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NA322012 - PROUST, M.: Remembrance of Things Past, Vol. 7: Time Regained (Abridged)
Time Regained is the final part of Remembrance of Things Past. In between lengthy stays in a sanatorium, the Narrator (Marcel) makes several return visits to Paris during the First World War. When he finally leaves the sanatorium at the end of the war, he discovers that the old social order has changed. The two Ways of his childhood walks in Combray have now come together; the Méséglise (or Swann’s Way), representing the bourgeois society into which Marcel was born, and the Guermantes Way, the aristocratic circle of the Guermantes family into which he has been admitted, are now united, and members of both worlds are to be found mingling in Paris society.
Gilberte, Swann’s daughter, has married Robert de Saint-Loup, thus becoming a member of the Guermantes family; the Prince de Guermantes marries Mme. Verdurin, formerly ‘Mistress’ of ‘the little clan,’ a bohemian artistic circle, whose husband has since died; the aged Duc de Guermantes is in love with Swann’s widow, the former courtesan Odette de Crecy; Marcel’s old school friend Bloch, now a respected playwright, has become much in demand in society salons; the Duchesse de Guermantes, previously unwilling to acknowledge any but the most fashionable members of her world, now cultivates the friendship of the actress Rachel, previously the mistress of her nephew Saint-Loup, and originally a whore.
In attempting to find his way home through the darkened streets during an air raid, Marcel becomes lost and stumbles into a male brothel. He sees a shadowy figure reminiscent of Saint-Loup leave the building. His curiosity leads him to witness the Baron de Charlus undergoing an episode of sado-masochistic whipping. A croix-de-guerre is discovered in the brothel, which later on turns out to have been lost by Saint-Loup. Unknown to Gilberte, Robert has been involved in homosexual affairs, and is in love at present with the violinist Charles Morel. Morel is the son of Marcel’s uncle’s valet, and was formerly the protégé of the Baron de Charlus, whom he has treated with
cruelty and ingratitude. Later Marcel is devastated to learn that Robert de Saint-Loup has been killed in battle, having proved himself a daring and valiant officer.
Gilberte returns to Tansonville, her house at Combray, which has been requisitioned by German troops. She writes to Marcel that the hawthorn path where they first met has become a military objective and is the center of a fierce battle, while Combray church has been destroyed by the British and the French, because it was used as a look-out post by the Germans.
When Marcel returns to Paris from his sanatorium after the war, he accepts an invitation to attend a reception at the Prince de Guermantes’magnificent new mansion. Here he experiences several episodes of involuntary memory in which the past is so vividly re-created, that it becomes indistinguishable from the present. These experiences lead to his discovering that the theme, for which he has been searching as the subject for his work, is his own life. He meets friends from his earlier life whom he is astonished to find have become old, and it is brought home to him that if time has passed for them, it has passed for him as well, and that he too is now old. He realizes that he only has a limited time in which to work, and that he must begin at last.
Time Regained brings together the two themes of the book, ‘Time Lost’ and ‘Time Re-discovered’. The novel’s original title in French, A La Recherché du Temps Perdu translates literally into ‘In Search of Lost Time’, and the phrase ‘lost time’ may be taken to refer both to time which has passed, and time which has been wasted. The two meanings are relevant both to Proust’s own life and to the novel, which, if not directly autobiographical, is certainly a record of Proust’s inner journey through life.
Proust wanted to be a writer from his early youth, but he was tortured by
self-doubt and the fear that he lacked talent. He was also highly susceptible to the attractions of society, and spent much of his time in the fashionable salons of the time, which were frequented by well-known writers, composers, artists and politicians, as well as by members of the aristocracy and the social elite. But Proust was aware that his life as a man about town was sapping time and energy, which ought to be devoted to his work, and he constantly berated himself for lacking the willpower to keep regular hours and embark on a sustained regime of work.
However, in retrospect his whole life can be seen as a preparation for writing his masterpiece, Remembrance of Things Past. All his experiences, both serious and frivolous, were to serve as raw material for his novel. Despite Proust’s self-criticism, and although he never earned his living from writing and depended on a private income before embarking on Remembrance of Things Past, he still managed to write—in addition to endless letters—articles, essays, poetry, translations of several works of Ruskin, a volume of short stories, and an unfinished novel. The volume of stories, The Pleasures and the Days, was published in 1896, to little public acclaim, while the unfinished novel, Jean Santeuil, an unsuccessful first attempt to write what was to become Remembrance of Things Past, lay among Proust’s papers, until being discovered and published in 1954, more than thirty years after his death.
The Narrator of Remembrance of Things Past is a thinly disguised version of the author himself. Like Proust, he is an invalid who wastes his time socializing, constantly putting off the work he intends to write. In the last volume, Time Regained, he finally realizes that the subject for his book, which always eluded him, was there in front of him all the time; it is his own life.
Because of its digressive nature, Remembrance of Things Past has been criticized as formless, lacking shape. But although Proust altered and added enormously to the original scheme of the novel, which ended up unimaginably longer than he originally planned, its structure was there from the beginning, and it is not until we reach the final part, that the author’s intention can be fully appreciated.
Remembrance of Things Past is the story of a man who is unable to bring himself to write. Finally he discovers his theme and decides it is time to begin. And as we finish reading the novel, we realize that it is the book on which he is about to start. Here we have the perfectly formed circle of ‘Time Lost’ and ‘Time Regained’, which was Proust’s original plan.
