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NA0097 - PROUST, M.: Remembrance of Things Past, Vol. 2: Within a Budding Grove (Unabridged)
Marcel Proust (1871–1922)
The critic André Maurois described Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past as ‘one of the greatest works of the imagination of all time’. The literal translation of the work’s French title, ‘In Search of Lost Time’, contains within it a clue to the creation of this monumental work of biographical fiction. Having wasted time living a dilettante existence in the fashionable world, Proust, in middle age, decided to re-dedicate his life to art, and to attempt at last to achieve the great work of which he knew himself capable.
Remembrance of Things Past was his chance to justify his life, and to cheat death through an act of artistic creation. It was the means he would use to conquer time through recreating his lost years. Memory was the material with which he would weave the magic cord to be launched into infinity; that cord which now binds us to him, and stretches forward into the future, linking his genius to unborn generations.
Marcel Proust was born on 10 July 1871. His father, a distinguished professor of medicine, was from a Catholic family, while his mother was Jewish. Although convinced from an early age of his calling as a writer, Proust was riddled with self-doubt and wrote relatively little at the beginning of his career.
During his twenties, he co-founded a short-lived review, Le Banquet; contributed to another literary publication, La Revue Blanche; and in 1896 had his first book published, a collection of essays entitled Les Plaisirs et Les Jours. He became an enthusiastic admirer of John Ruskin and translated his Bible of Amiens and Sesame and Lilies into French. A novel, Jean Santeuil, which was the precursor of Remembrance of Things Past, was abandoned, and eventually published long after Proust’s death, in 1954.
For much of his youth Proust led the life of a man-about-town, frequenting fashionable Paris drawing rooms and literary salons, which were to form the background of a number of his early stories and sketches, and subsequently of Remembrance of Things Past.
The death of his adored mother in 1905 resulted in a nervous collapse and aggravated his chronic asthma and insomnia. But, despite his grief and the sense of loss, from which he never recovered, his mother’s death freed him with regard to his homosexual way of life, and allowed him to address same-sex love in his writing, albeit in a form which treated such experiences as happening to others rather than to himself.
In 1907 he moved into an apartment in the Boulevard Haussmann where, in the bedroom which he had had lined with cork to keep out noise, he embarked upon his great work À la Recherche du Temps Perdu (Remembrance of Things Past). In it the minuteness of his observation, the depth of his psychological understanding and the vividness of his descriptive powers combined to create one of the most poetic and magical works in all literature.
Publication of Remembrance of Things Past
This long autobiographical cycle was originally published in eight sections: Du Côté de Chez Swann (Swann’s Way) in 1913; A L’Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleurs (Within a Budding Grove) in 1918; Le Côté de Guermantes I (The Guermantes Way I) in 1920; Le Côté de Guermantes II and Sodom et Gomorrhe I (Cities of the Plain I) in 1921; Sodom et Gomorrhe II in 1922; La Prisonnière (The Captive) in 1923; Albertine Disparue (The Sweet Cheat Gone/The Fugitive) in 1925 and Le Temps Retrouvé (Time Regained) in 1927.
Proust was obliged to publish Swann’s Way at his own expense, and even after it had appeared, had trouble finding a publisher for the next part, A L’Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleurs. However, when it appeared in 1918 it received considerable acclaim, and was awarded the Prix Goncourt the following year. By the time Proust died, on November 18, 1922, the first four parts of the cycle had been published, leaving the others to appear posthumously.
Within a Budding Grove – Part I
The opening of Within a Budding Grove finds Swann married to Odette, and greatly changed. Swann, the sophisticated man of the world, who once studiously avoided any mention of his connections with people of the highest social standing, now boasts loudly of every invitation he and his socially unacceptable wife receive. Another person greatly altered is Cottard, the foolish and insecure country doctor of the Verdurin’s ‘little circle’. Now a successful member of the medical profession, Cottard has become a notable and self-possessed figure in society.
Marcel’s father invites a colleague home for dinner—M. de Norpois, a distinguished former member of the diplomatic service. De Norpois shows an interest in Marcel’s aspirations to be a writer, and asks to see an example of his work. Marcel shows him a piece he has written, and is dashed by the old ambassador’s dismissive response. However, Marcel’s father is persuaded to believe in the possibility of writing as a career, and de Norpois is instrumental in Marcel being allowed to attend a performance by the famous actress, Berma.
Odette and Swann, having until now rejected Marcel as a suitable playmate for their daughter Gilberte, are persuaded of his good influence on her, and welcome him to their house. Through Swann, Marcel becomes acquainted with his idol, the author Bergotte.
At last Marcel finds himself in the position he had dreamed of occupying—an intimate not only of his beloved Gilberte, but also of her parents, who have always seemed to him god-like beings.
Now that there seems to be no obstruction to Marcel’s love for Gilberte, the persuasion of her parents, which Marcel always counted on to influence her in his favour, begins to have the opposite effect. Marcel senses her irritation at feeling pressured by them to spend time with him, and vows never to see her again.
