Jumbled thoughts on a luxurious, slow read of Proust

Reading Remembrance of Things Past—I prefer Moncrieff’s translation and not the In Search of Lost Time translations that attempt to correct his lyrical embellishments, but perhaps I should just say À la recherche du temps perdu to avoid any confusion—I’ve granted myself the luxury and extreme pleasure of a long, slow read.

The work is lengthy, a novel in seven parts spread across three volumes. I’m still sipping Swann’s Way (which itself is broken into four pieces: Overture, Combray, Swann in Love, and Place-Names) but having fought my way through Swann in Love, I needed to come up for air and note just a few things. SIL was hard to get through, excruciatingly painful to see Swann’s discomfort of being in love with the odious Odette. But that’s the point, the sharp jealousies and ecstasies of love, the pitfalls and triumphs, the heady early days melting into tedium and apathy.

Luckily, there are bits of humor tucked in along the way that act as breadcrumbs leading you on. And the insults reach art form, as Swann says to Odette’s face:

You are a formless water that will trickle down any slope that it may come upon, a fish devoid of memory, incapable of thought, which all its life long in its aquarium will continue to dash itself, a hundred times a day, against a wall of glass, always mistaking it for water.

By far the dreamiest part is Combray,

And I should have liked to be able to sit down and spend the whole day there, reading and listening to the bells, for it was so charming there and so quiet that, when an hour struck, you would have said not that it broke in upon the calm of the day, but that it relieved the day of its superfluity, and that the steeple, with the indolent, painstaking exactitude of a person who has nothing else to do, had simply, in order to squeeze out and let fall the few golden drops which had slowly and naturally accumulated in the hot sunlight, pressed, at a given moment, the distended surface of the silence.

I naturally gravitate toward the section that is all about long walks and reading.

Overture is delightful as well, with its infamous dipping of madeleine into tea to trigger tidal waves of memory and emotion. I also enjoyed Swann’s comment about the newspaper:

The fault I find with our journalism is that it forces us to take an interest in some fresh triviality or other every day, whereas only three or four books in a lifetime give us anything that is of real importance.

One more section and I’ve finished the first part of the seven!

A Note of Explanation: An Undiscovered Story from Queen Mary’s Dollhouse

The story of this book is longer and slightly more enchanting than the book itself. It was a previously forgotten story that was recently rediscovered in the miniature library of Queen Mary’s dollhouse in Windsor Castle, written in the 1920s. The dollhouse was a marvel with a working elevator, running water, a tiny Rolls-Royce, jars of marmalade. The best artists of the day decorated its walls, and the popular authors contributed their words to a library of tiny leather-bound books. Vita Sackville-West contributed this story (no bigger than a postage stamp!) wherein the dollhouse is haunted by a ghost-not-ghost who traveled through time and had been a pal to Scheherazade, flown to China to hear the Emperor’s famous nightingale, and generally mucked around in the past before settling in this dollhouse. She got stuck in the elevator, created dirty dishes, left the lights on, and when the guardians of the dollhouse arrived every morning they couldn’t figure out what was going on in the house. The ghost-not-ghost left this note of explanation in the miniature library to explain the enigma, although it would all have disappeared if they’d just hired a maid to clean up after her.

Queen Mary’s Dollhouse library

Manhattan Beach

I need to stop reading books that are popular with the masses, I guess. And yet I couldn’t stop. There were just enough good bits to pull me through the terribly obvious plot as it plodded along. My first clue that this was not going to be good was the overabundance of descriptive period details, like the exact model of some 1930s car or all of the geegaws in the family’s apartment. Over-specific means you’re covering for a lack of something else… soul, perhaps? War work gave Anna something interesting to hang her hat on, measuring widgets then strangely becoming a diver to fix ships underwater. Her dad disappears midway through, leading her into Dexter Style’s arms to find answers. Sex and a baby that is almost aborted but Anna changes her mind just as the chloroform is hitting?! The dad wasn’t dead but ends up alive fighting in WWII and has a lost at sea episode then arrives to re-establish a relationship with Anna in California. Jesus, this book turned a bad corner and never recovered. Avoid.