Proust’s theory of involuntary memory is central to the work. The incident of the madeleine dipped in lime-flower tea, which brings back for the Narrator a whole lost world of childhood, takes place in the first part of the novel, Swann’s Way, and with it the author sets forth his subject as a composer and states a theme which he intends to develop in the rest of the symphony.
According to Proust, it is this power of involuntary memory, which enables us to
re-experience the past, rather than merely to visualize it, which is a function of the intellect. On such occasions, we feel again the same sensations, which surrounded the original event. And when the Narrator returns to Paris after many years in a sanatorium, several instances of involuntary memory are crowded together in one day. These lead to his realization that he is able to use these experiences, in which the past and the present are inextricably mixed, to re-live his life, to regain lost time.
As Marcel arrives at the Prince de Guermantes’ mansion, he steps on an uneven paving stone, and is immediately filled with a sense of coolness and dazzling light. He searches for the origin of these feelings, and realizes that they have transported him back to Venice, where he had encountered a similar uneven paving stone in the Baptistry of St. Mark’s. In the library, a servant accidentally knocks a spoon against a plate, and Marcel finds himself again in a railway carriage contemplating the beauty of the evening light on a row of trees, a sight to which he had felt unable to respond the previous day. When he wipes his mouth with a starched napkin, he re-lives the sensation of being once again in Cabourg, drying his face by the open window with one of the hotel’s stiff linen towels, and as he breathes the salt air he feels he has only to open the windows to step out onto the beach. These experiences serve to remove all his self-doubt and to give him courage by affirming that the past is alive within him and that his youthful self is still accessible.
And so ‘Lost Time’ — in the sense both of time that has passed, and time that
has been wasted, becomes ‘Time Regained’ — that is time, which can not only be lived through again, but also can be captured and immobilized through literature. Encapsulated in a work of art, time is suspended, and a life, which would otherwise have been as ephemeral as a plant that blooms only for a season and then dies, is enabled to exist indefinitely.
This yearning for immortality is the spur, which drives the artist forward, impelling him to create art as a defense against the finality of death. And the last third of Marcel Proust’s short life was taken up with this struggle against mortality, as bedridden and suffering, he called upon all his remaining strength to complete his task.
Proust, the life-long invalid, sensed the advance of death and was conscious of the shortness of time remaining for the accomplishment of his work. And with an irony worthy of one of his own characters, who so often turn out to be quite different from what we have been led to suspect, the fashionable man about town, who had been seen by his critics as a dilettante, who since his youth had berated himself for his lack of will-power and his inability to work, now became an example of courage, single-minded determination and tenacity, as he battled against illness and death to finish what he had set out to do.
In the end, Proust succeeded in completing his novel before death claimed him, and in Remembrance of Things Past he leaves us his legacy, a distillation of his life through which he enables us to see our own more clearly. As he wrote, ‘Our greatest fears, like our greatest ambitions, are not beyond our strength, and we are able in the end to overcome the one and to realize the other.’ The work he feared he might never accomplish stands now for all time—a reminder that with sufficient courage and will, we too have the power to transform Time Lost into Time Regained.
Marcel Proust was born on July 10, 1871. His father, a distinguished professor of medicine, was from a Catholic family, while his mother was Jewish.
Although intent on becoming a writer from an early age, Proust was riddled with self-doubt. During his twenties he co-founded a short-lived review, Le Banquet, contributed to La Revue Blanche and had his first book published, a collection of articles and essays entitled Les Plaisirs et les Jours.
He became an enthusiastic admirer of the work of 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 eventually abandoned and only published long after his death, in 1954.
For much of his youth he led the life of a man of fashion, frequenting fashionable Paris drawing rooms and literary salons, and these formed the background for a number of his 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 emotional life and allowed him to address homosexuality in his writing, albeit in a manner which treated such experiences as happenings to others rather than to himself.
In 1907 he moved into an apartment in the Boulevard Haussmann where, in the bedroom which he had lined with cork to keep out noise, he embarked upon his great work A la Recherche du Temps Perdu (Remembrance of Things Past).
This long cycle of autobiographical novels was published in eight sections: Du Côté de Chez Swann (Swann’s Way) in 1913; A L’Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleur (Within A Budding Grove) in 1918; Le Côté de Guermantes I (The Guermantes Way I) in 1920; Le Côté de Guermantes II and Sodome et Gomorrhe (Cities of the Plain I) in 1921; Sodome et Gomorrhe II in 1922; La Prisonnière (The Captive) in 1923; Albertine Disparue (The Sweet Cheat Gone) in 1925; 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, he had trouble finding a publisher for the next volume, A L’ Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleur. 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. The English translations by C.K. Scott Moncrieff, from which (volumes one through eleven of) this abridged audiobook version has been prepared, were published between 1922 and 1930. The translation of Time Regained is by Neville Jason.
In Remembrance of Things Past, the minuteness of Proust’s observation, the depth of his psychological understanding and the vividness of his descriptive powers have combined to create one of the most poetic and magical works in all literature.
Notes by Neville Jason
Neville Jason trained at RADA where he was awarded the Diction Prize by Sir John Gielgud. He has worked with the English Stage Co., the Old Vic Company and the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as in films and musicals. Jason has appeared in popular television serials such as Maigret, Emergency Ward 10 and Dr. Who, as well as playing classical roles such as Orestes and Horatio. Formally a member of the BBC Radio Drama Co., he can be frequently heard on radio. Jason’s passion for Remembrance of Things Past comes alive in his adaptation and reading of the series, for which he has received worldwide praise.
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