Who is Marcel Proust
Marcel Proust, (born July 10, 1871, Auteuil, near Paris, France—died November 18, 1922, Paris), French novelist, author of À la recherche du temps perdu (1913–27; In Search of Lost Time), a seven-volume novel based on Proust’s life told psychologically and allegorically.
Marcel was the son of Adrien Proust, an eminent physician of provincial French Catholic descent, and his wife, Jeanne, née Weil, of a wealthy Jewish family. After a first attack in 1880, he suffered from asthma throughout his life. His childhood holidays were spent at Illiers and Auteuil (which together became the Combray of his novel) or at seaside resorts in Normandy with his maternal grandmother. At the Lycée Condorcet (1882–89) he wrote for class magazines, fell in love with a little girl named Marie de Benardaky in the Champs-Élysées, made friends whose mothers were society hostesses, and was influenced by his philosophy master Alphonse Darlu.
Marcel Proust Quotes
1. Let us leave pretty women to men with no imagination.
2. I wished to see storms only on those coasts where they raged with most violence…
3. But genius, and even great talent, springs less from seeds of intellect and social refinement superior to those of other people than from the faculty of transforming and transposing them. To heat a liquid with an electric lamp requires not the strongest lamp possible, but one of which the current can cease to illuminate, can be diverted so as to give heat instead of light. To mount the skies it is not necessary to have the most powerful of motors, one must have a motor which, instead of continuing to run along the earth’s surface, intersecting with a vertical line the horizontal line which it began by following, is capable of converting its speed into lifting power. Similarly, the men who produce works of genius are not those who live in the most delicate atmosphere, whose conversation is the most brilliant or their culture the most extensive, but those who have had the power, ceasing suddenly to live only for themselves, to transform their personality into a sort of mirror, in such a way that their life, however mediocre it may be socially and even, in a sense, intellectually, is reflected by it, genius consisting in reflecting power and not int he intrinsic quality of the scene reflected.
4. I cannot express the uneasiness caused in me by this intrusion of mystery and beauty into a room I had at last filled with myself to the point of paying no more attention to the room than to that self. The anesthetizing influence of habit having ceased, I would begin to have thoughts, and feelings, and they are such sad things.
5. I have friends wherever there are companies of trees, wounded but not vanquished, which huddle together with touching obstinancy to implore an inclement and pitiless sky.
6. Reading Proust isn’t just reading a book, it’s an experience and you can’t reject an experience.
7. …the nose is generally the organ in which stupidity is most readily displayed.
8. (Just to give you an idea, Proust’s reply was ‘To be separated from Mama.’) I think that the lowest depth of misery ought to be distinguished from the highest pitch of anguish. In the lower depths come enforced idleness, sexual boredom, and/or impotence. At the highest pitch, the death of a friend or even the fear of the death of a child.
9. The idea of some kind of objectively constant, universal literary value is seductive. It feels real. It feels like a stone cold fact that In Search of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust, is better than A Shore Thing, by Snooki. And it may be; Snooki definitely has more one-star reviews on Amazon. But if literary value is real, no one seems to be able to locate it or define it very well. We’re increasingly adrift in a grey void of aesthetic relativism.
10. No doubt, few people understand either the purely subjective nature of the phenomenon of love, or how it creates a supplementary person who is quite different from the one who bears our beloved’s name in the outside world, and is mostly formed from elements within ourselves. So there are few who see anything natural in the disproportionate dimensions which we come to perceive in a person who is not the same as the one they see.
11. Yet the Narrator’s quest is not only for his own identity and vocation. He seeks an understanding of art, sexuality and worldly and political affairs: he is a snoop and a voyeur; he comments and classifies; his taxonomic impulse makes the novel appear to be a vast compendium, replete with burrowing wasps and bedsteads, military strategies, stereoscopes, asparagus and aeroplanes.
