Read In Search of Lost Time, Volume II: Within a Budding Grove (A Modern Library E-Book): Within a Budding Grove v. 2 by Marcel Proust Free Online
Book Title: In Search of Lost Time, Volume II: Within a Budding Grove (A Modern Library E-Book): Within a Budding Grove v. 2|
The author of the book: Marcel Proust
Edition: Modern Library
Date of issue: November 1st 2000
ISBN: No data
ISBN 13: No data
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 313 KB
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Reader ratings: 3.1
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I've long debated with myself - and friends - the actual benefits of re-reading versus a fresh read of a new book. Would re-reading really bring me a considerable number of new reflections, ideas and opinions to add to the first impressions I've gathered on my first read? And wouldn't this time spent on this repeated task be better employed by reading a completely different book that would instead and therefore give me completely different reflections on different subjects I perhaps haven't touched yet? In short: would a re-read prove effective considering time spent and rewards obtained?
For being in the middle of a serious Proustmania - obsession, really - I decided to re-read all of the volumes of his Recherche, even having questioned so much and for so long the advantages of a re-read. Well, in addition to everything else which I'll address along this review, this rexperience came to show me that, for some books, a re-read is extremely beneficial - if not almost required -, especially in the case of a very long novel, with intricate plot, underlying motifs and interconnections that are impossible not only to absorb - but also to notice - on a first read.
"Thus it can be only after one has recognised, not without having had to feel one's way, the optical illusions of one's first impression that one can arrive at an exact knowledge of another person, supposing such knowledge to be ever possible. But it is not; for while our original impression of him undergoes correction, the person himself, not being an inanimate object, changes in himself, we think that we have caught him, he moves, and, when we imagine that at last we are seeing him clearly, it is only the old impressions which we had already formed of him that we have succeeded in making clearer, when they no longer represent him."
In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower starts off by addressing one of Proust's most important beliefs - and a theme that will recurrently permeate his narrative: that what we understand to be someone, how we perceive and describe them, expect them to be, are merely an effort of our own intelligence into molding all of the characteristics we've been shown and seen through our own perception into an sculpture we believe to be a fully functional person. In order to develop his point, it seems the second volume makes a case of confusing us: majestic Swann is described as someone of little prestige while buffoon Dr. Cottard is a must-have guest in any respectable dinner party. Surely the writer confused their names after such a long hiatus between volumes?
A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs was only released in 1919, a good six years after the first volume was published due to the Great War. This time, however, Proust wasn't to pay for the publication costs and the book would even win the prestigious Prix Goncourt award, making him widely known and appreciated not only in France, but also across Europe.
The changes we observe in characters' reputations and actions are not exclusively confined to Swann and Dr. Cottard. Besides them, we also learn of M. Norpois and how his political views evolved over time. Just in the first twenty pages or so of this volume, the writer already sends us the clear message that people and their status are never set in stone and prepares us to a big roller-coaster ride when it comes to his characters (and that will last throughout all of the volumes). Proust's treatment of his personages feels like a superposition of a multitude of layers constituted of their past beings with the addition of the most current state at that particular time, which, granted, is only at the surface for a brief period, shortly being covered by yet another fresh and new layer that is for its turn as expirable as the previous one. This constant shift is, of course, accompanied by his narrator's - and our own - which follows the same pattern and, with these ever changing subjects, arises a million possibilities as to what will happen every time a character reappears, thus making Proust's creations always exciting and never predictable.
In addition to the conditions mentioned above - of a person's own interior alterations and how our perception of those is in constant transformation as well - there is the question of change of reputation by association. Being someone respected and admired in the most prestigious and intimate circles of the Parisian society wasn't enough to keep Swann from having his esteem considerably downgraded after his marriage to Odette, like those chemical elements that form a good substance while associated with hydrogen and are poisonous while in a chemical reaction with lead. Following this pattern, other characters will go up and down in the social scale depending on whom they're associated with, and also accompanying their respective ups and downs.
Just like the characters change depending on the point of view they're being observed from - much like the narrator's description of the Martinville steeples and their positions in relation to each other while on his car trip -, certain events on the plot also do so. Seemingly insignificant little moments - such as an insistent look from someone, a face expression, a phrase that appears to be innocently said in the midst of a longer dialogue or even a statement surrounded by a lengthy digression from the narrator that could be overlooked - retroactively take on a huge importance when analyzed from another perspective (even if that only comes 500 or 600 pages later) and one can't help to admire Proust's skillful incorporation of such "little details" that make his future events feel natural once they're fully developed, just as in life, where things certainly don't appear to us classified by importance - or even by the future importance they'll attain in our lives - and always in the right order. This is one of the characteristics that make his writing so organic and lifelike and what, at the same time, may be perceived as boring for some readers.
