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Marcel Proust Hardcover – August 7, 2000

3.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

How to write the biography of a writer whose life's work was his life story? In the case of Marcel Proust, the task is complicated by the subject's own hostility to the genre; in his essay "Contre Sainte-Beuve," Proust argued that writers should be judged by their books and not by the facts of their life. Indeed, when it comes to Proust, one might well confuse the two. For the first half of his life, he traded witticisms in the salons of the belle époque; for the second he sat at home and wrote about it, going so far as to line the walls of his living room with cork in order to keep the outside world where it belonged. Eventually, all that exquisite isolation produced what is arguably the defining work of the 20th century, the loosely autobiographical, imposingly multivolumed Remembrance of Things Past. As a biographer, one can conflate the novel with the life, as Proust's first biographer, George Painter, did; or one can go the road of several recent studies, including that of William C. Carter, and emphasize instead Proust's psychology, including his "repressed" homosexuality and his complicated relationship with his Jewish ancestry. Alternately, one can address Proust as a creature of his time and his place, the product of fin-de-siècle France with all its prejudices and conventions and embroidered antimacassars.

In Marcel Proust: A Life, French critic Jean-Yves Tadie surveys these approaches from the lofty perspective of 40 years of Proust scholarship, and he chooses all--or perhaps none. For Tadie is concerned not with Proust the man but with Proust the novelist. "The true biography of a writer or an artist is that of his work," he proclaims, and goes on to present the development of Proust's life and his novel side by side, considering real-life people and events alongside the fictional representations they inspired. Thankfully, though impressively learned, Tadie is not what we would call an "academic" biographer: his prose is far too elegant and even witty for that, and he actually seems to be enjoying himself. (In cataloging the items sold by Proust's uncle's firm, for example, Tadie exclaims with contagious glee, "Is it not like reading a novel by Balzac, or the wedding announcement chapter in Albertine disparue?") Weighing in at a very Proustian 986 pages--it would make almost as good a murder weapon as Remembrance of Things Past--Tadie's work is a biography of mind-boggling thoroughness, and yet every detail strikes the reader as necessary. Suitably, this definitive work ends with a touching account of Proust's death, as the great writer dictates his masterwork until he is no longer capable of speech. Who could ask more of a biographer than Tadie's gentle and affectionate epitaph? "And we too address our respects to a man who suffered so much in order that his work should shine like the sun, now that it causes him no more harm." --Mary Park

From Publishers Weekly

"He lived in order to write, and his life... became his laboratory," notes Tadi , editor of the definitive Pl iade edition of Proust's magnum opus, A la recherche du temps perdu. Compared with William Carter's more conventional biography, published earlier this year (see Forecasts, Feb. 7), Tadi 's masterful literary biography, originally published in France in 1996, is more impressionistic at times but succeeds in more clearly mapping the "history of a mind." Tadi , a professor of literature at the Sorbonne, constructs a model of the novelist's intellectual progress and literary development. In the early pages, when portraying Proust as a rich, somewhat aimless young man shuttling between the worlds of letters and high society, the account is a bit static. But throughout, Tadi quite ably makes biographical detail relevant to his literary analysis. For example, after discussing the comparative failure of Proust's debut miscellany, Les plaisirs et les jours, and his failure to complete his first novel, Jean Santeuil, Tadi argues that Proust needed aesthetic recharging. With impressive erudition, he convincingly argues that the novelist received this energizing from his struggle to translate Ruskin's Bible of Amiens into French. Tadi contends that it was the decline of Proust's social life combined with a worsening asthmatic condition that led him to take up what would become his life's work. Tadi arguably knows Proust and his great work better than any previous biographer; his narrative skillfully meshes the creation of A la recherche with all the aspects of Proust's life that inspired and informed it. 16 pages of b&w photos, not seen by PW. (Aug.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1052 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (August 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670876550
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670876556
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 2.3 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #248,420 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By A Customer on August 15, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Jean-Yves Tadie probably knows more about Proust than anyone in the world. His work is also controversial. Roger Shattuck actually called for a boycott of the Tadie-edited Pleiade edition of In Search of Lost Time because of the amount of detail and alternative material included (Shattuck's reasons can be found in his Proust's Way). There are currently three large scale biographies of Proust available in English, all titled Marcel Proust: George Painter's (1959 and 1965, still available in a one volume 446 page paperback 2nd edition from Amazon in the UK, and having a reputation for being one of the greatest biographies of the 20th century), William Carter's (2000, 946 pages), and Tadie's (1996, 986 pages). I mention the pages to emphasize the scale of these works.
Two years ago I started reading Proust again. This time I made the breakthrough and was hooked. I am now about two-thirds of the way back to the beginning, somewhere in the middle of Sodom and Gomorrah (volume 4 of 7 in the Modern Library edition). One of the things to know about reading Proust is that once you have been acclimated to the Narrator and his style, resuming the novel is like receiving a telephone call from an old friend. In a page or two it's just like old times.
Shortly, thereafter I read Edmund White's Penguin Life (1999). In his excellent bibliography, he calls Tadie's book the "best biography ever written of Proust". He also notes that at first he "seriously underestimated its worth, since it lacks narrative sweep and humor value and sometimes looks like random notes". I eagerly awaited the English translation.
Meanwhile I began reading Painter and when the Carter book came out started that too. Painter's book reads like a novel.
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Format: Hardcover
Having heard much about Marcel Proust and his role in 20th century literature, several years ago I began the odyssey of reading a standard English translation of "A la recherche". There is something unsettling about reading Proust for the first time: the extravagantly-long sentences, the concentration on emotion and aesthetic experience, the depth of perception he invests in his characters, and the extended attention he pays to their everyday conversations and experiences. He can frustrate easily, but if you are able to abandon your habits from reading typical American best sellers, and allow Proust's unique approach to literature to grab hold, the rewards are enormous. There are few if any novelists like him, and you wonder as you are enveloped more and more into his world, how much of Proust's real life intruded into the life of his characters.
Jean-Yves Tadie's biography "Marcel Proust - a Life" provides the answer. So much of Proust's personal experience, and that of his acquaintances in French high society, are to be found in "A la recherche" that you cannot fully understand Proust's work without understanding Proust's life. And an everyday biography chronicling where Proust went, what he did, and who he met, would not be sufficient. What is required is a biography which explains how Proust developed his philosophy; why the aesethic experience was so vital, and sometimes so overwhelming for him; what is was that drew him to associate with the French nobility; and most importantly, what role love played in his life. Proust, after all, is the 20th century's pre-eminent chronicler of love's passion, and its destruction through jealousy.
Tadie's biography satisfies these requirements, in a way that perhaps only a French author could do.
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Format: Hardcover
I read the original French edition of Tadie's book a few years ago. I had started reading La Recherche and after a few hundred pages I really wanted to know more about the author before continuing reading. I found in Tadie's book exactly what I was looking for. An excellent biography describing with enough details Proust's family, lifestyle, friends, places where he visited and so on. I can only recommend to all Proust's enthusiasts to read this book. La Recherche cannot be understood and fully appreciated without basic knowlegde about Paris social life at the beginning of the century and without knowing what Proust was doing at that time. It is often said that he was always sick and was spending all his days in his bedroom. Readers will discover that it is not exactly true and that it is thanks to the places that he visited and people he met that he could write one of the greatest books ever written.
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