12. Habit is the ballast that chains the dog to his vomit.
13. Recalling, some time later, what I had felt at the time, I distinguished the impression of having been held for a moment in her mouth, myself, naked, without any of the social attributes which belonged equally to her other playmates and, when she used my surname, to my parents, accessories of which her lips – by the effort she made, a little after her father’s manner, to articulate the words to which she wished to give a special emphasis – had the air of stripping, of divesting me, like the skin from a fruit of which one can swallow only the pulp, while her glance, adapting itself to the same new degree of intimacy as her speech, fell on me also more directly and testified to the consciousness, the pleasure, even the gratitude that it felt by accompanying itself with a smile.
14. The belief that a person has a share in an unknown life to which his or her love may win us admission is, of all the prerequisites of love, the one which it values most highly and which makes it set little store by all the rest.
15. I feel like a blind man searching a dark room for a pair of black socks that aren’t there.
16. You’re as strong as the Pont Neuf. You’ll live to bury us all!
17. All these things and, still more than these, the treasures which had come to the church from personages who to me were almost legendary figures (such as the golden cross wrought, it was said, by Saint Eloi and presented by Dagobert, and the tomb of the sons of Louis the Germanic in porphyry and enamelled copper), because of which I used to go forward into the church when we were making our way to our chairs as into a fairy-haunted valley, where the rustic sees with amazement on a rock, a tree, a marsh, the tangible proofs of the little people’s supernatural passage — all these things made of the church for me something entirely different from the rest of the town; a building which occupied, so to speak, four dimensions of space — the name of the fourth being Time — which had sailed the centuries with that old nave, where bay after bay, chapel after chapel, seemed to stretch across and hold down and conquer not merely a few yards of soil, but each successive epoch from which the whole building had emerged triumphant, hiding the rugged barbarities of the eleventh century in the thickness of its walls, through which nothing could be seen of the heavy arches, long stopped and blinded with coarse blocks of ashlar, except where, near the porch, a deep groove was furrowed into one wall by the tower-stair; and even there the barbarity was veiled by the graceful gothic arcade which pressed coquettishly upon it, like a row of grown-up sisters who, to hide him from the eyes of strangers, arrange themselves smilingly in front of a countrified, unmannerly and ill-dressed younger brother; rearing into the sky above the Square a tower which had looked down upon Saint Louis, and seemed to behold him still; and thrusting down with its crypt into the blackness of a Merovingian night, through which, guiding us with groping finger-tips beneath the shadowy vault, ribbed strongly as an immense bat’s wing of stone, Théodore or his sister would light up for us with a candle the tomb of Sigebert’s little daughter, in which a deep hole, like the bed of a fossil, had been bored, or so it was said, “by a crystal lamp which, on the night when the Frankish princess was murdered, had left, of its own accord, the golden chains by which it was suspended where the apse is to-day and with neither the crystal broken nor the light extinguished had buried itself in the stone, through which it had gently forced its way.
18. The variations of the Duchess’s judgment spared no one, except her
husband. He alone had never been in love with her, in him she had
always felt an iron character, indifferent to the caprices that she
displayed, contemptuous of her beauty, violent, of a will that would
never bend, the sort under which alone nervous people can find
19. The past, to repeat the words of Proust, is hidden in some material object. To wander about in the world, then, is also to wander about in ourselves.
20. These new words were heard by my love; they persuaded it that the next day would not be different from what all the other days had been; that Gilberte’s feeling for me, already too old to be able to change, was indifference; that in my friendship with Gilberte, I was the only one who loved. “It’s true,” my love answered, “there’s nothing more to be done with this friendship, it won’t change.” And so, the very next day (or waiting for a public holiday if there was one coming up soon, or an anniversary, or the New Year perhaps, one of those days which are not like the others, when time makes a fresh start by rejecting the heritage of the past, by not accepting the legacy of its sorrows) I would ask Gilberte to give up our old friendship and lay the foundations of a new one.
