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  • Proust: qui suis-je?
  • Thomas Baldwin
Proust: qui suis-je? By Pascal Ifri. (Qui suis-je?). Grez-sur-Loing: Pardès, 2008. 128 pp. Pb €12.00.

This book is intended to provide a brief introduction to the life and work of Marcel Proust. It goes about its task with grace and charm. Quite a lot is known about Proust's life, of course: Jean-Yves Tadie's and William C. Carter's monumental biographies have made sure of that, not to mention André Maurois's early study and Edmund White's elegant little book. The author summarizes the content of Proust's works, from the 'écrits de jeunesse' to the Recherche, and describes what was happening in the author's life at the time of writing. Very little of the book is given over to literary criticism, and where such criticism is attempted, it is perhaps a bit flat. At times the narrative shows a Sainte-Beuvian innocence: it is suggested, for example, that Proust's 'roman est riche et complexe, mais seulement dans le sens où la vie est riche et complexe' (pp. 8-9). While the import of the 'étude astrologique de Marcel Proust' on the final pages is unclear, the chapter on the 'posterité de Proust' contains some entertaining sound bites regarding Proust's reception and influence (Celine: 'C'est le dernier écrivain de notre génération, quoi', p. 111), and some useful and surprising information about the languages into which his masterpiece has been translated (Arabic, Armenian, Chinese, for example). While this book will not rival the work of Tadié, Maurois, or White for literary sophistication, it will be of use both to French secondary-school students and to young undergraduates in need of a straightforward, lucid introduction to a notoriously difficult writer.

Thomas Baldwin
University of Kent


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