GREAT BOOKS 9: Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time, with Caroline Weber
“My greatest adventure was undoubtedly Proust. What is there left to write after that?” This is what Virginia Woolf said, full of admiration -- and envy, too. Delve into Marcel Proust in this conversation with Caroline Weber, one of the great Proust experts of our time, who has not only read the masterpiece In Search of Lost Time, all 3000 pages and 1.25 million gorgeous, supple and utterly brilliantly composed words (several times), but who has also done the painstaking research to find out who were the real-life people on whom Proust modeled some of the most memorable characters in his sprawling book. The Duchess of Guermantes, a figure of enormous intrigue in the novel, was one of the first manifestations of celebrity culture in the modern age, presaging today's influencers who are known for being known.
Don't read Proust, the wonderfully wise Alain de Botton's counsel notwithstanding, to change your life (be wary of such temptation and be careful what you wish for). For life cannot be changed but must be lived. But read Proust to live your life now deepened by his startling insights into the human condition.
Will being in the world of the rich and famous make you happy? Proust's narrator tries it out.
Will love bring happiness? Proust's narrator, who is consumed with sexual jealousy that ends in a shocking turn of events in the 6th volume, The Fugitive, finds a disturbing answer.
Will art create contentment?
There are passages in Proust where you will stop and think: how can we know this? And there are passage where you will think: what does this person want from life? And then... what do I WANT?
"But in this strange phase of love, an individual person assumes something so profound that the curiosity he now felt awakening in him concerning the smallest occupations of this woman, was the same curiosity he had once had about History. And all these things that would have shamed him up to now, such as spying, tonight, outside a window, tomorrow perhaps, for all he knew, cleverly inducing neutral people to speak, bribing servants, listening at doors, now seemed to him, to be, fully as much as were the deciphering of texts, the weighing of evidence, and the interpretation of old monuments, merely methods of scientific investigations with a real intellectual value and appropriate to a search for truth." (Swann in Love, 284, Lydia Davis translation)