats and SheepThe Troubled ManThe Undertaker's WifeThe Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector ChopraThe Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia MossThe UnnamedThe UnquietThe Unseen WorldThe Usual MistakesThe Vanishing Act of Esme LennoxThe VegetarianThe Virgin BlueThe Virgin CureThe Water ChildrenThe WaveThe Weed That Strings the Hangman's BagThe Whole TruthThe Wide WindowThe Wild Ass’s SkinThe Woman and the ApeThe Woman UpstairsThe Wrong Side of GoodbyeThe Year of the FloodThe Year That FollowsTherapyThere Are No EldersThings You Didnt SeeThings You Should KnowThinks...Third Class SuperheroThirty NothingThis Beautiful LifeThis Body of DeathThose GirlsThose Who Wish Me DeadThumbsuckerTimothy Tunny Swallowed a BunnyTina's MouthTiny DeathsTisToby's RoomTony & SusanToo Much HappinessTooth and NailTouchTouching Spirit BearTouchy SubjectsTrailer GirlTransparencyTraumaTreacherous LoveTrespassTriburbiaTucker PeakTuringTwentieth Century EightballTwinmakerTwo Can PlayTwo Little Girls in BlueUnaccustomed EarthUnder Rose-Tainted SkiesUnder the DamUnder the HarrowUnder the InfluenceUnfitUnholy StoriesUniversal HarvesterUnkemptUnlessUp in FlamesUp in the AirUpstateValenciaVenus DriveVeronika Decides to DieVery ValentineViolet & ClaireVisits from The Drowned GirlVoid MoonWaiting for SunriseWakeWastelandWatching the DarkWe Are All Completely Beside OurselvesWe Are OkayWelding with ChildrenWell-Remembered DaysWemberly WorriedWhat Became of UsWhat It Means to Love YouWhat the Birds SeeWhat Waiting Really MeansWhat Was She Thinking? Notes on a ScandalWhat We Don't Know About ChildrenWhat's So Terrible About Swallowing an Apple Seed?When My Heart Joins the ThousandWhen We Were AnimalsWhen We Were OrphansWhere We LivedWhite HotWhite HousesWhy Did I EverWidowWild AwakeWild Child[email protected]Willful CreaturesWitWithout TessWolf in White VanWomen's Murder Club Box SetYou or Someone Like YouYou Should Have KnownYou Will Know MeYour Body is ChangingYour Heart Belongs to MeZapZap
Marcel Proust: A Life
by Jean-Yves Tadié
THE BOOK OF LIFE (AND
Over the past few years, a number of new books have come out in English on the subject of Marcel Proust and his great novel, A la recherche du temps perdu. Besides the two under review here, there have been: in 1997, Alain De Botton's delightfully original venture into Proustian self-help, How Proust Can Change Your Life, and biographer Phyllis Rose's memoir, The Year of Reading Proust; in 1998, Malcolm Bowie's critical study, Proust Among the Stars; in 1999, Edmund White's introductory study, Marcel Proust, and Proust's Lesbianism, by Elisabeth Ladenson; and last year, William Carter's full-length biography, Marcel Proust: A Life, and Roger Shattuck's Proust's Way: A Field Guide to In Search of Lost Time (as it is now titled in English). Most of these - Heuet, De Botton, Rose, White and Shattuck - are aimed at general readers rather than academic scholars; Heuet's, in fact, is a comic-book adaptation of the first chapter of Swann's Way.
Nor have film treatments of Proust and his novel been lacking. Another chapter of Swann's Way, "Swann in Love," was made into a movie, starring Jeremy Irons, in 1983. The documentary Marcel Proust: A Writer's Life, produced by Carter, was released in 1992. And last year saw the critically-acclaimed movie adaptation of the epic's final volume, Time Regained.
To what do we owe this resurgence of interest in the novel? After all, in its sublimely prolix style and rarified subject matter (not to mention its formidable page count: six volumes in the latest Modern Library English translation, totaling 4,347 pages, not including addenda, notes and indices) it can hardly be considered an easy read. And to add to this, in 1989, Pléiade/Gallimard brought out the final installment of Tadié's mammoth, four-volume, expanded (!) French edition of A la recherche - a project slammed by Shattuck in The New York Review of Books as a misbegotten venture in "hypertrophization", of use only to scholars, not readers of Proust. (A shorter version of this review can be found in Proust's Way.)
While publication of the new definitive edition may supply the literary basis for this Proustian renaissance, it can hardly explain it. I suspect the reason may lie more in the area of popular culture than literary taste. (And if so, what a vindication for Proust, who may finally be gaining the more general audience he always felt he should have!) Some of it may have to do with the popular success of De Botton's book, stressing Proust's relevance for today, and designed as a classy self-help book for a general audience. Or with the current vogue of memoir and autobiography, of which Proust stands as the master. Or with the self-absorption of the Boomer generation, to whom those genres may seem particularly relevant. And some of it, too, may be consumer reaction against the "dumbing down" of the publishing business in a world more and more dominated by the media corporations. But whatever the reasons behind the Proust revival, it is cause for celebration, not only for Proustians, but also for those interested in the creative links between popular and literary culture.
