Parsifal I


Several persons have identified Wagner’s Parsifal as the template for Search. In both a young man engages in an epic quest. We know that Proust first heard the opera after its copyright expired in 1914 (Wagner had forbidden its performance anywhere but at Bayreuth), either in person or by his telephone music service. But the score and libretto would have been available earlier and concert versions were performed across Europe.

I am struck by the number of echos of the opera found in the novel:

Parsifal’s mentor is Gurnemanz. Is this the medieval root of the Guermantes name?

Parsifal makes his entrance with a dead swan over his shoulder that he has shot with his bow. Swann?

The evil Klingsor fills the valley with flower-girls to tempt the knights. In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower?

But the clincher is Gurnemantz’ advice to Parsifal as he prepares to search for the spear: “Time here has become space.”

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2 Responses to “Parsifal I”

  1. Jean Adloff (Mr.) Says:

    Parsifal’s echoes,as you note, are indeed remarkable. Yet one is also struck by the fact that in the entire Recherche, event though there are close to forty references to Wagner or his works, there are only two specific references to “Parsifal”, one in Guermantes II (“….a change of setting comparable to that which all of sudden introduces Parsifal in the midst of flower-girls”) and one in Sodome where there is a brief reference to Parsifal’s “Enchant Friday”. It does not seem to corroborate your theory, though your observations are fascinating.

    • Jim Everett Says:

      I am not surprised that Proust would not call attention to this. He said somewhere that that would be like leaving the price tag on an item you are wearing.

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