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Marcel Proust: A Life Paperback – November 1, 2001
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About the Author
Jean-Yves Tadié is Professor of French Literature at the Sorbonne and an editor at Gallimard. He is the author of many books and editor of the four-volume Pleiade edition of A la recherche du temps perdu.
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But, having read 318 pages into Tadie, I have decided to give up. Tadie is packed full of information, but he doesn't seem to have any real story to tell. It is just one potentially fascinating fact after another. But the reader has to supply all the fascination. Tadie just piles one sentence after another in an exhausting display of joyless erudition.
1) Read Edmund White's little Penguin biography so as to orient yourself. This will lessen the culture shock when you are first confronted with Swann's Way (or The Way by Swann's, as the English prefer).
2) Read Proust. This is actually my third perambulation, so I'm a bit unsure how much of the novel to recommend. Whatever you do, get a good start on it, sufficient that you know you will persevere.
3) Read Tadie. Much of what has mystified you in In Search of Lost Time (Remembrance of Things Past, whatever) will suddenly become clear. For example, how is it that young Marcel (most writers call him the Narrator) with his wheezing and his mother complex and his odd ideas about sexuality is welcomed in the highest reaches of Paris society? Well, why not, since Proust was! People loved him, men and women, rich and poor, nobility and servants. Knowing about Proust's life makes Marcel/Narrator a lot more credible. The same is true of other characters, such as Charles Swann. (Some of Proust's characters, including the Baron Charlus and the awful Madame Verdurin, are so good that their real-life equivalents are but pale imitations. They need no biography to limn them.)
Tadie is a vast undertaking--as of course is In Search of Lost Time. I became so interested in the biography that I have put aside the final volume, Finding Time Again, so as to concentrate on the biography.
A suggestion: skip the footnotes. I began doing so at about the halfway point of the biography, and I'm enjoying it more and following it better. Those constant interruptions (it's not unusual for the footnotes to occupy a quarter or a third of the page) made it difficult for me to follow the text. Maybe Tadie has to be read three times, like the novel itself!
It's a splendid work. I've read three Proust biographies, the third one (apart from Tadie's and White's) being Marcel Proust: A Biography, by Roger Hayman (out of print). It's a better read, but it pales as a biography and as an introduction to the novel.
-- Dan Ford at readingproust dot com
Tadie takes Proust as the person: and what he becomes is in essence what the judgment of the biographer says he becomes using his best judgment. And there appears to be no person alive with more knowledge of Proust and his work than Tadie. It is big. It is full. Almost too much. But then we are not dealing with a minor novelist, are we? This book is a classic and a model for all biography in terms of its approach and philosophy: Proust is never to be forgotten from this rendering, which is art in and of itself. For Proust, and Tadie's treatment here, is that of the nature of art itself.
On every page there are non-sequiturs or convoluted sentence that are impossible to understand, even after reading them two or three times. The fault is not in the translation, which seems to be faithful to the original, but in the publisher who clearly made no attempt to edit the text properly.
How ironic that a work about one of the greatest writers of modern literature should be presented in such a careless, clumsy way.