Well, as you can see, not many pages got read this week. But I have just started Part Two, Swann in Love, which seems so far to be much more plot-y than Part One. Proust applies his acute observational powers to people, and his ability to see their inner motivations based on body language, subtle facial expressions and insightful and empathetic perception is uncanny. I’ve met someone like that – scary. It’s an enviable quality in a writer. I liked this observation of Madame de Guermantes, who visits the village church one day:
But I can see her still quite clearly, especially at the moment when the procession filed into the sacristy, which was lit up by the intermittent warm sunshine of a windy and rainy day and in which Mme de Guermantes found herself in the midst of all those Combray people whose names she did not even know, but whose inferiority proclaimed her own supremacy too loudly for her not to feel sincerely benevolent towards them, and whom she might count on impressing even more forcibly by virtue of her simplicity and graciousness. And so, since she could not bring into play the deliberate glances, charged with a definite meaning, which one directs towards people one knows, but must allow her absent-minded thoughts to flow continuously from her eyes in a stream of blue light which she was powerless to contain, she was anxious not to embarrass or to appear to be disdainful of those humbler mortals whom it encountered on its way, on whom it was constantly falling. I can still see, above her mauve scarf, puffed and silky, the gentle astonishment in her eyes, to which she had added, without daring to address it to anyone in particular, but so that everyone might enjoy his share of it, a rather shy smile as of a sovereign lady who seems to be making an apology for her presence among the vassals whom she loves.
One might substitute the name “Gwyneth Paltrow” for “Mme de Guermantes”. In fact, there’s lots of relevance to Proust today, and no shortage of pop culture references to Marcel Proust and In Search of Lost Time. It’s always strange the way we start to notice things more with a shift in attention. Once I started reading Proust, he seemed to pop up all over the place, not necessarily when I was looking for it. For your enjoyment, a list of contemporary references to Proust:
- From a list on The Awl of artists belonging to “The Next Bob Dylan Club”, a reference to John Prine from admirer Dylan: “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree.” I’m not sure what this means, because I don’t know John Prine’s songs or Proust well enough to comment. I do remember seeing John Prine at the Mariposa Folk Festival many years ago, and loving his rambling, character driven songs and wry humour.
- Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer prizewinning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad cites both The Sopranos and In Search of Lost Time as influences on her book; the former for it’s structure of multiple viewpoints, and the latter for thematic inspiration. A Visit from the Goon Squad was the best book I read last year, and there’s an interesting interview with Egan here.
- In an episode of The Sopranos, Tony eats a piece of capiccola, which triggers a memory from his past. When he tells his therapist about it, she compares his experience to Proust’s madeleine.
- In the movie Little Miss Sunshine, Steve Carell plays a Proust scholar who connects with Dwayne, his angry nephew, by telling him about Proust, who he describes as a “total loser” and “probably the greatest writer since Shakespeare”, who looked back on his life and found meaning in his suffering: “Those were the best years of his life ‘cos they made him who he was”. Is that what makes us who we are? Maybe. They say you learn more from your mistakes than your successes.
- The Proust Questionnaire is a feature in Vanity Fair magazine where celebrities answer questions about themselves like, “What is your idea of perfect happiness?” and “Which living person do you most admire?” The questionnaire wasn’t invented by Proust but he enjoyed completing it, and did so at different times of his life. You can take the test yourself here. Apparently I share my outlook on life with Howard Stern – who would have guessed?
- Alain de Botton, well known writer and philospher, wrote a book called, How Proust Can Change Your Life. He describes it as a self- help manual, but that’s a bit of a stretch. If you want an entertaining look at Proust’s life and work though, it’s an enjoyable read and, in contrast to In Search of Lost Time, not very long.
- If you missed last week’s link, here it is again to Monty Python’s All England Summarize Proust Competition, judged by a bunch of cricket players, Omar Sharif and Yehudi Menuhin. Might make a fun party game, if you know enough people who’ve read the book.
- Animator Jack Feldstein has made a neon animation film called The Adventures of Marcel Proust that you can watch here. The historical accuracy is questionable, but it’s fun, as Marcel remembers why he needs to go to the store.
- This video of B*tches in Bookshops only briefly refers to Proust, but it’s so great I had to include it here. Love me some reading girls.