Proust Book Group Meeting 5
‘Un livre est le produit d’un autre moi que celui que nous manifestons dans nos habitudes, dans la société, dans nos vices’.
(A book is the product of another self than the one that we show in our habits, in society, in our vices.)
Discuss with reference to ‘Combray’.
It’s been a delight to read and re-read the same piece of writing. And this is particularly the case with Proust as the writing is so very dense.
At this week’s meeting we tackled the difficult question about the idea of the creative self. The quotation that makes up the title is from a work by Proust entitled ‘Contre Sainte-Beuve’, a work in which Proust attacked the notion expounded by Sainte-Beuve that the person who creates should not be distinguished (or distinguishable) from the person as they present themselves in society. Proust clearly disagreed with this, hence his writing of ‘Contre Sainte-Beuve’.
He then went on to challenge Sainte-Beuve’s supposition further in his writing of ‘A la Recherche du Temps Perdu’. And nowhere is there greater evidence of this than in Combray where we are presented with the great composer and musician, Vinteuil, who is seen in society as someone to be pitied.
One specific example : Vinteuil
In his devotional duties as father his attention to his wayward daughter is considered misplaced. Even in a detail as slight as adjusting his daughter’s shawl to prevent her from feeling cold he renders himself ridiculous seeking to protect a daughter who seems to grow in strength on the condition that he diminishes. The assumption is obvious – a seemingly weak and blind father cannot be capable of great artistic achievement. Oh how wrong this is and when we read ‘Un Amour de Swann’ we see Swann’s surprise, and downright denial, when he discovers that the ‘phrase musicale’ that he so loves is by Vinteuil.
-Je connais bien quelqu’un qui s’appelle Vinteuil, dit Swann, en pensant au professeur de piano des deux soeurs de ma grand-mère.
– C’est peut-être lui, s’écria Mme Verdurin.
-Oh! non, répondit Swann en riant. Si vous l’aviez vu deux minutes, vous ne vous poseriez pas la question…mais ce pourrait être un parent …, cela serait assez triste, mais enfin un homme de génie peut être le cousin d’une vieille bête. …
-I know someone called Vinteuil, said Swann, thinking of the piano teacher to my grandmother’s two sisters.
-It’s perhaps him, exclaimed Mme Verdurin.
-Oh!No, Swann replied laughing. You’d only have to see him for 2 minutes to know not to ask that question…but he could be related…, it would be quite sad, but then a man of genius can be the cousin of an old fool…
one general observation
Ironically, Swann, as an artist ‘manqué’, is also presented as a fool in love in ‘Un Amour de Swann’ . This contrasts with the Swann we see in ‘Combray’, where Proust also hints at another Swann, the one interested in art and ideas yet who conceals what he really feels. Personality itself is seen as multi-faceted where the facets are sometimes contradictory and this informs Proust’s notion of the artist.
one real-life example
And who better to provide us with this than Proust himself? Turned down for publication by the very eminent André Gide because he deemed that the Proust that he had met was too lightweight to have written anything of particular merit, it was only later, when he had actually read Proust’s work, that Gide realised the magnitude of the mistake he had made.
Now, I’ve never been to a book group where the start of a novel has been discussed with such enthusiasm nor indeed at such length, nor indeed read and re-read so many times.
And it’s been a joy.
And so, it’s with a mixture of regret – at leaving Combray behind – and excitement – at what’s to come – that I have to say that, at last, it is time to move on…
Next meeting : ‘Un Amour de Swann’ – love and jealousy