Those links are explored in Stéphane Heuet's charming adaptation of "Combray", the first chapter of Swann's Way. Fans of the world-famous French comic-book series Tintin will recognize in Heuet a fellow-traveler. The oval eyes of the Hergé-like cartoon characters; the yellow background of the italicized exposition running along the top and bottom margins of the picture frames; even the question marks, exclamation points, and radiating droplets of sweat exuded by the characters to denote surprise, consternation, bafflement, or mere exertion - all are strongly suggestive of The Adventures of Tintin (pub. 1929-1976), written and drawn by Georges Remi, alias Hergé (1907-1983). The readership of Tintin - whose adventures have been translated into at least 21 languages, including Afrikaans, Icelandic, Persian and Malay -- was (and presumably still is) primarily children. But Heuet's Proust seems more like an homage for the cognoscenti than an introduction for the neophyte. Children will likely be bored, since -- Heuet's being a faithful (though, of necessity, highly selective) rendition of Proust's text -- there are no adventures, nor even a plot to speak of (at least not in the conventional sense of those terms). The events of the story as depicted are largely personal and internal, consisting of the Proustian narrator's recollections of his childhood, and his reflections on those recollections - epitomized most memorably by the "Madeleine" episode. The charm of Heuet's adaptation lies in our sense of the wild incongruence of the genres juxtaposed: the expansiveness of Proust's highly literary prose, in which the Narrator's most nuanced distinctions receive page after page of detailed, loving analysis, versus the graphic brevity of the cartoon format. The fact that Heuet's adaptation serves as an homage to Tintin as well as Proust only adds to its charm. It reminds us, too, that the two genres - cartoons and prose fiction -- are not always mutually exclusive. This is evident in the success of such publications as "Classic Comics," which must be at least two generations old by now. Heuet's dust-jacket blurb describes a hipper, more up-scale version of the literary comic:
ComicsLit: novels in the true sense about exploring our lives, our feelings, our experiences. In comic art. In graphic novels. At times uplifting, at times controversial - always insightful and enriching. Here are the most intelligent comics the world has to offer.
I applaud their venture, while remaining sympathetically dubious about its application to Proust. But at the very least, those readers of Heuet's adaptation not yet familiar with the opening of Swann's Way (are there really such people in the world?) will get their first delicious taste of the Proustian experience, in however abridged a form; and no Proustian worth his or her Petites Madeleines could ever find fault with that. After all, they cannot be expected to drink if they are not brought to tea. **********************
Tadie's massive biography (986 pp., including bibliography, notes and index) is a project more congruent with its original; which is perhaps another way of saying that what it lacks in charm it makes up for in documentary exhaustiveness. Yet mere exhaustiveness is not a Proustian virtue. However expansive he is, Proust is never boring, just as he is never detailed merely for the sake of it. As Tadié himself tells us, of Proust's response to the writing of André Gide (who as an editor at the Nouvelle Revue Française rejected Swann's Way and never quite forgave himself, though Proust did):
he criticized the presence of 'thousands of prosaic details': he was incapable of recording 'anything which hadn't produced [in him] an impression of poetic enchantment, or in which [he had not] felt he had grasped a general truth.'"
Dutiful documenter that he is, Tadié does not shy away from those "prosaic details", which can be boring (especially when he sees fit to reproduce the guest lists of social occasions, which he does too often). Like Heuet's adaptation, Tadié's biography is really not for the uninitiated, who would do better to read Carter for a more coherent and less exhaustive narrative. Then again, it is not Tadié's intention to provide a narrative, "novelistic" biography in the manner of Carter -- or of George Painter, his distinguished predecessor, and the author of the first (and still the best) full-length biography (pub. 1959-65). Instead, Tadié chooses a thematic rather than narrative or chronological approach, and arranges his long chapters in short, topical sections -- which also helps to make them more readable.
Unfortunately, Tadié is not well-served by his translator, Euan Cameron, whose persistent use of the solecism "different to" (I counted at least 10 instances - for which the copy-editors at Viking must bear some of the blame) is the most annoying, but not the only, error in English idiom. (Others include "substitute with" for "substitute for"; "the press reception for" for "the press reception of" [The Bible of Amiens]; the pedantic Latinism "cecity" for "blindness"; the Frenchism "building works" for "construction"; the misleading title "Impressions of the Road in a Motorcar" for Proust's important essay "Impressions de route en automobile" (which Carter, by the way, gets right: "Impressions on Riding in an Automobile"); and the infelicitous phrase "
a psychology which would vary very little".