Marcel’s friend Bloch takes him to a second rate brothel, where the Madam attempts to introduce him to an intelligent Jewish girl, Rachel. Marcel has inherited his aunt’s furniture, but having no space for it, has given it to the brothel. However, now he cannot bear to see it in such surroundings.
In Place Names: The Place, Marcel and his grandmother depart for Balbec. Marcel is disappointed at finding, instead of the wild, storm-swept coast he expected, a sunny, comfortable seaside resort. His grandmother meets an old friend, Madame de Villeparisis, and through her they are introduced to the Princesse de Luxembourg. Marcel observes the mutual suspicion of the two separate worlds: the bourgeois and the aristocratic.
There is no subtler observer than Proust of his social surroundings, which he describes with inimitable humour (a characteristic of his writing seldom remarked upon, but notably present). His descriptions are distinguished not only by the depth of his psychological understanding, but by his keen observation of the manners and attitudes of different social circles. Indeed, the tension between the haute bourgeoisie and the aristocracy is one of the many themes woven into the rich texture of the work, and is the note on which Part I of Within a Budding Grove ends.
It feels, perhaps, a less than satisfactory ending, due possibly to Proust’s habit of adding new material to what was already written, but this is not really an ending at all; merely a breaking-off point before the story continues in Part II.
In Part II of Within a Budding Grove, we follow the course of Marcel’s search for love. His childish passion for Gilberte has faded, leaving an amorous vacuum, and Marcel sees in every pretty young girl a potential lover. Having earlier been forced by illness to abandon his proposed trip to Venice, he has accompanied his grandmother to Balbec and is disappointed to find not the savage, storm-swept coast of his imagination, but a tranquil seaside resort of suburban villas, inhabited by members of local bourgeois society and a sprinkling of Parisian aristocrats.
Instead of the wild, untrammelled forces of nature, it is the luxurious Grand Hotel which becomes the setting for Marcel’s lessons in life. Here he comes into contact with high society in the form of Madame de Villeparisis and her friend the Princesse de Luxembourg, vulgarity in the form of Bloch and his family, predatory homosexuality in the person of the arrogant Baron de Charlus, friendship in the sympathetic attentions of Robert de Saint-Loup, and love in the person of the enchanting Albertine.
Among other key figures to whom we are introduced is the painter Elstir, whom we have met earlier as a member of Madame Verdurin’s circle. Once again, as in the case of Dr Cottard, we find that a character who has been seen earlier as a figure of fun is actually a formidable talent, highly respected in his field.
The French title of the book, A L’Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleurs may be literally translated In the Shadow of Blossoming Young Girls, and the enchantment of developing sexuality is central to the book. Marcel meets a little band of young girls, and initially his head is turned by the beauty of the entire group, but gradually his affections settle on Albertine. However, Albertine is not yet ready to receive his clumsy advances.
Despite the youth and energy of these young girls, the author senses the implacable progress of time. André Maurois has written:
* André Maurois, The Quest for Proust, London, Jonathan Cape 1950
The Life and Work of Marcel Proust
To avoid any confusion, it may be helpful to point out that Proust’s great work, À La Recherche du Temps Perdu, was originally translated into English by Charles K. Scott-Moncrieff and published in 1922 under the title, Remembrance of Things Past. It was subsequently re-translated by Terence Kilmartin and appeared in 1981 as In Search of Lost Time. In 2002 a new edition appeared under the same title, with each volume assigned to a different translator. The Naxos AudioBooks recordings use the Scott-Moncrieff text and, in references to the work, I use Scott-Moncrieff’s title.
My own contact with Proust began when, as a 17-year-old schoolboy, I first read Swann’s Way. I could not have guessed then that, many years into the future, Proust would take over my life to such an extent. Over a six year period during the 1990s, I abridged and recorded Remembrance of Things Past for Naxos Audiobooks, for whom I have now recorded this entire, uncut text.
When I was asked to write The Life and Work of Marcel Proust (see www. naxosaudiobooks.com), it occurred to me that, although the people on whom Proust based his characters were no longer living, the places he wrote about were still there, and so I travelled to France to see them.
I was delighted to discover that Illiers, where Marcel Proust spent his holidays as a child, and which figures in the book as Combray, is now marked on maps and road signs as Illiers-Combray, in official recognition of the reason for this sleepy village’s wider fame.
In a narrow street just off the market square in Illiers-Combray is the house in which Proust’s father, Adrien Proust, was born, and further along is the house of his aunt Élisabeth, now a Proust museum, where Élisabeth’s fictional counterpart, the bedridden Aunt Léonie, watched the world go by from her bedroom window. Around the corner from the house is a little boulangerie with a sign in the window announcing proudly: ‘This is where Aunt Léonie bought her madeleines’. It only occurs to me as I buy a packet of the scallop-shaped cakes, that Aunt Léonie is a creature of fiction. Never mind, Aunt Élisabeth might well have patronised the establishment, or one very like it. Up the hill there is a real house called Tansonville, the name of the house occupied by Charles Swann, and later by his daughter Gilberte and her husband Robert de Saint-Loup, and further on there is a real village called Méréglise, a name almost identical to the fictional Méséglise.
