on June 26, 2000
The third part of the novel follows the narrator into the aristocratic salons of turn-of-the-century Paris, and comments on such matters as the Dreyfus Affair, art and literature, and the disappointments which invaribly follow the achievement of goals sought after with unbridled desire. Whether The Guermantes Way is better or worse than the earlier parts of the novel (or those parts to follow) is not important as a recommendation or criticism; it makes up an integral part of the novel and cannot exist without the other parts.
Proust is not easy reading and demands the undivided attention of the reader; as I am becoming aware, the effort put into reading the novel is eminently rewarding.
on December 14, 2003
In the previous two volumes of IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME, we have seen the young Marcel fantasize about love (in the persons of Gilberte and Albertine) and high society (in the person of the Duchesse de Guermantes). The bulk of THE GUERMANTES WAY's 819 pages is concerned with two parties involving the glitterati of fin-de-siecle Paris.
At the party of the literary Mme de Villeparisis, Marcel gains his first admittance to the world of the nobility and gets invited to an evening of his prized Dutchess, whom he had gazed on from afar when she attended church services in Combray, amid the tombs of her ancestors. Sometimes, however, when you get your heart's desire, there is that nagging question: "Is this all there is?"
At one point in the latter party, Swann says to Marcel that "one can't have a thousand years of feudalism in one's blood with impunity." The novel ends with the Guermantes about to leave for yet a more empyrean social gathering, to which Marcel is not even sure he is invited. (As we see in the next volume, he is invited and does attend.) At the very end, the Duke puts off seeing a dying friend and begins carping about his wife's choice of shoes.
We see the beginnings of Marcel's disenchantment with the social scene. Since this volume covers such a short span of time, we do not yet see the effect of his grandmother's death on the young narrator. We leave him, stunned and confused, at the threshhold of a personal triumph that has already lost much of its luster for him.
As I re-read Proust's great series, I am struck by how much I missed the first time I read it years ago. Many reviewers are struck by the length of the scenes describing the parties, but now I find that there is so much going on, and so many undercurrents, that the interior action passes quickly. Most of the action takes place in Marcel's mind as he encounters these gods of society and their hangers-on as they duel for position in their circles.
"Thus I beheld the pair of them," muses Marcel, "divorced from that name Guermantes in which long ago I had imagined them leading an unimaginable life, now just like other men and other women...."
on December 2, 2003
The third volume of In search of Lost Time begins with the moving of Marcel's family to an apartment in a palace, next to the which Charlus lives. This is where Marcel begins to deal with the highest society: the Guermantes family, which seemed so distant to him in his child fantasies, becomes soon part of his life. He goes to parties and meetings, where he can see Mme Cambremer, duchess Orianne and her husband, Charlus, Odette, Swann, etc. The words of the narrator are as thorough as his sight, and he describes for pages and pages the dialogues and behaviours that take place during such encounters. In this volume is where we begin to find the diferent sexual tendencies that will be later explored. As Marcel keeps visiting Saint-Loup, Mr. Charlus develops an interest in Marcel, therefore he begins to play a series of odd games: Charlus will have outbursts of rage as Marcel's shallowness becomes clear to the count.
The snobism and everchanging criteria, through the which political circles consider someone as part of the group of desireable relations, are shown through the detailed depiction of the Dreyfuss affair. The fears of society are suddenly embodied in the character of this german diplomatic, who apparently is spying on the french government. But, even worse, he is a jew. The colliding opinions about this affair divide society. In the midst of this social confusion, Marcel is but a quiet witness, whose interventions seem to stop in invitations and references to other great names of society. One of his favorite activities during this parties is to find and reconstruct the family ties between the different participants. An interesting relationship develops between Marcel and Orianne and her husband, while Charlus finds this to be of bad taste. Marcel will know through these people the details surrounding Saint-Loup's romance with an "indecent" dancer. He knew something from the days he spent visiting his friends while he was in service.
By the end of this volume we get to see Swann's decadence in the high circles, while his wife, Odette, seems to gain more terrain everyday. Swann tries to mantain his contact with the Guermantes, but they are less interested in him as time goes by... and not even his revelation of being in the route of death, due to an ailment, captures their interest. Even more, they don't believe him.
Proust keeps working in describing the defyning coordenates of this world of looks and absurd, hollow judgements. The life of the court parties is ruled by worldly signs, theatrical effects and empty forms. Although the character's fantasies surrounding the name of the Guermantes crumbles after he meets them and find them to be... just humans (and not the corporeal reality behind the images he used to see with endearment in Combray); although this fact, he is more and more fascinated by their importance between the other aristocrats. His desire is renewed by the inclusion of a third party that desires to establish contact, or to hold good relations with the Guermantes. It is the game of snobism, in which fear seems to be the main tool.