Still on the subject of how an event from one volume is important and brought to life again on a subsequent volume, we continue to witness how the narrator is incapable to control his nervous impulses - an inability that was first exposed to us in the goodnight kiss drama from Swann's Way - and easily gives in to his impulses even though he's fully aware of the consequences. Only this time such matters are related to love: his ungovernable need to establish a love connection with Gilberte and to receive it back from her makes him go to such lengths and to scheme manipulations that could be easily attributed to a sociopath. Besides the aforementioned connection to the previous volume, these pages are also connected to a subsequent one, anticipating in hundreds of pages his behavior and conduct he's to develop later in another relationship.
But back to the concerned volume, while Charles Swann is no longer a renowned gentleman, he still greatly influences the narrator's life, as the falling gent seems to be the one who drives our hero to accomplish those that were mere dreams in his mind when it came to places he wanted to visit: it's because of Swann and his mention of how Bergotte (the narrator's favorite writer) admires Berma that our pupil develops his obsession with the theatre and the great actress; it's also Swann who invites him to enter the much anticipated Gilberte's world and her mother's salon life (his first one) and, to conclude the dream trinity, his trip to Balbec was rekindled in his desires after a comment made by Charles about the roman cathedral in that beach. While Swann's and the Guermantes ways were still separate paths to the narrator, it was through Swann that he was able to enter the Guermantes way, for was in Balbec (following Swann's recommendation) that he eventually met important characters that lived in that still obscure world. It is precisely because of this trip that the narrator embarked on that we can also call this volume a book of firsts: the first time he meets people from the Guermantes clan; the first time he meets the artist - Elstir - that will influence his life and art so much; and the first time he sees the young girls in flower. All events that might seem like random plot directions but that, in the future, come together to form an unity.
After much longing in the first volume, the narrator finally makes a trip he's been anticipating for so long, and what a trip! Not only the change of scenery was a breath of fresh air, providing us a warm beach breeze, after the cloistered feeling that came from the first chapter (Madame Swann at Home), but this second part (Place-Names: The Place) depicts a major life changing experience: while I was reading this chapter for the second time, it hit me how much of the future developments comes from this single summer trip, like one of those occasions in life where you stop and analyze what could've been if this or that event never happened, if you never went to such place or never met a certain person; you're left with no clue as to who you'd be if not for that, almost like being born in a different time, country or family would make you a different person than you are now. In such a supple time in one's life - adolescence - where even going to a different school and bonding with other friends could design a different personality, imagine (and it really requires a powerful imagination to picture that) if you hadn't met three of the most important people - aside family - of your life. Aside the place and the people - or maybe because of them -, it's also at that time that the narrator stars playing with his theories and philosophies about life and art.
And now that I've mentioned 'art', I suppose it's time to talk about Elstir. Proust's brilliance in not only conceiving a fully realized painter - when he himself wasn't one - but also in developing and depicting his talents so precisely as if he actually existed impressed me so much. The way he described Elstir's painting talents is in complete relation with his own literary ones: while Proust makes use of involuntary memories (those sensations that are already in us, but that we can't recover through intelligence alone or we risk distorting them), Elstir makes use of involuntary first impressions (those visions that appear to us right before we make use of intelligence to recognize them properly and to fit them to a pattern); the difference being that Proust is revisiting a memory after it settled into his consciousness, and Elstir is painting a vision before it does so. Both artists try to isolate a singular true feeling, removing all rationalization that we've been programmed to attack with every unknown sensation that comes our way, like our white blood cells fighting foreign invaders.