21. I feel like a blind man searching a dark room.
(Old Man Alone on Labor Day Weekend — blog post)
22. Anzi, da un punto di vista puramente realistico, i paesi che noi desideriamo tengono in ogni istante assai più posto nella nostra esistenza vera, dei paesi dove abitiamo in realtà.
23. If a memory or a particular sadness we feel is capable of disappearing, to the point where we no longer notice it, it can also return and sometimes remain there for a long time. There were evenings when, as I crossed the town on my way to the restaurant, I felt so great a pang of longing for Mme de Guermantes that it took my breath away: it was as if part of my breast had been cut out by a skilled anatomist and replaced by an equal part of immaterial suffering, by an equivalent degree of nostalgia and love. And however neat the surgeon’s stitches are, life is rather painful when longing for another person is substituted for the intestines; it seems to occupy more space than they do; it is a constantly felt presence; and then, how utterly unsettling it is to be obliged to think with part of the body! Yet it does somehow make us feel more authentic.
24. There was a mild, damp wind blowing. It was weather I was quite familiar with; and a sudden feeling and presentiment ran through me: that New Year’s Day was not a day that differed from any other, not the first day of a new life when I could remake the acquaintance of Gilberte with the die still uncast, as though on the very first day of Creation when no past yet existed, as though the sorrows she had sometimes caused me had been wiped out, and with them all the future ones they might portend, as though I lived in a new world in which nothing remained of the old except one thing: my wish that Gilberte would love me. I realized that, since my heart yearned in this way for the redesign of a universe which had not satisfied it, this meant that my heart had not changed; and I could see there was no reason why Gilberte’s should have changed either. I sensed that, though it was a new friendship for me, it would not be a new friendship for her, just as no years are ever separated from each other by a frontier, and that though[…]“it was a new friendship for me, it would not be a new friendship for her, just as no years are ever separated from each other by a frontier, and that though we may put different names to them, they remain beyond the reach of our yearnings, unaware of these and unaffected by them. Though I might dedicate this year to Gilberte, though I might try to imprint upon New Year’s Day the special notion I had made up for it, as a religion is superimposed on the blind workings of nature, it was in vain: I was aware that this day did not know it was called New Year’s Day, and that it was coming to an end in the twilight in a way that was not unknown to me. What I recognized, what I sensed “in that mild wind blowing about the Morris column with its posters, was the reappearance of former times, with the never-ending unchangingness of their substance, their familiar dampness, their ignorant fluidity.
25. I loved her; I was sorry not to have had the time and the inspiration to insult her, to do her some injury, to force her to keep some memory of me.
26. … ‘You can’t read everything. I’ve never got beyond the beginning of Proust. I love him, but I can’t seem to get beyond about page three.’
They were comfortable in each other’s company, and this confession seemed to accentuate the ease of their relationship. The confession itself was not entirely true; Isabel had read more Proust than that, but other people undoubtedly found it reassuring to think that one had only read a few pages. Certainly those who claimed to have read Proust in his entirety got scant sympathy from others. And yet, she suddenly wondered, should you actually lie about how much Proust you’ve read? Some politicians, she reminded herself, did that–or the equivalent–when they claimed to be down-to-earth, no-nonsense types, just like the voters, when all the time they were secretly delighting in Proust . . .
28. Another book out of Mexico which interests me is Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society. Do you know it?’ I inquired.
‘Yes, and I too have a high opinion of the thesis of the book. Illich is a man with one good idea. I see you have here Deleuze’s Proust and Signs. What do you think of it?’
‘I consider it the best book about Proust I have ever read.
