Marcel Proust

Marcel Proust (märsĕl´ prōōst), 1871–1922, French novelist, b. Paris. He is one of the great literary figures of the modern age. Born to wealthy bourgeois parents, he suffered delicate health as a child and was carefully ministered to by his mother. As a young man he ambitiously mingled in high Parisian society and wrote his rather unpromising first work, Les Plaisirs et les jours (1896; tr. Pleasures and Regrets, 1948; new tr. Pleasures and Days, 1957). Troubled by asthma and neuroses, as well as by the deaths of his parents, he increasingly withdrew from external life and after 1907 lived mainly in a cork-lined room, working at night on his monumental cyclic novel, À la recherche du temps perdu (16 vol., 1913–27; tr. Remembrance of Things Past, 1922–32, rev. tr. In Search of Lost Time, 1992; new tr. 2002).

The first of the novel cycle, Du côté de chez Swann (1913, tr. Swann's Way, 1928) went unnoticed, but the second, À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (1919, tr. Within a Budding Grove, 1919), was awarded the Goncourt Prize. Proust's semiautobiographical novel cycle is superficially concerned with its hero's development through childhood and through youthful love affairs to the point of commitment to literary endeavor. It is less a story than an interior monologue. Discursive, but alive with brilliant metaphor and sense imagery, the work is rich in psychological, philosophical, and sociological understanding. A vital theme is the link between external and internal reality found in time and memory, to which Proust sees humanity's strivings subjugated—time mocks the individual's intelligence and endeavors; memory synthesizes yet distorts past experience. Most experience causes inner pain, and the objects of human desires are the chief causes of their suffering.

In Proust's scheme the individual is isolated, society is false and ruled by snobbery, and artistic endeavor is raised to a religion and is superior to nature. Only through the vision gained in works of art can the individual see beyond his or her subjective experience. Proust's ability to interpret innermost experience in terms of such eternal forces as time and death created a profound and protean world view and his work has influenced generations of novelists and thinkers. His vision and technique have come to be seen as vital to the development of modernism. Most of his correspondence has been published (21 vol., P. Kolb, ed., 1970–93), as has his draft of an early novel, Jean Santeuil (1952, tr. 1955), and Contre Sainte-Beuve (1954, tr. On Art and Literature, 1896–1919, 1958).

See biographies by A. Maurois (1950, repr. 1984), R. H. Barker (1958), G. D. Painter (2 vol., 1959–65), L. Bersani (1965), G. Brée (1966), R. Hayman (1990), J.-Y. Tadié (1996, tr. 2000), E. White (1998), and W. C. Carter (2000); studies by W. S. Bell (1962), P. Quennell (1971), S. L. Wolitz (1971), G. Deleuze (1972), J. M. Cocking (1982), B. J. Bucknall, ed. (1987), A. Compagnon (1992), J. Kristeva (1996), R. Shattuck (2000), and A. Muhlstein (2012).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Marcel Proust: Selected full-text books and articles

Marcel Proust: A Biography By Richard H. Barker Criterion Books, 1958
Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past By Harold Bloom Chelsea House, 1987
Librarian’s tip: This is a work of literary criticism
Remembrance of Things Past By Marcel Proust; C. K. Scott Moncrieff Random House, vol.1, 1934
Librarian’s tip: This includes Swann’s Way, Within a Budding Grove, and The Guermantes Way
Remembrance of Things Past By Marcel Proust; C.K. Scott Moncrieff; Frederick A. Blossom Random House, vol.2, 1934
Librarian’s tip: This includes Cities of the Plain, The Captive, and The Sweet Cheat Gone
Around Proust By Richard E. Goodkin Princeton University Press, 1991
Modernist Fiction, Cosmopolitanism and the Politics of Community By Jessica Berman Cambridge University Press, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Marcel Proust"
Proust, the Body, and Literary Form By Michael R. Finn Cambridge University Press, 1999
Proust, Beckett, and Narration By James H. Reid Cambridge University Press, 2003
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