In fall 1989 the University of Alabama sponsored a major celebration of Marcel Proust, his work, life, and times on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the publication of Du Côté de chez Swann. The essays published in this volume, which are preceded by William Carter's excellent summaries, were presented at the University of Alabama at Birmingham along with exhibitions commemorating the author and the early twentieth-century French world in which he lived. These essays have been written by researchers and critics who are firmly convinced of the greatness of Proust's novel, such as Elayne Dezon-Jones who traces its reception in America. Like the character, Charles Swann, these scholars also believe in the close relation between the work of art, the artist, and reality. That critical belief, which Roger Shattuck's essay compares to the young Marcel's "belief in the beings and things he lives among," a belief that "lends them unforgettable reality and meaning," is an essential part of all reading for Proust. It has been neglected by the recent critical emphasis on demystification in Proust's narrative.
According to Philip Kolb, Proust's novel has a richness of language, metaphor, characterization, and psychological insight comparable to that found in the works of Shakespeare. Wallace Fowlie compares Proust's novel to Dante's Divine Comedy, with Swann as the Virgil who guides Marcel through the realms of love, society, and art, and Marcel's mother as his Beatrice. For Richard M. Ratzan, the circularity of Proust's narrative, which brings Marcel back to the Beatrice who engendered him, can be compared to the organic, "inherently pulsatile and circular nature" of the body's circulatory system as first described in William Harvey's De Motu Cordis in 1628. Proust's narrative is literal "intermittences du coeur" that reach out to the capillaries of change in order to return to the heart of the same. For J. Theodore Johnson, Jr., the Recherche incorporates into its twentieth-century novelistic structure the same seven liberal arts that medieval architects incorporated into cathedrals. Like a cathedral, the novel's repetition of the same in a different form teaches its believing readers the knowledge they need to interpret the visual arts and the reality to which the novel refers. For Anne Borrel, characters in the Recherche recall people Proust knew, like Céleste Albaret, about whose life Borrel provides new, previously unpublished details.
Whereas many of these essays characterize the reading of the Recherche as a cvclical return, as if through memory, to Proust's original body, life, and times, [End Page 637] others give evidence that this reading is evolving into forms that prevent such a return. Now that the entire work is in the public domain, Jean Milly notes, it has fragmented into three different editions. The most striking of these editions, the newly-found manuscript of Albertine Disparue published in an edition coedited by Nathalie Mauriac Dyer, eliminates two hundred and fifty pages on uncertainty and forgetting and substantiates Marcel's belief in Albertine's lesbianism. According to Milly, this edition should complement, whereas according to Dyer it should supplant, the traditional edition. The multiple readings of Proust's intentions, to which multiple editions give rise, suggest that the Recherche may forget, rather than remember, the original intentions or beliefs out of which it may have grown.