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5.0 out of 5 stars The Antithesis of Twitter..., 14 April 2014
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: In Search of Lost Time: Guermantes Way v. 3 (Modern Library) (Paperback)
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), 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 (Penguin Drop Caps) 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: " 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.
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2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Proust expresa un maravilloso retrato del ser humano, 14 July 1997
By A Customer
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
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In Search of Lost Time: Guermantes Way v. 3 (Modern Library)
In Search of Lost Time: Guermantes Way v. 3 (Modern Library) by Marcel Proust (Paperback - 1 Dec 1998)
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