The thirty short articles in this collection aim to provide a comprehensive overview of what might be called the ‘Proust cultural phenomenon’: his life, work, editorial history, critical reception, translations, film and bandes dessinées adaptations, place in literary history, and status in contemporary culture. The five articles in the first part, ‘Life and Works’, succinctly cover all of Proust’s published works, as well as the fraught history of their successive edited versions. The second part, ‘Historical and Cultural Contexts’, is itself divided into two sections: ‘The Arts’ and ‘Self and Society’. The eight articles in the first section address, as might be expected, painting and music, but also philosophy, fin-de-siècle decadence, and the avant-garde. The second section is the longest and most wide-ranging; its ten articles cover such topics as sexuality, psychoanalysis, technology, religion, politics, the Dreyfus Affair, and the First World War. The third and final part of the book, ‘Critical Reception’, is, in this reviewer’s opinion, the most original and interesting. Its seven articles provide a compact historical overview of how Proust’s work has [End Page 410] been received in France and abroad. It also covers Proust’s place within the modernist tradition, the surprisingly diverse adaptations of his work, and the debates linked to its various translations. The overall approach, in short, could be characterized as encyclopedic in its ambitions. Marcel Proust in Context will provide advanced readers and students with a shorter and less hefty companion reference work, alongside Annick Bouillaguet and Brian G. Rogers’s Dictionnaire Marcel Proust (Paris: Champion, 2004; see French Studies, 60 (2006), 138–39). Each article is impeccably researched and annotated. A categorized ‘Further Reading’ section at the end will be useful to students. Quite logically, many of the authors refer directly or indirectly to their own well-known books, and it must have been an interesting challenge for them to condense the content of their weighty tomes into only a few pages. To give merely three examples from the first part of the book: Luc Fraisse’s La Correspondance de Proust (1998), William C. Carter’s famous biography, Marcel Proust: A Life (2000), and Nathalie Mauriac Dyer’s Proust inachevé: le dossier “Albertine disparue” (2005). The presence of leading Proust scholars, even if each one contributed only a few pages, gives Marcel Proust in Context more of the feel of an état présent than an introductory volume. It will be particularly useful to graduate students and to scholars who need quick synopses and bibliographical references for topics that are outside their fields of research. Some articles, it should be noted, cover issues that have received comparatively less critical attention in Proust studies, for instance: ‘Theatre and Dance’, by Áine Larkin; ‘Journalism’, by Christine M. Cano; and ‘Adaptations/Afterlives’, by Margaret E. Gray. As Adam Watt points out in his Preface, the ‘plurality of Proust’s writing [. . .] invites multiple modes of interpretation, multiple frames of reference’ (p. xvii). While most books with multiple contributing authors are usually not read cover to cover, readers will find each of the articles in this volume interesting and insightful.
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Marcel Proust in Context. Edited by Adam Watt. (Literature in Context.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. xxv + 260 pp.
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Copyright © 2014 Edward Ousselin