on February 22, 2001
"In search of lost time" continues with Marcel's return to Paris after vacation in Balbec, to the new family house. The neighbor is the Duchess of Guermantes with whom Marcel falls in love in a platonic and purely imaginary way. He gets desperate to be admitted into the Duchess's social circle, and so he takes advantage of his new friednship with Saint-Loup, who belongs in that circle. Marcel goes to visit him at the town where he's in military service, and on his return, he is admitted to the salon of the Marquise de Villeparisis, a first step to his goal. What follows is a treatise, a bittersweet one, on the aristocratic world of Paris, in times of the scandal provoked by the Dreyfus Affair. Proust admirably portraits the hypocrisy, hollowness and cruelty of the aristocratic world, as well as the main character's affection for his grandmother, his friendship with Saint-Loup, the spiritual desolation of the age, and his disenchantment with aristocrats. So continues the greatest saga of memory and emotions, one of the best books ever written.
on March 14, 2014
When I was student, my specialty was French Literature. I like Proust. And I like this translation and this record too. This is indispensable for me. Now I can appreciate the PROUT in English on lying in my bed. Very good.
on August 12, 2001
In this volume Proust's narrator at last penetrates to the salon of Mme de Guermantes, the apex of Parisian society. If you've read Swann's Way and Within a Budding Grove, then you realize that this achievement is far more exciting than any summary can convey. Here Proust also develops the narrator's friendships with Saint-Loup and Albertine, presents us with one of the most beautifully written death scenes in Western literature, dissects the salon culture, and introduces an unforgettable ...mentor. This may sound irrelevant to life in the 2000s, but, as always, Proust's artistry captures the timeless human reality running through the daily details.
For sure, Marcel Proust could not get it "done" in 140 characters. In fact, his novel (A la recherche le temps perdu), which is now more properly translated as "In Search of Lost Time," (Note: the standard English translation had been "Remembrance of Things Past" for some 60-80 years) is generally considered the longest novel ever written. "The Guermantes Way" is volume 3, and weighs in at more than 800 pages. The morals and manners of "tout le gratin," the upper crust of French society, during "La Belle Epoque," the era of the Third Republic before the First World War, are the general subject of Proust's work, and in particular, this volume. Proust can serve as an alternate definition for prolixity... and the reader can ride along, and sometimes fall off, his convoluted, rococo prose, with the seemingly endless qualifying phrases. But far more times than not, there is much meaning in those phrases, as he takes a given thought, and sharpens and refines it. His is a portrait of a society that appeared not to have to toil for their "daily bread," (isn't that what the peasants and all those "footmen" are for?), before the distractions of TV and Twitter. It is hard to believe such a time, lost or otherwise, ever existed.
The narrator is always unnamed. He is a young man of "bourgeois origins," which can be said with a certain disdain, who seeks admission to "society," and all the "very best people." Rank, there definitely is, and more difficult to ascertain, except, of course, for the "au courant." Rank is not worn on the uniform, a la the military. "Le gratin" have all gone to see a production of Racine's Phedre: Dual Language Edition (Penguin Classics) (French Edition), a suitable place to "see and be seen." The play itself is a symbolic choice since the young narrator is infatuated with an older woman, the Duchess de Guermantes, and a nod of recognition and a smile would "make his day." Later in the story he takes a morning walk with the sole objective of hoping to pass her on the street. Gulp! I can remember doing the same thing in my youth. With all the flaunting of status, privileges, and "rights" from a given territory, it is as though the French Revolution never occurred. Proust has one of the characters confirm that sentiment in expressing that Waterloo was necessary in order to have the Restoration (of the monarchy.)
Proust has an extremely high degree of hypersensitivity to human relations, which is both a strength of the novel, and perhaps a curse for him personally. It takes him almost 200 pages to cover the relations of an afternoon party of Mme. De Villeparisis, who is the aunt of the Duchess de Guermantes. He commences the first volume of this novel Swann's Way: In Search of Lost Time, Volume 1 with the madeleine, a small cake, taken with tea, which involuntarily brings back a flood of memories. On numerous occasions in this novel, I felt the same flood of memories, of matters I had not thought about in decades. For example, when leaving a dinner, the narrator puts on "American" "synthetic impermeables" (note: a euphemism) over his shoes, due to the snow. I can remember owning them in my youth, and how necessary and practical they were, and they have not been thought of since. The incident in which the narrator shreds a "top hat" could serve as a beautiful metaphor for rebellion against pathologically unjust and whimsical authority, relevant even in an age in which the "1%" don't wear top hats.
Topics in the salon drawing rooms involved, first and foremost, the "Dreyfus Affair." The French Army officer had been accused, and convicted of spying (for Germany). He was Jewish, and he was innocent, and virtually the entire "gratin" was against him. The "good guys" in the novel, such as Saint-Loup, were in favor of a re-hearing, which was so "radical" since it brought into question the judgment and authority of the Army. This "Affair" rent French society for more than a decade. Proust includes the Russo-Japanese War as well as the Schlieffen Plan (the German plan for invading France, based on the double envelopment Hannibal executed on the Roman army at Cannae in the Second Punic War). But Proust is (deliberately?) fussy on his dates, and I thought he made a mish-mash (or, as the French say, a meli-melo of the current events,) in particular flip-flopping between 1898 and 1906. I'd welcome comments on this issue.
Though there is a more recent translation that Moncrieff's, I found his fluid, and current with slang. So much so that some of the phrases don't pass the Amazon censor test.
