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Marcel Proust: A Life Paperback – March 1, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When the newly famous Marcel Proust (1871-1922) consented to an interview after winning the prestigious Prix Goncourt toward the end of his life, he modestly claimed he had spent the previous 15 years "entirely in bed." It was, of course, during this time that he began his quasi-autobiographic masterpiece, A la recherche du temps perdu. While Proust mythologized his life more than his writing, University of Alabama French professor Carter (The Proustian Quest), in the longest biography yet of the novelist, methodically takes account of both. Proust's voluminous social diary, his numerous friendships and his close relationship with his mother all inspired his great novel, as recounted here, but Carter also argues that Proust's earlier writings, often viewed as dilettantish, in fact led him progressively to write his masterpiece by virtue of the discipline they imposed. Carter comprehensively examines these early projects, from the abandoned novel, Jean Santeuil, and some pseudonymous society columns to Proust's idiosyncratic critique of the great 19th-century literary critic Sainte-Beuve. Excavating biographic details out of such material as untranslated memoirs and recently collected letters, Carter meticulously, often mundanely, accounts for the daily affairs of this social butterfly-turned-hypochondriac and shut-in. Proust's romances and infatuations, his political action during the Dreyfus affair, and his literary runs-ins with Anatole France and Andr? Gide, as well as larger issues such as his homosexuality, all receive lengthy treatment. Yet despite the impressive Proustian detail that Carter amasses, the biography still only skims the depths that flow from the author's life into his timeless novel. Illus. not seen by PW. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Carter braves the ascent of one of the highest peaks in world literature, retracing the lifetime of Marcel Proust, from the formative lessons he received as a child at his sensitive mother's knee to his lofty final achievement in publishing, The Search for Lost Time (generally known in the English-speaking world as Remembrance of Things Past). Newly available correspondence and memoirs provide revealing details of Proust's complicated Parisian social life, his intimacies with male lovers, his disputes with critics and other writers. These same sources also clarify the great difficulties (poor health, editorial skepticism) Proust surmounted in publishing his masterpiece. But it is in limning the erratic and surprisingly slow development of Proust's creative powers that Carter best demonstrates his own considerable gift. He deftly reveals how Proust's artistic talents--finally at full strength in his multivolume Remembranceenabled him to fathom the mysteries of memory, revealing not only how memory recalls the past but how in rare and luminous moments it transforms that past into living meaning. The serious readers attracted to Proust's brilliant novel will thank Carter for illuminating the life that produced it. Bryce Christensen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Henry McBride Series in Modernism and Mo
  • Paperback: 1024 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (March 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300094000
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300094008
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.9 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,046,764 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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70 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Richard S. Sullivan on May 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is a dangerous book. If you have not read In Search of Lost Time in all of its infamous 3000 pages and you pick up this book, beware. Chances are, like me, you will find yourself juggling this great biography, Vol 1. of the Search, and Roger Shattuck's Proust's "Way, A guide to In Search of Lost Time" all at the same time.
Carter's biography is the first comprehensive one in 40 years and is based on much new information not available in the Painter volumes of the late 50's and early 60's. I ordered this biography and it immediately got me hooked. Proust, in all his eccentricity (sometimes hilarious) comes off as a real and likeable person. He is certainly a different person than the one living in his corked lined room writing page after page describing the wallpaper in his room that Dr. Kaufman taught us about in my 1958 high school World Literature class.
At 800 pages, it at first appears to be a daunting read. What could be more boring than the life of an aristocratic French mama's boy never to earn more than a few Francs on his own until way past 30 years. It is hardly boring. Proust was an exceedingly complex person. (Aren't we all?) Proust was plagued by asthma that his doctors kept assuring him was psychosomatic in origin, and in some wisdom, he knew to be otherwise. Living at home totally supported by his mother and father, he lead an extravagant lifestyle, often leaving what amounted to $200.00 tips to the carriage driver. It was a salon society and Proust was a member of perhaps dozens. We tour the various salons and their status climbing members and hosts. In Carter's thorough biography we get to see the society of Proust in much the same way as he saw it.
Letters and more letters!
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50 of 54 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
William C. Carter's new biography of Marcel Proust is the finest yet. With a strong narrative line and a profound and sensitive understanding of the writer and his work, it carries us along like a great novel. Drawing on resources unavailable to George Painter (whose biography was for years the standard reference), Carter is able to fill in the gaps with entries from Proust's letters and those he received from friends and editors. Marcel Proust was almost certainly the pivotal literary figure between two centuries, a writer of great courage and humor, and it is to Carter's credit that now, as we stand on the edge of yet another century, Proust is seen to be as relevant to our age as he was to his own. This, certainly, will become the standard life of this very important writer.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By David A. Caplan on September 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Having read George Painter's two-volume biography of Proust many years ago, I might be unfair in comparing it to Carter's new biography, but my impression is that Carter has vastly outdone Painter. He has managed to write a very detailed, yet quite readable and engrossing biography of Proust. I think that conflating Proust and the narrator of "A la recherche..." has tended to diminish the author's genius, as if he had merely written a fascinating autobiography. Carter confirms Proust as a novelist, not a memoirist. Certainly, he helps the reader understand who may have inspired Proust's characters, but makes clear that Proust's imagination was the main engine behind the world he created. Some readers might be disappointed that there isn't more literary analysis of "La Recherche" in this biography, but Carter is adept at presenting passages from the novel that are representative of its genius and beauty. I'd also like to mention that the book is physically attractive, with a handsome typeface, and that there are very few typos and grammatical errors.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Mark K. Jensen on April 2, 2001
Format: Hardcover
William Carter claims in the preface to this biography that his goal is "to understand, as well as one reasonably can, how Marcel Proust, generally considered by his peers a talented but frivolous dilettante, came to produce what is arguably the most brilliant sustained prose narrative in the history of literature." Fortunately, this is not his goal at all. Professor Carter knows better than to attempt any such thing.
About four months before his death, we read, a letter from one of his first English fans infuriated Proust. Sydney Schiff had endorsed the anti-Proustian idea that when one knows someone, there is no need to read a book by that person. Nonsense, Proust replied: "Between what a person says and what he extracts through meditation from the depths of where the integral spirit lies covered with veils, there is a world." (p. 784)
Some superficial spirit must in a weak moment have seized Professor Carter's pen when he came to write his preface, for his fascinating and enjoyable volume implicitly disavows the ambition to explain how Proust achieved his masterpiece. What Carter does instead is to recount, based on what records remain and in a simple and unornamented narrative style, the facts of Proust's life from month to month. Though we do not really feel that we come close to the heart of Proust's mystery as an artist, we do now and then get an idea of what it must have been like to know Proust, and be known by him.
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