29. Aesthetic culture implies a way of life marked by uselessness and superfluousness, that is to say, the embodiment of romantic resignation and passivity. But it outdoes romanticism; it not only renounces life for the sake of art, it seeks for the justification of life in art itself. It regards the world of art as the only real compensation for the disappointments of life, as the genuine realization and consummation of an existence that is intrinsically incomplete and inarticulate. But this not only means that life seems more beautiful and more conciliatory when clothed in art, but that, as Proust, the last great impressionist and aesthetic hedonist, thought, it only grows into significant reality in memory, vision and the aesthetic experience. We live our experiences with the greatest intensity not when we encounter men and things in reality—the ‘time’ and the present of these experiences are always ‘lost’—but when we ‘recover time’, when we are no longer the actors but the spectators of our life, when we create or enjoy works of art, in other words, when we remember. Here, in Proust, art takes possession of what Plato had denied it: ideas—the true remembrance of the essential forms of being.
30. speaking of Proust: “The fact is he didn’t care much for children – which is strange when you think about how he had an almost religious feeling for his own childhood. ‘I like looking at children’, he used to say, ‘but not spending time with them.
31. The unknown element in the lives of other people is like that of nature, which each fresh scientific discovery merely reduces but does not abolish.
32. My great adventure is really Proust. Well– what remains to be written after that? I’m only in the first volume, and there are, I suppose, faults to be found, but I am in a state of amazement; as if a miracle were being done before my eyes. How, at last, has someone solidified what has always escaped–and made it too into this beautiful and perfectly enduring substance? One has to put the book down and gasp. The pleasure becomes physical–like sun and wine and grapes and perfect serenity and intense vitality combined. Far otherwise is it with Ulysses; to which I bind myself like a martyr to a stake, and have thank God, now finished– My martyrdom is over. I hope to sell it for £4.10.
33. Poets claim that we recapture for a moment the self that we were long ago when we enter some house or garden in which we used to live in our youth. But these are most hazardous pilgrimages, which end as often in disappointment as in success. It is in ourselves that we should rather seek to find those fixed places, contemporaneous with different years. And great fatigue followed by a good night’s rest can to a certain extent help us to do so. For in order to make us descend into the most subterranean galleries of sleep, where no reflexion from overnight, no gleam of memory comes to light up the interior monologue—if the latter does not itself cease—fatigue followed by rest will so thoroughly turn over the soil and penetrate the bedrock of our bodies that we discover down there, where our muscles plunge and twist in their ramifications and breathe in new life, the garden where we played in our childhood. There is no need to travel in order to see it again; we must dig down inwardly to discover it. What once covered the earth is no longer above but beneath it; a mere excursion does not suffice for a visit to the dead city: excavation is necessary also. But we shall see how certain fugitive and fortuitous impressions carry us back even more effectively to the past, with a more delicate precision, with a more light-winged, more immaterial, more headlong, more unerring, more immortal flight, than these organic dislocations.
34. I do not mean, of course, that we can always accurately express our conscious thoughts with Proustian accuracy. Consciousness overflows language: we perceive vastly more than we can describe.
35. In the case of the solitary, his seclusion, even when it is absolute and ends only with life itself, has often as its primary cause a disordered love of the crowd, which so far overruled every other feeling that, not being able to win, when he goes out, the admiration of his hall-porter, of the passers-by, of the cabman whom he hails, he prefers not to be seen by them at all, and with that object abandons every activity that would oblige him to go out of doors.
36. Anyone who’s read all of Proust plus The Man withour Qualities is bound t be missing out on a few other titles.
37. This compulsion to an activity without respite, without variety, without result was so cruel that one day, noticing a swelling over his stomach, he felt an actual joy in the idea that he had, perhaps, a tumor that would prove fatal, that he need not concern himself with anything further, since it was this malady that was going to govern his life, to make a plaything of him, until the not-distant end. If indeed, at his period, it often happened that, though without admitting it even to himself, he longed for death, it was in order to escape not so much from the keenness of his sufferings as from the monotony of his struggle.
38. The enchantments of the past must always become the disenchantments of the future. But memory, a preservative, may intervene. The embalmer of original enchantments, it is the only human faculty that can outwit the advance of chronological time. Art, the embalmer of memory, is the only human vocation in which the time regained by memory can be permanently fixed.
