Proust reads and reading Proust

November 20, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

Days of Reading by Marcel Proust (1905) Original French title: Sur la lecture. Suivi de Journées de lecture.

Proust by Samuel Beckett (1931) French title: Proust. Translated by Edith Fournier.

Proust died on November 18th, 1922. The centenary of his death has been celebrated here with books, TV specials, newspapers, podcasts, radio shows, exhibitions and so on. I meant to publish this billet on November 18th but life got in the way.

Days of Reading is a short essay by Proust, where he muses over the pleasure and the experience of reading.

As often, Proust shows his talent for a catching incipit.

Il n’y a peut-être pas de jours de notre enfance que nous ayons si pleinement vécus que ceux que nous avons cru laisser sans les vivre, ceux que nous avons passés avec un livre préféré.There are perhaps no days of our childhood that we lived as fully as the days we think we left behind without living at all:the days we spent with a favorite book. Translation by John Sturrock.

In the subsequent pages, he remembers the glorious hours he spent with books as a child. He wanted to be left alone with his books and not do anything else. I can relate to that.

His thoughts about finishing a book, the fact that we leave the characters on the last page to never “see” them again is relatable too. Who has never reached the end of a book thinking “That’s all? What will become of them now?”. He muses over our relationship with books, our connection to writers and how they lead us to beauty and intelligence. La lecture est une amitié, he says. And yes, reading is a friendship with books, authors and imaginary worlds.

While Proust talks about his love for reading in Days of Reading, Beckett writes about his response to Proust’s masterpiece In Search of Lost Time.

Beckett wrote Proust, his essay about In Search of Lost Time, in 1931, when he was only 25. Time Regained had only been published four years before in 1927. Beckett was an earlier adopter of Proust and it says something about his ability to understand modern literature and spot a breakthrough in literature, even if Proust wasn’t taken so seriously at the time.

Proust is not an academic essay, it’s the brilliant review of a book through the eyes a passionate reader. Beckett shares his experience with reading Proust and displays a deep knowledge of Proust’s work.

He gives very detailed and precise examples – he quotes from memory, a nightmare for the French translator of his essay because she needed to find the actual quotes in French…He shows a profound understanding of what Proust intended to do with his work and he was ahead of his time.

Beckett goes through all of Proust’s favourite themes: the force of habit, the importance of a setting, his fascination for the Guermantes, his passion for art (literature, painting, opera, music, theatre and architecture.) He has valid points about the relationship between Albertine and the Narrator.

And then come thoughts about memory, remembrance and our thought process. He gives his perception of how memories are triggered by sensations.

Proust is an impressive review of Proust’s masterpiece and it’s a tribute to Beckett’s intelligence as much as an ode to Proust. It’s an excellent companion book for any reader of La Recherche, as we have nicknamed In Search of Lost Time in French.

Proust reads and Beckett reads Proust. I missed the actual day of the centenary of Proust’s death but still decided to bake madeleines to celebrate this anniversary.

  1. Vishy
    November 20, 2022 at 12:20 pm

    Beautiful lost, Emma! Beckett’s essay looks like a beautiful love letter to Proust. I’ll add it to my list and will read it when I read In Search of Lost Time. I wanted to read In Search of Lost Time this year, but got distracted by other things. Will plan for it next year and read it. Thanks for sharing your love for Proust.

    Like

    • Vishy
      November 20, 2022 at 12:21 pm

      I’ll always cherish the madeleines that you sent me. They were amazing! Thank you 😊

      Like

      • November 20, 2022 at 2:40 pm

        Thanks! that was a long time ago and a testimony of how long we’ve been blogging and sharing things in the book bloggosphere and elsewhere.

        Like

        • Vishy
          November 20, 2022 at 3:48 pm

          Yes, time just flies! Those madeleines and other things that you sent were the most delicious treats that I’ve ever tried! Thanks so much once again 😊

          Like

          • November 20, 2022 at 8:24 pm

            It was a pleasure.

            Like

    • November 20, 2022 at 2:41 pm

      It’s an excellent essay, to read after reading In Search of Lost Time, not before.
      I hope you’ll get to Proust next year as you wish to.

      Like

      • Vishy
        November 20, 2022 at 3:42 pm

        Thank you for the recommendation. Will read the essay after I read Proust’s book. Will definitely get to Proust’s book next year.

        Like

  2. Beverly Held
    November 20, 2022 at 3:55 pm

    This is a lovely review of both authors and it encourages me to continue reading the one and look for this essay by the other. I have been obsessed with Proust this past year, starting with the Proust exhibition at the Carnavalet. The one now at the BNF (which will surely be the last for another 49 years – the next one will presumably mark the 200th anniversary of Proust’s birth in 1871) is fabulous, have you seen it?

    Like

    • November 20, 2022 at 8:26 pm

      I’m happy if this billet encourages you to read Proust and Beckett’s essay.
      I’ve seen the Carnavalet exhibition and will go to the BNF one in December. I’ll post about it.

      Like

  3. November 20, 2022 at 6:14 pm

    Lovely post Emma. I think I have Days of Reading, which I must dig out. As for the Beckett it sounds excellent and I may have to track down a copy… ;D

    Like

    • November 20, 2022 at 8:26 pm

      Both are really worth reading. Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. November 21, 2022 at 1:42 pm

    I must read Proust. Perhaps a project for when I retire. If I may disagree with him slightly,I don’t think we, when we were children, did let go of characters, but instead re-read all our favourite books (when we weren’t spoiled with series).

    Like

    • November 22, 2022 at 9:50 pm

      I hope you’ll take time to read hime. Retired people never seem to have time for anything.
      About letting characters go : he meant leaving them at a specific time of their life and never know what happens later. Unless you imagine yourself what you think will happen.

      Like

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