Yet even taking into account the deficiencies of the translation, and the fact that it is not always possible to see the forest of Proust's life and work for the trees of Tadié's documentation, his biography will probably be the definitive one for some time to come, for several reasons. Unlike Painter, Tadié (as he himself points out) has taken the trouble to interview as many people as he could who knew or had met Proust. The portrait we get of Proust in Tadié, though not as flowingly told (read "novelistic") as in Painter or Carter, may for just that reason be more true to life, which as we know is rarely as shapely (or as shaped) as narrative. Though Proust's, at moments, comes close. Here he is at 45, approximately halfway through the composition of A la recherche, rousing the members of the Poulet String Quartet in the middle of the night to come play for him in his apartment. The accounts are by two members of the quartet, Poulet and Massis, as paraphrased by Tadié:
According to Poulet, one evening is 1916, at about eleven o'clock, a stranger rang the bell: "I am Marcel Proust. I am tormented by the desire to hear you play César Franck's quartet." He offered to go and collect the other three musicians by car (Massis last); at one o'clock in the morning they all went back to Boulevard Haussmann by car. Proust stretched out on the divan in his bedroom. When the quartet had finished, he asked them to play the piece again. Four taxis delivered the musicians to their homes. He asked them back on several occasions so that he could hear Mozart, Ravel, Schumann, and above all Fauré and Franck. "He was familiar with everything. Fauré was the composer most in tune with his sensibilities." But very often he asked them to play the third movement of Franck's violin sonata for him again, and Beethoven's last quartets. "For us Marcel Proust was a marvelous listener, straightforward, direct, a man who drank in music without raising any questions
And, conversely, we could sense the reverberations of his style, within him."
According to Massis, during the interval at one of his concerts, a man came to look for him and invited him to come and play at his home one evening in the near future. At twelve o'clock one night, the bell rang, and Proust asked the viola player to gather his friends together. They went downstairs to Odilon Albaret's motor car, which had a vast eiderdown inside; on the folding seat was a soup tureen containing mashed potatoes. Odilon indicated, with a gesture, that "his employer was a little bizarre but not dangerous"; they went to collect the three others. Back in his bedroom, Marcel lay down in the darkness. Franck's quartet was played; not a sound, not a movement from the writer. He asked them to play it again. He gave each of the musicians 150 francs [a little over $500 in today's currency].
In the words of Dr. Johnson: Had Tadié written often thus, it had been vain to blame, and useless to praise him.
Even so, one more bit of praise is in order, for Tadié's biographical method. Without "novelizing" the life, Tadié does a better job than any other biographer of teasing out, in Proust's words,
what are the secret relationships, the necessary metamorphoses, which exist between a writer's life and his work, between reality and art, or rather
between the appearances of life and reality itself, which under[lies] everything, and which c[an] be released only by art.
Those "secret relationships" and "necessary metamorphoses" are the chief interests of his biography, which, in the author's words, "does not tell us about 'some vague wholly prefabricated novel', but about the source of the novel and what made it possible." Tadié's magisterial scholarship as editor of the four-volume Pléiade/Gallimard edition of A la recherche (pub. 1987-89; a very full volume larger than the previous 1954 edition) puts him in an especially authoritative position to speak about the genesis, composition and revision of Proust's novel - a process of revision that ended only with Proust's death (and, according to Shattuck's criticism of the Tadié edition, not even then). The greatest value of Tadié's biography lies in his vast fund of knowledge about the growing life of Proust's book, from 1908 onward. It was the literary pastiches that Proust wrote that year - including brilliant parodies of Balzac, Flaubert, Sainte-Beuve, the Goncourt brothers and Michelet - that provided the critical insights and framework out of which A la recherche was to evolve. "His art had its beginnings in criticism," Tadie writes; and while this perception in itself is not particularly original, Tadié's painstaking documentation and elaboration of it, based on his authoritative knowledge and analysis of the compositional labyrinth of Proust's numerous manuscripts, printer's proofs and revisions, give us -- for the first time -- a more concrete understanding of the specific ways in which the novel gradually took substance, shape, and final flowering out of the rich loam of Proust's reading, his other writings, and his life.
The possibility that Proust's masterpiece may at last be reaching the larger audience that he always wished for it seems not only poetic justice, but an especially apt and gratifying vindication, as mentioned earlier. Perhaps we are now seeing fulfilled Proust's conviction that his book, despite its many difficulties, is a work that should have wider readership. For it is a book that is vitally concerned with matters of common and universal significance -- among them, the search for beauty, truth, purpose, and meaning in life. Furthermore, the particular story this book has to tell is itself one of vindication: the story of an underdog, a "lightweight", perhaps even a failure; a person of great gifts - sensitivity, intelligence, talent, wit -- who for one reason or another is wasting those gifts, wasting his time, wasting his life. Hoping, year after year, page after page, volume after volume, to "get down to work", but never quite succeeding - until the very end, when all is made right, the truth is revealed, and the work can begin. In a very real sense, Proust's story - cultural and historical and personal differences aside (and much of the pleasure of reading the novel lies in our exploration of those differences, so we would never really want to put them aside) -- is the story of all of us, at one time or another in our lives. The story of the "disappointment", the lazybones, the dreamer, the artist manqué, who could do and be and give so much if he could only, as we used to say in the 60's, "get it together." Well, he finally does - but you won't find out how until you go the journey with him. Proust's book is our book, our life. Read it, and live.
© 2001 Joshua GiddingJoshua Gidding is an assistant professor of English at Dowling College. He is also chair of his department and Director of the Honors Program.