Marcel Proust on Art and Literature, 1896-1919

Marcel Proust on Art and Literature, 1896-1919

Marcel Proust on Art and Literature, 1896-1919

Marcel Proust on Art and Literature, 1896-1919

Excerpt

In September 1905, Proust's mother died. He was thirty-four, and an invalid. "She takes my life away with her," he wrote on the day after her death. And in a letter of a few days later he cites with melancholy and yet approving acquiescence the remark of Madame Proust's nurse, that to his mother he was always four years old.

The purpose of such remarks is analgesia, and very likely the nurse remarked to other hearers that the poor lady died worn out by the exigencies of a grown- up son who wouldn't get off his mother's lap. In fact, the life that Madame Proust took away with her and which it became her son's life work to recapture was a prolonged adolescence round which she had extended a sheltering wrap of childhood. This wrap of childhood imparted a brilliant illusion of precocity to that adolescence persisting long after actual dates could justify it, and in La Recherche it is exactly this which Proust renders in the Marcel who goes into society, so that as one reads, one is continually exclaiming to oneself, "How could he have got so far, how did he know all this already?" During those years of social succes and social exploration, he certainly discarded the wrap when he went out, but it was as certainly waiting to reinfold him when he returned home. After his health broke down in 1902 there are signs that he grew impatient with it--sickness is intolerant of illusions--but by then his mother had made her own shelter in it. Then, with her death, it was torn away from an aging adolescence, in the course of which he . . .

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