Proust Meets Mann


Literary mash-ups are hot now, following the publication of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and I don’t want to miss out. My modest proposal is to have Proust meet Mann: Marcel retires to a sanatorium in Davos and becomes a companion of Hans Castorp.

I can foresee a few major objections to this project, so let’s address these first.

Marcel, we know, spends a long time in a sanatorium. Most commentators identify the place as a mental health sanatorium, but the text does not say this explicitly. This idea comes, presumably, from the fact that Proust spent time in a mental sanatorium after the death of his mother. For my purposes, I choose to focus on Proust’s asthma and the need to treat it in a better climate. What better place than a resort-like setting in the Swiss Alps?

Another objection will be about the dramatic action. How do you have any when both protagonists are social mirrors? Marcel and Hans are much better at bringing out responses in others than in driving conversations and social interactions. To keep the action going we will have to introduce a few more characters who Marcel and Hans can interrogate, obsess over and come to understand and dismiss.

I would have Marcel paid a visit by Charlus and Saint-Loup and Hans paid a visit by Mynheer Peeperkorn and Mme. Clavida Chauchat. These characters will provide all the themes needed to fill a fat book.

Marcel is intrigued by Chauchat and spends long hours in conversation with her, each wrapped in blankets and sitting in the cold air on her balcony. From a few casual remarks by Clavida, Marcel learns that she has not only visited Balbec but had met Albertine. She waves off further questions about Albertine, saying she met her only once or twice. Marcel is not so sure she is telling the whole truth. He devises strategies to make her reveal more.

Meanwhile, Charlus is spending a lot of time with Peeperkorn, too much time. What transpires between them is too scandalous to even summarize here. Suffice it to say that Charlus is confirmed in his love of all things German.

Saint-Loup spars with the radical terrorist Jesuit Leo Naphta. Robert gradually loses his composure as Naphta unveils Robert’s virile homosexuality as a symbol of the decline and fall of the West. Saint-Loup shoots Naphta in a fit of rage, but the crime is covered up by Settembrini by staging a fake duel. Saint-Loup departs for Paris to prepare for the looming war.

I think I have taken this far enough for a good writer to take over and flesh out. All I ask is for an acknowledgement (and 1% of the gross from the film adaptation.)

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