Proust was a famously congenial host at his dinner parties, moving from guest to guest with his plate in hand, engaging each person. As he worked on the novel, however, he retreated from society and declined most invitations. Passages in the novel, I believe, offer his explanations, if not apologies, to his ignored friends. The truth was, he retreated from them to know them better.
Was it not, surely, in order to concern myself with them that I was going to live apart from these people who would complain that they did not see me, to concern myself with them in a more fundamental fashion than would have been possible in their presence, to seek to reveal them to themselves, to realise their potentialities? What use would it have been that, for a few more years, I should waste hour after hour at evening parties pursuing the scarcely expired echo of other people’s remarks with the no less vain and fleeting sound of my own, for the sterile pleasure of a social contact which precluded all penetration beneath the surface? (VI,436)
And far from thinking myself wretched–a belief which some of the greatest men have had–because of this life without friends or familiar talk that I should live, I realized that our powers of exaltation are being given a false direction when we expend them in friendship, because they are then diverted from those truths towards which they might have guided us to aim at a particular friendship which can lead to nothing. (VI,437)
Tags: Proust and Friendship