Portrait of Marcel Proust by Jacques Emile Blanche
I have now finished reading the first two volumes of Marcel Proust’s epic novel Remembrance of Things Past (often titled In Search of Lost Time) comprising Swann’s Way and Within a Budding Grove. The version that I’ve been reading is a digital ePub rendition, downloaded from the University of Adelaide in Australia (see link below the fold), on my new eReader, a Kobo Mini – I had dropped my Hip Street eReader, rendering it useless, and replaced it with the Kobo as it was similarly cheap, $49.00, and now wish that I had bought the Kobo in the first place. I had thought that it would be too small to be effective but have found that its diminutive size is not a disadvantage at all and that it has the added attraction of being very portable, fitting nicely into a pants pocket; the smaller screen size has not diminished the reading experience as a simple tap on the screen is sufficient to advance to the next page and the page turning is quite rapid. The battery life is also much extended and I expect that I will get some weeks of life from a charge which is also a great advantage.
The Kobo Mini doesn’t have a backlight but I find that one is not necessary – how often does one read a book in a pitch-black room? – and the lack of a backlight will help to maintain a longer battery life. The e-ink screen also contributes to battery life and is easier on the eyes than are more advanced colour screens such as those found in today’s tablets and more expensive eReaders. I’ve disabled the Wi-Fi as I have no need to date, considering my taste for classic literature, to purchase eBooks and do not entirely trust eBook vendors sufficiently to grant them unlimited access to my library – I have read of Amazon unilaterally deleting books from their customer’s devices. All my eBooks have been downloaded from reputable out-of-copyright websites and have been side-loaded onto the device using Calibre (much recommended).
I’m now ready to move on to the next volume of the novel, The Guermantes Way, but this time I’ve located a paperback version, also incorporating the next volume, Cities of the Plain, published by Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics that has been retranslated by Terence Kilmartin, part of a three volume edition that builds upon C K Scott Moncrieff’s original translation and, per the introduction, incorporates new material. Additional attention to the translation cannot help but contribute to an enhanced reading experience.
Proust’s writing is wonderful and fluid with the ability to hold the reader spellbound throughout – much like listening to a symphony that one is not familiar with but which is beautiful regardless of one’s knowledge of the theory of music – as in my case – and which can be appreciated for its beauty alone. He has aroused my interest in his characters to the extent that I’m curious about what will come of them in passages – and volumes, in this case – to come, which is about the best that can be achieved by a novelist.
In a previous post we supplied a link to the first chapter of a biography of Proust by Edmond White in which he pointed out that the two contemporaries, Proust and Freud, had not read a word of the other’s writing – interesting in that, it seems to me, Proust’s writing, in relation to his characters, is very psychoanalytic, Freud’s bailiwick really, and I suspect that if they had read one another that Freud might have benefited more by it than would have Proust. But then, it is within a novelist’s domain to understand what it is that makes a person tick, not so much in theory as in practice. Virginia Woolf was, too, not anxious to read Freud’s writing, perhaps fearing an excess of insight into her own character and condition, apart from that insight that she herself possessed, that might break the spell that led her to write so insightfully – don’t mess with a formula that seems to work. Eventually, as her brother was involved in translating* Freud’s writing and the Woolfs’ own Hogarth Press proceeded to print his seminal writing, she did read him and presumably came to terms with his thinking (see a discussion of this at Virginia Woolf meets Sigmund Freud).
[ * correction – per the preceding link, it was James, the brother of Lytton Strachey, a long-time friend of Virginia, and his wife Alix, who were involved in translating Freud’s writing; Virginia’s brother Adrian and his wife Karen, both doctors, became interested in the work of Freud and subsequently studied it and became psychoanalysts.]
A few other biographical pieces on Proust have also dwelt upon his practice of continually revising his work after having written (and, even, having published) it and I suspect that he might have been in the habit, upon rereading, of sprinkling similes and metaphors throughout as they occurred to him – they are constantly employed and are, indeed, part of his charm.
I would heartily recommend that anyone undertake to read Remembrance of Things Past and, towards that end, have posted here two excerpts from Swann’s Way. I’ve adapted them from a website which has the text from the entire novel on one page – the advantage being that, unlike many of the plain texts available for download, this page has been properly formatted for italics, originally from a plain text scanned edition that has italics indicated by leading and trailing underscores, (see link below) – on my own computer I’ve separated the page into the proper volumes in MS Word docs and if I can someday find the time may proceed to produce a series of ePub volumes of the novel. The ebooks@Adelaide ePubs are perfectly adequate for reading on an eReader but contain artifacts and typographical errors (merely annoying) and would benefit from further editing (not a task, in such a lengthy novel to be undertaken lightly).
The first excerpt, which I’ve titled Early Dreams of Travel are the thoughts of the narrator, evidently in his teenage years, dreaming of the travels that he would like to undertake to warmer climes (always of interest to winter-bound Canadians). The second, which I’ve titled Bois de Boulogne, closes Swann’s Way and is a nineteenth century account of that famous Parisian park (infamous perhaps). I hope that they can tempt you to download the novel (or purchase the volumes in Luddite format) in order to expose yourself to one of the more remarkable literary achievements of all time.