I purchased, finally, an e-reader at Best Buy on Black Friday, a Hip Street HS-M701-4GB – at $39.99 it was too great a temptation – and returning home I filled it with out-of-copyright classic ePub books that I had downloaded over a period of some time. I launched into a final frenzy of downloading and have, in total, about 300 books loaded onto the thing at present using only about 500MB of its 4GB capacity – it will also accept up to a 16GB Micro SD card for additional storage which should give as much capacity as the average municipal library. It’s a bare-bones e-reader but suits my needs admirably.
I then browsed through the content looking for somewhere to start reading amidst all this wealth and settled on Swann’s Way, the first (of seven) books comprising Marcel Proust’s À la Recherche du Temps Perdu (translated either as In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past) which I had heard of over the years but was otherwise ignorant of (all seven books, in a variety of formats, can be downloaded here). I remembered Virginia Woolf rhapsodizing about his writing – “Oh if I could write like that!” – (she could) and he seemed a likely subject; if he impressed Virginia then I felt that he would likely do the same for me.
As is often the case with writers, I was no more than a few pages into Proust’s masterpiece before I was absorbed by it. I suspect that if you had the opportunity to ask of Marcel the time of day his answer would fill a few pages and beautiful pages at that. I’ve looked at a few sites with biographical information on Proust and he apparently had a strong attachment to his mother and, indeed, the book opens with him, as a child, describing his intense need for his mother to come up to his room every evening to deliver his good-night kiss – without which he would be miserable. He also describes the walks that his family would take in the afternoons from their country house in Combray, where they spent summers and holidays – either a shorter route, called by the family the ‘Méséglise way’ (also called the Swann’s way) for days with uncertain weather or the ‘Guermantes way’, a much longer route for those days when the weather was fine. This was in the late 19th century when a family’s activities were constructed with their own resources and often consisted of physical activities.
In order to give you a taste of Proust’s writing I’ve posted here, below, a lengthy excerpt from Swann’s Way where he, circuitously, as is his fashion, discusses gardens and the landscape along the family’s longer walking path, the Guermantes way. I think you will see that his writing, perhaps not unlike his cross-country path, winds this way and that before arriving at its destination but that like many such paths, particularly in the late and largely unspoiled 19th century, despite the effort of treading them, can be very beautiful.