It seems Marcel Proust and James Joyce will remain forever linked in my mind - they who only met once and had never read each other's works (although Joyce later admitted he had read parts of Swann's Way), and who are so far apart in their writing techniques, but that to me stand so close, not just because I read them at the same time last year (and now continue to do so as I'm re-reading the Recherche and the James Joyce biography by Richard Ellmann), but also because, having stated before that I wasn't much of a visual person while reading - that is, I could never really form a fixed image of what the writer was describing, I wasn't able to build that room and enter it in my imagination, only blindly feel the sensations the words awakened in me - after reading Joyce's Dubliners, began to be a little more creative in that aspect. So another positive aspect of re-reading is that we're able to approach the same text while provided with new tools to delve into it that we've acquired ever since finishing it the first time. While I was re-reading this second volume, I could picture what Proust meant when he described not only the sea and the sun and the landscapes his narrator envisioned outside of his window, but also even Elstir's paintings, which only existed in his mind. And the whole section the narrator spent in the painter's atelier that bored me a bit on my first read for I could not envision any of the described images, now became gorgeous and alive as if he actually removed the white sheets that were covering them.
"And our dread of a future in which we must forego the sight of faces, the sound of voices that we love, friends from whom we derive today our keenest joys, this dread, far from being dissipated, is intensified, if to the grief of such a privation we reflect that there will be added what seems to us now in anticipation an even more cruel grief; not to feel it as a grief at all—to remain indifferent; for if that should occur, our ego would have changed, it would then be not merely the attractiveness of our family, our mistress, our friends that had ceased to environ us, but our affection for them; it would have been so completely eradicated from our heart, in which today it is a conspicuous element, that we should be able to enjoy that life apart from them the very thought of which today makes us recoil in horror; so that it would be in a real sense the death of ourselves, a death followed, it is true, by resurrection but in a different ego, the life, the love of which are beyond the reach of those elements of the existing ego that are doomed to die."
Taking this review a bit to the personal side, one of the reasons this volume specifically resonated so deeply with me was due to the developed theories about loss and forgetting that Proust attributed to his narrator when he was obsessing about the end of his love for Gilberte or even for Albertine, but that can generally be used in the context of getting over someone - even with whom no romantic link is involved - that's gone away. I've always had a little trouble with that future when someone that is now so important, so vital, so present in my daily activities, simply won't be missed because time - and habit - will have worked their magic in making me comfortable with the new situation. As paradoxical as it can be - suffering because of a future time where we won't be suffering and fearing to forget exactly that which we won't remember -, it feels like an actual loss and it gets to me every time; whenever I changed schools, changed cities, changed jobs, I mourned about those friendships that I knew would cool down because of what would come from such situations.
I find it mesmerizing how Proust was able to write like that in a work of fiction (of course there's a lot of himself here and the very ideas he's developed his entire life), but for someone not currently experiencing all the situations while writing his book, it's pretty impressive how he could take a moment to dissect just about every possible feeling so well. And when you find yourself - or rather a piece of you - so masterfully depicted in a work of art, being thoroughly analyzed, looked at from every possible angle, considering all hypothesis and implications, you can't help but to consider it a tool to mirror life and to understand yourself better and to highly value it.
Rating: for a volume that stands on its own and gets better on second read, without losing its initial charm, but becoming even more interesting, and therefore strengthening in my not only my decision, but also my will to keep re-reading: 5 stars.
For my re-reading experience of the entire À la recherche du temps perdu:
Vol 1. Swann's Way: ★★★★★ review
Vol 2. In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower: ★★★★★ review
Vol 3. The Guermantes Way: review
Vol 4. Sodom and Gomorrah: review
Vol 5. La Prisonnière (The Captive): review
Vol 6. Albertine disparue (The Fugivite): review
Vol 7. Time Regained: review
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Read information about the authorFrench novelist, best known for his 3000 page masterpiece À la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past or In Search of Lost Time), a pseudo-autobiographical novel told mostly in a stream-of-consciousness style. Born in the first year of the Third Republic, the young Marcel, like his narrator, was a delicate child from a bourgeois family. He was active in Parisian high society during the 80s and 90s, welcomed in the most fashionable and exclusive salons of his day. However, his position there was also one of an outsider, due to his Jewishness and homosexuality. Towards the end of 1890s Proust began to withdraw more and more from society, and although he was never entirely reclusive, as is sometimes made out, he lapsed more completely into his lifelong tendency to sleep during the day and work at night. He was also plagued with severe asthma, which had troubled him intermittently since childhood, and a terror of his own death, especially in case it should come before his novel had been completed. The first volume, after some difficulty finding a publisher, came out in 1913, and Proust continued to work with an almost inhuman dedication on his masterpiece right up until his death in 1922, at the age of 51.
Today he is widely recognised as one of the greatest authors of the 20th Century, and À la recherche du temps perdu as one of the most dazzling and significant works of literature to be written in modern times.