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Reviewed by:
  • The Birth of "A la recherche du temps perdu", and: Marcel Proust
  • Laurence M. Porter
Anthony R. Pugh. The Birth of "A la recherche du temps perdu."Lexington: French Forum, 1987. 143 pp. pb. $13.95.
Philip Thody. Marcel Proust. New York: St. Martin's, 1988. 188 pp. $24.95.

Professor Pugh, well known for his monumental study of Balzac's recurring characters, returns here to the subject of his doctoral dissertation at Cambridge (1959)—Proust's avant-texte. Since 1962 scores of Proust's notebooks from 1908 and 1909 have become available to researchers at the Bibliothèque Nationale. Two fundamental questions regarding the origins of Proust's inspiration, however, have not yet received full attention. Professor Pugh asks whether the struggle of Proust's anonymous fictional protagonist to find his vocation reflects in any way the experiences of the historical author during the critical year from summer 1908 through spring 1909 when the plan of the masterwork took shape in Proust's mind and what role was played by involuntary memory for Proust himself, obviously far less dependent on it than was his protagonist.

Pugh's style is that of a gentleman of the old school: meticulous, sober, transparent, and judicious. After the Introduction summarized above, he describes the available manuscripts and then devotes a chapter to each of the four seasons of the genesis of the work. The manuscripts of "Summer" yield an embryonic story partly based on childhood memories and evidences of Proust's despair at being unable to conceive an adequate writerly response to the present, counter-weighed [End Page 356] by a still inchoate quickening of the writer's imagination. "Autumn" reveals the importance of the uneven paving stones in the plaza of St. Mark's for the historical author (for depicting inspiration in fiction but not for conveying content) and initial plans for refuting Sainte-Beuve's method. "Winter" develops the Sainte-Beuve study, whose drafts are generously quoted by Pugh. It crystallizes around the fundamental objection that the self who creates a book is different from the self of daily life. In "Spring" Sainte-Beuve is assimilated to fictional childhood memories of the Guermantes, Swann, and the narrator's mother, who had already been present in a sketch about his disillusionment with Sainte-Beuve. The original title for "Du côté de chez Swann," revealed only in 1980, was Contre Sainte-Beuve, Souvenir d'une matinée. The aesthetic reflections were to have been its conclusion.

The "privileged moments" of the novel emerge as a "symbolic transposition" of Proust's actual experience, with dreams being important (see Bell on Proust's Nocturnal Muse, a work not used here) and insights in the writer's study more important still. Appendices listing studies of the various manuscripts, sources of Fallois' 1954 edition of Contre Sainte-Beuve, a rich set of notes and a wide-ranging bibliography follow, although it is astonishing to find no mention of Alison Winton's Proust's Additions: The Making of "A la recherche du temps perdu" (2 volumes, Cambridge University Press, 1977), which examines the same sixty-two cahiers extensively used here. Nevertheless, this modest study should go far toward enabling us to disentangle Proust's narrator-protagonist from himself.

Philip Thody is a distinguished scholar. Many of us relied heavily on his valuable book on Camus during graduate school. The present volume, sound as its documentation is, intends to function as a high-level popularization; it consists mainly of amiable gossip interlarded with plot summary. Much of its effect depends upon a lush profusion of adjectives and an abundance of carefully-chosen adverbs, which he deals out as rapidly as The Man with the Golden Arm. He is original in sharply differentiating Proust's psychology of character from Freud's (although both share a nineteenth-century belief in pandeterminism), particularly with reference to the bedtime kiss episode at the beginning. Instead, he relates Proust's study of unconscious motivation to the seventeenth-century moralistes and discusses its great influence on Sartre.

In a discreedy feminist vein, Thody takes issue with Proust and defends Odette, Rachel, and Albertine for looking out for Number One in an unfair...


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