Saturday, April 9, 2011

How to Become a Writer: Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past

First galley proof of A la recherche du temps ...Image via Wikipedia






Writer and Writers :Brief biographical notes

Marcel Proust (1913 – 1927) was born in Auteuil, near Paris, to a wealthy family. Later this cities —Auteuil and Illiers— Proust transformed them into the Combray of Remembrance of Things Past. Beset by asthma during his childhood and other complications, he found solace and respite in reading and writing.

Proust studied law at the famous Sorbonne at the École des Sciences Politiques, contributing at the same time articles to Parisian magazines. Despite his neurotic displays he was good company and many people in society sought him out, frequenting with regularity the salons of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, the wealthy and aristocratic area of Paris. His critics —especially those on the left—often accuse him of being a homosexual, an elitist, a detestable snob, and a shameless social climber. After his mother died in 1905, he withdrew from the salons.

In 1896 his first books were published: Portraits De Peintres and Les Plaisirs Et Les Jours, illustrated by his friend Madeleine Lemaire. During this period he also wrote Jean Santeuil and Contre-Sainte Beuve, but both went unpublished until discovered in the 1950s.

From 1910 he seldom left his bedroom, which he had corked to cut off the din and daylight from the streets. While Paris slept, he wrote through the night, managing to sleep during the day. So that by 1912 he completed the first volume of his seven-part major work: À la Recherche du Temps Perdu (Remembrance of Things Past).

 How to become a writer

To overcome his health and psychological problems, Proust dedicated himself almost exclusively to reading and writing. If he wasn’t writing, he was reading, and vice versa, declaring once: “So, the great writers, during those hours when they are not in direct communication with their thought, delight in the society of books.”

Gifted as a fluid writer —not one to suffer from writer’s block— he filled notebook upon notebook with his own scribblings. One can just imagine the voluminous arrays of notebooks that he accumulated to produce the massive 3,000 pages of Remembrance of Things Past. Yet he was a perfectionist, for he took delight in revising his work continuously.

Remembrance of Things Past (or In Search of Lost Time)

Whether it was professional envy or personal dislike, writer Andre Gide recommended to the publisher that Du côté de chez Swann (Swann's Way), be rejected. E.M. Forster —another famous writer— thought Proust’s work “chaotic, ill constructed, it has and will have no external shape; and yet it hangs together because it is stitched internally, because it contains rhythm."

The novel is an autobiographical novel narrated in a stream-of-consciousness style. It pieces together a constellation of remembrances from the narrator’s childhood. The multitude of the events narrated emanate from an apparently insignificant and mundane act as the taste of a madeleine cake. In Proust the senses trigger memory recollections, not reason, or deliberately cogitation.

For Proust the continuum time-space is useless unless evocated by memory. It is memory within time and space what is of importance to humanity—to social interaction. The indefatigable narrator writer —Marcel— travels in time to make sense in the present of events that formed him, that made him what he is, that shaped his persona.

Not always is he successful in his analysis, for memory fails and it is often untrustworthy; yet, that is all humans have. It is those moments of “involuntary memory” that flashes anew into our lives that account for much of our fleeting happiness and joy in the present. Through Marcel’s evocations the reader can see in procession the faithless cocotte Odette, Swann’s eventual wife, the homosexual Baron de Charlus, Dutchess, Mme de Villeparisis, Robert Saint-Loup, and Marcel's great love Albertine, who is perhaps lesbian and who dies in a riding accident (a character that was partly based on Alfred Agostinelli, Proust's chauffeur, secretary and live-in companion).

Remembrance of Things Past does not have a plot line. In this context, the novel mirrors life, for life isn’t contrived but a concatenation of inexorable events from beginning to end. And in the very end —at his deathbed— Proust found himself endlessly correcting the manuscript of Remembrances of Things Past.

Other works

Les Plaisirs Et Les Jours, 1896 - Pleasures and Regrets (tr. by Louise Varèse, 1948) - Päivällisvieras ja muita kertomuksia (suom. Annikki Suni, 1983); Pastiches et Mélanges, 1919; Chroniques, 1892-1921; Jean Santeuil, 1927 (unfinished) - Jean Santeuil (transl. by Gerard Hopkins); Morceaux Choisis, 1928 ; Comment Parut "Du Côte De Chez Swann, 1930 (repub. as Proust et la strategie littéraire, 1954); Correspondance Générale, 1930-36 (6 vols.) - Letters (selection, ed. by Mina Curtiss, 1950)

To become a writer I write essays every day. Since English is my second language, in writing essays I consult Mary Duffy's
Sentence Openers. When I write fiction --or fiction writing of novels and short stories-- I consult Toolbox for Writers.

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