This article explores the significance of a network of images drawn from the world of alchemy that is present as a persistent undercurrent in Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu. It is argued that alchemical images — of transmutation, crucibles and gold itself — provide emblematic markers, within the diegesis of the novel, for the narrator-protagonist's evolution to creation. These images encompass the full hierarchy of aspirations of the alchemist, from financial gain to the spiritual transcendence sought by the true initiate. Indeed, A la recherche charts a metaphorical progression from material to spiritual ideals. In tracing out the narrator-initiate's path, alchemical images draw in such key themes as art, society and desire, and encompass a very Proustian range of tones and effects, from the celebratory to the satirical. The article also aligns Proust as novelistic creator with the alchemist of style and perception who transmutes the base matter of observation and experience into gold. In this respect, Proust is situated in relation to a broader nineteenth-century artistic emphasis on transfiguration rather than imitation.


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pp. 466-478
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