- Recovering Your Story: Proust, Joyce, Woolf, Faulkner, Morrison
“My book is not a scholarly book,” Arnold Weinstein states at the end of his Recovering Your Story (477), but given that very few readers will be acquainted with all five modernist writers examined here, they will certainly benefit from this fine overview, which offers a simple but powerful argument, corroborating what Virginia Woolf said about “profound criticism”—that it is “often written casually.”1 Joyce specialists will gain an insight into possible links between Joyce, William Faulkner, and their French and English counterparts, let alone the more tenuous relationship with Toni Morrison, which remains relatively unexplored. This book will not provide scholars [End Page 623] with radically new investigative routes, but it will make them stand back from their in-depth or often over-sophisticated analyses and provoke essential questions about the purpose of modernist works: why and how such texts could help us look at ourselves more critically. More importantly, teachers of modernism will learn here how to make this rather abstruse modernist corpus more attractive for students and will approach these texts from a new angle that could free them from their possible theoretical shackles.
Everything in this book will grow on readers, once they have discarded their own theoretical perspectives, and, instead of gaining new ideas on modernism as such, they will become aware of a powerful thread throughout the book—that of recovering one’s story, something the five writers studied here are particularly successful at doing. It is a far cry from the more traditional humanistic readings that have become outmoded in academic writings. Instead, Weinstein makes savvy remarks about the power exerted by modernist texts on us today and on the reasons why they are even more relevant now than before. A good example of this would be when he writes that “what is gained . . . by the Modernist gambit. . . . is: the depiction—some would say: the creation—of an inner realm that is simply unavailable, unreachable, perhaps unimaginable in traditional fiction” (17). Accessing this inner realm is not a quixotic enterprise but a work in progress, a path towards inwardness, the inner core that seems either empty or brimming with extraneous influences, the ever-elusive self—after the “death of the subject,” needless to say. This is where the nature of modernist narratives steps in, one deemed impossibly convoluted and tortuous by most readers, but, in effect, perhaps the most powerful tool available to help us unravel our story from the chaos of experience, from the traumas of life. Weinstein writes that “each of us has an inner story that eludes ordinary notation. Both Marcel Proust and Joyce show us just how enormous this realm of consciousness, memory, and the past might be: a vast space within, housing our prior selves and flowing feelings” (193). Weinstein continues, paraphrasing a famous Proustian adage: “Reading . . . constitutes a form of exploration that is tantamount to self-discovery, for we emerge from these books with a heightened sense of our own reaches” (193).
Each of the five chapters is devoted to close readings of a small but focused range of texts: Proust’s In Search of Lost Time; Joyce’s Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Ulysses; Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom!; Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse; and Morrison’s Sula and Beloved. The chapter on Proust is slightly less convincing, for the simple reason that two great Proust critics have written a similar kind of book solely devoted to the French literary giant: Malcolm Bowie’s Proust Among the Stars, a masterpiece, and Roger Shattuck’s Proust’s Way.2 [End Page 624]
The following chapters win you over, for the overall argument is well illustrated and yields occasional brilliant findings, such as Weinstein’s analysis of Stephen’s loss of his mother (how fruitful a comparison with Woolfian and Proustian forms of mourning would be here!): “No one is without ghosts or feelings. Joyce has devised a new...