39. He wanted to know all about me and my family and especially my childhood.
“That’s where everything starts,” he’d say. “Both heaven and hell.
40. He had so long since ceased to direct his life toward any ideal goal, and had confined himself to the pursuit of quotidian satisfactions, that he had come to believe, though without ever formally stating his belief even to himself that he would remain all his life in that condition, which only death could alter.
41. …A superficial reader of Proust’s work- rather a contradiction in terms since a superficial reader will get so bored, so engulfed in his own yawns, that he will never finish the book- [the] inexperienced reader, let us say… will probably conclude that the main action of the book is a series of parties; for example, a dinner occupies a hundred and fifty pages, a soirée half a volume.
42. Όσο θα απομακρύνετε την σκέψη σας από τα όνειρά της, αυτή δεν θα τα γνωρίζει… Αν λίγο όνειρο είναι επικίνδυνο, αυτό που σε γιατρεύει δεν είναι λιγότερο όνειρο αλλά περισσότερο, όλο το όνειρο. Σημασία έχει να γνωρίζεις απόλυτα τα όνειρά σου για να μην σε κάνουν να υποφέρεις.
43. All I could remember was her smile. Unable to picture the loved face, however strenuously I tried to make myself remember it, I was for ever irritated to find that my memory had retained exact replicas of the striking and futile faces of the roundabout man and the barley-sugar woman, just as the bereaved, who each night search their dreams in vain for the lost beloved, will find their sleep is peopled by all manner of exasperating and unbearable intruders, whom they have always found, even in the waking world, more than dislikable. Faced with the impossibility of seeing clearly the object of their grief, they come close to accusing themselves of not grieving, just as I was tempted to believe that my inability to “remember the features of Gilberte’s face meant that I had forgotten her and had stopped loving her.
44. Gilberte had still not come back to the Champs-Élysées. Yet I very much needed to set eyes on her, as I could not even remember her face. When we look at the person we love, our inquisitive, anxious, demanding gaze, our expectation of the words which will make us hope for (or despair of) another meeting tomorrow and, until those words are spoken, our obsession fluctuating between possible joy and sorrow, or imagining both of these together, all this distracts our tremulous attention and prevents it from getting a clear picture of the loved one. Also, it may be that this simultaneous activity of all the senses, striving to discover through the unaided eyes something that is out of their reach, is too mindful of the countless forms, all the savours and movements of the living person, all those things which, in a person with whom we are not in love, we immobilize. But the beloved model keeps moving; and the only snapshots we can take are always out of focus. I could not really say what the features of Gilberte’s face were like, except at those heavenly moments when she was there, displaying them to me.
45. It was that evening, when my mother abdicated her authority, that marked the beginning, along with the slow death of my grandmother, of the decline of my will and of my health. Everything had been decided at the moment when, unable to bear the idea of waiting until the next day to set my lips on my mother’s face, I had made my resolution, jumped out of bed, and gone, in my nightshirt, to stay by the window through which the moonlight came, until I heard M. Swann go. My parents having gone with him, I heard the garden gate open, the bell ring, the gate close again…
46. We enjoy lovely music, beautiful paintings, a thousand intellectual delicacies, but we have no idea of their cost, to those who invented them, in sleepless nights, tears, spasmodic laughter, rashes, asthmas, epilepsies, and the fear of death, which is worse than all the rest.
47. He suffered greatly from being shut up among all these people whose stupidity and absurdities wounded him all the more cruelly since, being ignorant of his love, incapable, had they known of it, of taking any interest, or of doing more than smile at it as at some childish joke, or deplore it as an act of insanity, they made it appear to him in the aspect of a subjective state which existed for himself alone, whose reality there was nothing external to confirm; he suffered overwhelmingly, to the point at which even the sound of the instruments made him want to cry, from having to prolong his exile in this place to which Odette would never come, in which no one, nothing was aware of her existence, from which she was entirely absent.
