Tuesday, February 28, 2006


“All the ideas that I had formed of the hours, different from those that exist for other men, passed by the Swanns in the house which was to their everyday life what the body is to the soul, and whose singularity it must have expressed, all those ideas were distributed, amalgamated--equally disturbing and indefinable throughout--in the arrangement of the furniture, the thickness of the carpets, the positions of the windows, the ministrations of the servants.”--Proust’s WITHIN A BUDDING GROVE

I’ve been slowly reading IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME. I’m reading the second volume, WITHIN A BUDDING GROVE.

Proust evokes the slow passage of time and the changes wrought, and the slight plot revolves around the love life of Swann and the narrator M.’s budding passion for Swann’s daughter, Gilberte, then for Albertine. Proust ‘s ornate sentences and elaborate descriptions of upper-class life have an opiate effect on me.

I’m occasionally bemused by Proust’s meditations. Much as I love the elegance of this translation (by C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, revised by D. J. Enright), the experiences of the narrator, M., differ from my own.

In short, I’m not rich.

Life in IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME consists of lunch, tea, salons, reading, walks to the Champs-Elysées, going to the theater, and, apparently, worshipping furniture. Proust describes the architecture of churches and interiors of houses in loving detail, often matching them to his psychological and emotional states.

As a middle-class person, my pleasures are simpler.

What’s this about furniture? The exquisite passage describing the possessions of Swann, which goes on and on, slightly exasperated me.

“...and there was nothing, not even the painting by Rubens that hung above the chimney-piece, that was not endowed with the same quality and almost the same intensity of charm as the laced boots of M. Swann and the hooded cape the like of which I had so dearly longed to wear...”

I have known a Swann or two in my time and have admired their luxurious houses. But their Oriental carpets, windows, comfortable sofas, and paintings have never stimulated me to M’s pitch of ecstasy.

Furniture means nothing. A Barcalounger chair is more comfortable than an antique wingback.

Proust’s reveries on nature, madeleines, and reading move me. His passion for furniture does not.

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