This time rereading Proust I am going to read the volumes in more or less the order Proust wrote them, in the expectation that I will get new insights into how he wrote. Scholars who have had access to Proust’s notebooks generally agree that he began with sketches that he gradually shaped into Swann’s Way, Guermantes Way, Shadow of Young Girls (without Albertine) and Time Regained. The other volumes grew from the time Proust took advantage of the publishing moratorium imposed by WWI. (For this information I rely mostly on the essay “The Birth and Development of A La Recherche du Temps Perdu” by Marion Schmid in The Cambridge Companion to Proust, 2001.)
So I am following my reading of Swann’s Way with Time Regained. The Time Regained volume apparently has its origins in the unfinished Contra Saint Beuve, which concludes with a dialogue on aesthetics with his mother. My hunch is that Proust had to work through his aesthetic principles before he could justify to himself the worth of a novel so heavily infused with his own, seemingly insignificant, life experiences. Before I return to reading the published sequence of volumes, I want to become clearer about what these aesthetic judgement were and to keep them in front of me as I read.
My first observation (more on this in other posts) is the parallelism between Swann’s Way and Time Regained. They both open with Marcel’s Combray childhood, though from different points of view. Marcel is visiting with Gilberte at Tansonville and she provides her view of their first meeting. She recalls giving him an obscene gesture, out of a sense of juvenile sexual longing for him. Marcel, of course, had interpreted the gesture as one of defiant rejection. One more childish illusion overcome.
Marcel walks along some of the same paths around Combray that he had as a child. This time, though, the Vivonne is “ugly.” He has lost the desire to walk into Combray. He sees what had once entranced him, but time has ravaged his vision.