48. The impression given us by a person or a work (or an interpretation of a work) of marked individuality is peculiar to that person or work. We have brought with us the ideas of “beauty,” “breadth of style,” “pathos” and so forth which we might at a pinch have the illusion of recognising in the banality of a conventional face or talent, but our critical spirit has before it the insistent challenge of a form of which it possesses no intellectual equivalent, in which it must disengage the unknown element. It hears a sharp sound, an oddly interrogative inflexion. It asks itself: “Is that good? Is what I am feeling now admiration? Is that what is meant by richness of colouring, nobility, strength?” And what answers it again is a sharp voice, a curiously questioning tone, the despotic impression, wholly material, caused by a person whom one does not know, in which no scope is left for “breadth of interpretation.” And for this reason it is the really beautiful works that, if we listen to them with sincerity, must disappoint us most keenly, because in the storehouse of our ideas there is none that responds to an individual impression.
49. Quick! what’s the Proust line? – that we’re attracted to those people who have qualities we hate in ourselves?
50. Although Guy was thirty-five he was still working as a model, and certain of his more ironic and cultured friends called him, as the dying Proust had been called by Colette, ‘our young man.
51. He wanted to know all about me and my family and especially my childhood.
‘That’s where everything starts’, he’d say. ‘Both heaven and hell.
52. He wanted to know all about me and my family and especially my childhood.
That’s where everything starts, he’d say. Both heaven and hell.
53. You will close your eyes. And listen carefully . . . . You must learn to listen carefully when people talk to you about their death. We each carry our own death within us, and we feel when it is there.
54. Lo que a mí me parece mal en los periódicos es que soliciten todos los días nuestra atención para cosas insignificantes, mientras que los libros que contienen cosas esenciales no los leemos más que tres o cuatro veces en toda nuestra vida. (…) Debían aparecer en el periódico los pensamientos de Pascal, por ejemplo. Y en esos tomos de cantos dorados que no abrimos más que cada diez años es donde debiéramos leer que la reina de Grecia ha salido para Cannes, o que la duquesa de León ha dado un baile de trajes -añadió Swann dando muestra de ese desdén por las cosas mundanas que afectan algunos hombres de este mundo.
55. É admirável como o ciúme, que passa o tempo a fazer pequenas suposições do que é falso, tem pouca imaginação quando se trata de descobrir o que é verdadeiro.
56. Perimate la Proust sunt acele fleacuri umflate de un delir prolix, damfurile stilului simbolist, aglomerarea de efecte, saturaţia poetică. E ca şi cum un Saint-Simon ar fi suferit influenţa Preţioaselor. Nimeni nu l-ar mai citi în ziua de azi.
57. Als je Proust gelezen hebt, is je leven veranderd.
58. Ogni mediazione proietta un suo miraggio; i miraggi si susseguono come altrettante “verità” che subentrino alle verità anteriori come una vera e propria uccisione del ricordo vivente e si proteggano dalle verità future con una censura implacabile dell’esperienza quotidiana. Marcel Proust chiama “Io” i “mondi” proiettati dalle successive mediazioni. Gli Io sono perfettamente isolati gli uni dagli altri, incapaci di rammentarsi degli Io passati o di presagire gli Io futuri.
59. De liefde? Die bedrijf ik vaak maar ik spreek er nooit over.
(Mme de Villeparisis in ‘De kant van Guermantes’.
60. Translation error is compounded by bias error. We distort others by forcing into them our preferred ideas and gestalts, a process Proust beautifully describes: We pack the physical outline of the creature we see with all the ideas we already formed about him, and in the complete picture of him which we compose in our minds, these ideas have certainly the principal place. In the end they come to fill out so completely the curve of his cheeks, to follow so exactly the line of his nose, they blend so harmoniously in the sound of his voice that these seem to be no more than a transparent envelope, so that each time we see the face or hear the voice it is our own ideas of him which we recognize and to which we listen.