Proust Outdoors

Proust Outdoors

Proust Outdoors

Proust Outdoors

Excerpt

Remote alpine wilderness, the vast openness of the Russian steppe, expanses of ocean and sky, lost archipelagos, the endless paths of nomads across the desert, and other boundless spaces have an enigmatic presence at key moments in A la recherche du temps perdu, a work famous for unfolding a world within the confines of a teacup. The outdoors’ prominence is surprising in a writer whom many critics consider in the genealogical line of Baudelaire and Huysmans and his work the culmination of their belief that masterful art can replace and transcend life. Certain strains of Proustian thought validate such an interpretation. But a focus on his fraught, conflicted relation to the outside yields important insights into Proustian aesthetics.

Marcel Proust, who wrote his great novel propped up in bed, is nearly as well known for a fondness of cozy interiors as for his infamously long sentences. His writing is replete with descriptions of a womblike bedroom, the fireplace’s warmth, the homey pleasures of the dining room, claustrophobic intrigues in aristocratic salons, comforting train or automobile interiors, the contentment of re turning inside after a walk, the beauty of the enclosed garden, the mystical atmosphere in Saint Hilaire, blissful baths, the warm, welcoming interior of fine restaurants, and the calming bed rest of the convalescent. Proust is foremost among writers with an affinity for enclosed spaces that capture and protect. Diane Fuss notes “that Proust is a writer of the interior quite nearly goes without saying.”

The tension between vast and enclosed spaces is all the more intriguing given the explicitly spatial terms of the passages in the novel where the narrator explains his ideas about writing. In the most direct expressions of his aesthetics, the narrator describes writing in terms of closed spaces and as a bounding, containing force. He argues that the writer “encloses” (enfermer) Truth or essence “dans les anneaux nécessaires d’un beau style” (Proust 4:468) [encloses them in the necessary rings of a well-wrought style (Proust 6:290)] [translation modified],” and asserts that metaphors give access to essences that exist in “mille vases clos” (Proust 4:448) [a thousand sealed vessels (Proust 6:260)]. Art is superior to life because it extracts and captures the essence of fragmentary, chaotic lived experience. Writing recovers life’s lost time because it has the power to gather in and hold the unchanging core of the past. It seems only natural that someone so in need of taking shelter, so steeped in interior pleasures would describe art in this way.

Most Proustian criticism has developed out of the images of interiority within the text and in particular the theoretical passages in Le temps retrouvé.
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.