The Modern Library edition has a wonderful cover with a simple strand of pearls. In the book they play a role in the relationship between Saint-Loup and Rachel, his mistress. But like the madeleine, I saw a more symbolic role for the pearls: a woman who wears them asserts a certain elegance that says: "The cave man approach won't work with me; take a bit more time, at least an hour..." Or, as Proust himself would say, with greater verbal profusions: "...like unknown flowers whose petals remain closed until the day when the predestined stranger come to open them with a touch and to liberate for long hours the aroma of their peculiar dreams for the delectation of an amazed and spellbound being."
Dumb blind luck can be a wonderful thing. 25 years ago I rented a gite (a French farmhouse), totally unaware that it was only 12 km from Illiers-Combray, the now hyphenated town of Proust's childhood home. For numerous years I returned to the same gite. It was there where I first commenced volume one, and I have walked "Swann's Way" to the Pre Catelan at least ten times. It is located in the French departement of Eure et Loir, one of the lovely areas of "La France Profonde." In 25 years, I've managed to get only half way. I need to pick up the pace a bit if I am to complete his monumental work. And I will, as the page turns again for another phase of life. 5-stars.
on May 20, 2012
More than a commentary on Swann's jealousy or M. Charlus's homosexuality or the frivolity of the Guermantes' sorties, Marcel Proust's monumental work In Search of Lost Time paints the unsuccessful reconstruction of a forgone world and a lost existence from fickle memories, which like morning mists would fade with the rising sun. The narrator Marcel, longing for a past that didn't exist but must be created, sought to experience Bergson's continuous time rather than the fragmented and still-framed instantaneous moments by attempting to blur the boundaries between Cambray and Paris, childhood and adolescence, and Swann and himself and integrate here and there, before and after, and him and me through memory fragments of previous objects, people and sensations. As in a neural network or a mind-map, the madeleine linked his aunt to his mother, who in turn was linked to Albertine through jealousy, which also connected Marcel with Saint Loop and Swann, who, as with his (Marcel's) grandmother, linked his childhood and adolescence. And through recollection, Marcel would try to relive the buried years and resurrect his grandmother and Albertine.
But even during the narrative, Marcel realized memory's willfulness and the variation in hues, shapes, pitch and timbre between the actual object and its mental reconstruction. When he encountered an old friend, the facial features were so different from his recollection and reconstruction, for better or for worse pregnant with all the emotions, preoccupation, biases, that he could not match face with voice.
Because recollected sensation can never equate with the actual experience and time, like a patient thief, steals memories a morsel at a time until one day the owner would realize he was ruined, Marcel ultimately would fail to recapture and assemble stolen sensations and decayed seconds and in the end, must create new moments, new sensations and ultimately a new biography, through the synergy between past experiences and creative imagination. From those deceased hours and decayed memories sprouted In Search of Lost Time, not only Proust's novel but also that of the narrator.
Whether we savor Marcel's frailness, Swann's infatuation, Charlus's pompousness, Franscoise's independent-mindedness, the sorties' frivolousness or the social revelation of the Dreyfuss Affair, we can enjoy Proust's classic without resorting to Marxist or Freudian or Feminist critique. And the sentences, like the serpentine Amazon, seemed to flow unceasingly into the distant horizon carrying with it the sparkling sunlight. Although ascending the novel's three thousand pages appears precipitous, the effort will be well worth the while and, at the end of the adventure, the reader can rest on the crisp apex and savor time's transience and memory's playfulness as if they were alpine zephyrs.
In this third volume of Marcel Proust's epic In Search of Lost Time, the narrator gains entrance into the Duc and Duchesse de Gurmante's chateau near Combray and becomes more intimate with the elite Parisian society, he provides a detailed portrait of the mechanics of social interaction and the underlying driving forces that motivate the bourgeoisie. He encounters nobles, officers, aristocrats, and of course his friends Robert de Saint Loup and his prostitute Rachel, and the Baron de Charlus at a number of extravagant and detailed parties. Proust situates the reader in the world that he vividly experienced, and it's a totally absorbing experience. We see Oriane Guermantes calculate every social decision like a four-star general; she refuses to show at the parties which expect her and forces herself into the parties which did not to draw consideration to herself. Guermantes Way is also, somewhat surprisingly a much more political section of the book. It deals with military strategy, with socialism, anti-Semitism, and class struggle. However, unlike the previous volumes, the last one hundred pages slow down to a near stand-still in pure social observation. Readers often cite this section of the work as the most difficult, and their judgment is correct. The pace is simply comatose here, but it picks up again for those with enough patience to get through it. The Guermantes Way is a powerful and beautiful centerpiece to Proust's great novel.
on July 14, 1997
Mi autor favorito y uno de los volumenes mas logrados de la serie "En busca del tiempo perdido".
Con el descubri una nueva vision literaria, una profundidad en la observacion de los detalles mas minimos
que convierte la vida en una suma de instantes, cada uno de particular significado.
Creo un deber leer a Proust, la dedicacion y la finura con que escribe es un regalo para el espiritu