Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past

Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past

Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past

Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past


A collection of critical essays on Proust's Remembrance of Things Past arranged in chronological order of publication.

Remembrance of Things Past is one of the two or three books written in the twentieth century that have definitely shaped not only the modern novel but the way we perceive our own experience. We have all probably known something like the famous moment when the madeleine dipped in tea triggers, by its taste and texture, the "involuntary memory" that unexpectedly brings back into consciousness a series of long-forgotten events and feelings. From the solitude of his cork-lined bedroom in Paris, the ailing Marcel Proust created a world so rich and intricate that few readers, once caught up in its evocative circling back in time, fail to respond to its power. An astonishing range of characters live for us as complex personalities, from the intellectual and aristocratic Swann to the solid country folk like the family servant Francoise to the sometimes corrupt but fascinating denizens of high society, like Baron de Charlus.


Sexual jealousy is the most novelistic of circumstances, just as incest, according to Shelley, is the most poetical of circumstances. Proust is the novelist of our era, even as Freud is our moralist. Both are speculative thinkers, who divide between them the eminence of being the prime wisdom writers of the age.

Proust died in 1922, the year of Freud’s grim and splendid essay, “Certain Neurotic Mechanisms in Jealousy, Paranoia, and Homosexuality.” Both of them great ironists, tragic celebrants of the comic spirit, Proust and Freud are not much in agreement on jealousy, paranoia, and homosexuality, though both start with the realization that all of us are bisexual in nature.

Freud charmingly begins his essay by remarking that jealousy, like grief, is normal and comes in three stages: competitive, or normal, projected, delusional. the competitive, or garden variety, is compounded of grief, due to the loss of the loved object, and of the reactivation of the narcissistic scar, the tragic first loss, by the infant, of the parent of the other sex to the parent of the same sex. As normal, competitive jealousy is really normal Hell, Freud genially throws into the compound such delights as enmity against the successful rival, some self-blaming, self-criticism, and a generous portion of bisexuality.

Projected jealousy attributes to the erotic partner one’s own actual unfaithfulness or repressed impulses, and is cheerfully regarded by Freud as being relatively innocuous, since its almost delusional character is highly amenable to analytic exposure of unconscious fantasies. But delusional jealousy proper is more serious; it also takes its origin in repressed impulses towards infidelity, but the object of those impulses is of one’s own sex, and this, for Freud, moves one across the border into paranoia.

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