Marcel Breaks His Writer’s Block


Part of the richness of Proust’s prose is the complex narrative voice. Young Marcel’s voice is captured in dialog. The mature Marcel is the writer of this narrative. He for the most part writes with a limited omniscience, as if he is the young Proust, thereby not showing knowledge of the future. Although, occasionally the narrator telegraphs a thought, “as we will see…” And there is Proust himself, the undisguised author of the novel, as where he names the protagonist “Marcel.” Finally, there is the narrator at work on the early version of this text, writing even as we are reading, several volumes behind us. In this passage we learn that Marcel has begun writing Swann in Love.

On one occasion I found Françoise, armed with a huge pair of spectacles, rummaging through my papers and replacing among them a sheet on which I had jotted down a story about Swann and his inability to do without Odette. Had she maliciously left it lying in Albertine’s room? (V,493)

We are left with a sense of the novel as self-reflexive: It’s text is influencing the course of the narrative.

A few pages later Marcel talks with Albertine about writing and art. He meditates on Vinteuil’s effect on him.

But while she was speaking, and I thought once more of Vinteuil, it was the other, the materialist hypothesis, that of there being nothing, that in turn presented itself to my mind. I began to doubt again; I told my self that after all it might be the case that, if Vinteuil’s phrases seemed to be the expression of certain states of soul analogous to that which I had experienced when I tasted the madeleine soaked in tea, there was nothing to assure me that the vagueness of such states was a sign of their profundity rather than of our not having yet learned to analyse them, so that there might  be nothing more real in them than in other states. (V,513)

I quote this passage to show that Marcel has already had his epiphany on unforced memory, something I had supposed happened much later in his life.

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