Water lilies are still reflected in the glassy surface of the river Loir, which in the book bears the more poetic name the Vivonne, and beyond the stream lies the Pré Catalan, the enchanting park created by Proust’s horticulturally minded Uncle Jules. From Illiers I travelled on to Cabourg, a seaside resort on the Normandy coast, the original of the fictional Balbec. Here I found the Grand Hotel in all its Edwardian splendour. It was rebuilt after Proust spent holidays there as a child, but he returned as an adult, and sections of Remembrance of Things Past were written beneath its roof. As in Within a Budding Grove, the great glass windows of the restaurant look out over the promenade to the beach below, and with a little imagination, that group of budding young girls in bikinis is transformed into the little band of ‘jeunes filles en fleurs’ outlined against the sea.
I travelled on to Paris, visiting 102 Boulevard Haussmann, Proust’s home for many years, where he wrote so much of Remembrance of Things Past. The building is still owned by the same bank that purchased it from Proust’s aunt, when her inconsiderate decision to sell it forced him to move. His bedroom is still there, but unfurnished, and to see the room as it was, one is obliged to visit the Musée Carnavalet, where his bed, chaise-longue and other effects are displayed in a reconstruction of the famous cork-lined room.
A walk to the gardens of the Champs Élysées brought me to an area with a sign announcing that I am in the Allée Marcel Proust. Children chase each other—perhaps playing the modern equivalent of ‘prisoners base’, the game played by Gilberte and her friends. This is where the real Marcel played as a child with the real Marie de Benardaky, with whom he fell in love, just as the fictional Marcel falls in love with the fictional Gilberte Swann.
In the real world the same spaces are occupied now by different people. Time has moved on, but places remain, and we have the privilege of being present in not only the imaginary world Proust created, but that portion of the real world which had a part in its creation. His presence has left behind a trace of magic, and we see places differently, because we see them through his eyes. One day those places will have crumbled into dust, as will we ourselves, and the space we now consider ours will be occupied by others. But as long as civilisation remains, those who come after us will be able to share Proust’s vision and enter his world. Proust was aware that art is the only true reality, and that through his creations the artist continues to live after his death, beyond space and beyond time.
Notes by Neville Jason
A Proust Chronology
1871, July 10 Marcel Proust born
1873, May 24 Robert Proust born
1878–1886 holiday visits to Illiers (now Illiers-Combray)
1880, spring Marcel’s first attack of asthma
1882–1888 attends the Lycée Condorcet
1888 contributed to La Revue Lilas and La Revue Verte
1889–1890 military service at Orléans
1890, January 3 death of maternal grandmother, Adèle Weil
1890, August holiday at Cabourg
1890, November enrols as a student in the Faculty of Law and at the Ecole Libre des Sciences Politiques
1890, November–1891, September contributes to Le Mensuel
1892, March first edition of Le Banquet
1893, March last edition of Le Banquet
1893, April 13 meets Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac
1893 contributes to La Revue Blanche; degree in law
1894, May 22 meets Reynaldo Hahn
1894, December trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus
1895, March degree in philosophy
1895, summer holiday in Brittany with Reynaldo Hahn
1896 publication of Les Plaisirs et Les Jours; writing Jean Santeuil
1897, February 6 duel with Jean Lorrain
1898, January 13 Emile Zola’s article J’Accuse published
1899 begins translation of Ruskin’s Our Fathers Have Told Us (La Bible d’Amiens)
1899, summer holiday at Evian-les-Bains, visits the Brancovan family at Amphion
1900, June and October visits Venice
1902 abandons work on Jean Santeuil
1903, November 26 death of Adrien Proust
1904 publication of La Bible d’Amiens
1905, September 26 death of Jeanne Proust
1906, June publication of Sesame and Lilies (Sésame et les Lys)
1906, July Dreyfus declared innocent
1906, December moves to 102 Boulevard Haussmann
1907, summer holiday at Cabourg, where he will spend the next seven summers. Meets Alfred Agostinelli
1908–09 begins writing À la Recherche du Temps Perdu
1913 Agostinelli re-enters Proust’s life. Employs Celeste Albaret
1913, November Du Côté de Chez Swann (Swann’s Way) published
1914, May 30 Alfred Agostinelli dies in an aircraft accident
1918, June publication of A L’Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleurs (Within a Budding Grove), Pastiches et Mélanges and new edition of Swann’s Way
1919, June moves to 8, rue Laurent-Pichat
1919, December Within a Budding Grove awarded the Prix Goncourt
1920, October moves to 44, rue Hamelin
1920, October Le Côté de Guermantes I (The Guermantes Way I) published
1920, April Le Côté de Guermantes II and Sodom et Gomorrhe I (Cities of the Plain I) published
1921, December 11 death of Montesquiou
1922, April Sodom et Gomorrhe II published
1922, October awarded the Légion d’Honneur
1922, November 18 death of Marcel Proust
1923 La Prisonnière (The Captive) published
1925 Albertine Disparue (The Fugitive/The Sweet Cheat Gone) published
1952 Jean Santeuil published
1954 Contre Sainte-Beuve (Against Sainte-Beuve) published
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