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  • Le Roman de Gilberte Swann: Proust sociologue paradoxal by Jacques Dubois
  • Edward J. Hughes
Le Roman de Gilberte Swann: Proust sociologue paradoxal. Par Jacques Dubois. Paris: Seuil, 2018. 233 pp.

'Pas un personnage, pas une scène, pas une page dans À la recherche du temps perdu qui ne s'indexe d'une manière ou d'une autre sur le grand registre du social' (p. 221). If early generations of Proust readers censored the social by stressing the role of psychology and philosophy in the novel, Jacques Dubois's sustained critical endeavour has been to highlight the oneness of the psychological and the social in the 'œuvre-monde' that is the Recherche. Twenty years after his groundbreaking Pour Albertine: Proust et le sens du social (Paris: Seuil, 1997), Dubois returns to what he presents as the paradoxical sociology to be found in Proust's novel. Not that he wants us to see the work as a mirror that merely reflects the disciplinary practice of sociologists. Indeed, Dubois draws astutely on Bourdieu's idea in Les Règles de l'art (Paris: Seuil, 1992) that a literary text may capture more rapidly the social than works that claim to be more scientific, the novel, then, functioning, in Bourdieu's formulation, as 'un voilement dévoilant' (cited p. 20). Yet, while insisting that we must not dispossess Proust of his craft as a creator of fiction, of 'une société du texte' (p. 14), Dubois engages rigorously with sociologies both old and more recent. Highlighting the contrast between Gabriel Tarde's stress on conformist social relations between individuals in Les Lois de l'imitation (Paris: Alcan, 1890) and Durkheim's thesis that social forces work coercively on the individual, Dubois traces the strands of singularization and collectivization that are threaded into the Recherche. He also explores productively the intersection with later sociology: thus the Grand-Hôtel at Balbec is presented as a site of human interaction worthy of Erving Goffman's The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh, 1956); Proustian characterization is seen as anticipating Bernard Lahire's L'Homme pluriel (Paris: Nathan, 1998); and Norbert Elias's concept of the regulatory function of social time is suggestively applied to the understanding of the structure of human personality in Le Temps retrouvé. Central to [End Page 624] Dubois's thesis is the notion that it is the Proustian character's instability that robs social divisions of their fixity: Saint-Loup is a reader of Proudhon and advocate of socialism who nevertheless remains a Guermantes; Charlus is a poet-sociologist surveying la mondanité and ranked by the narrator above the social scientists of his day; and Gilberte is the figure who negotiates social borders, a 'grande fédératrice de tous les chemins' in Dubois's exuberant formulation (p. 197). Le Roman de Gilberte Swann forms an important addition to the work of a leading contributor to the socio-critical understanding of the modern French novel. But in an approach that draws the affective into play alongside the analytical, Dubois delivers a celebration of the Proustian world. He refers with verve to 'Françoise la magnifique' (p. 140) and 'l'incorrigible Legrandin' (p. 148), sees Andrée as 'un roman à elle seule dans la Recherche' (p. 151), and writes wistfully about Gilberte's daughter, her unfussy choice of husband (an obscure man of letters) and the déclassement that will follow.

Edward J. Hughes
Queen Mary, University of London


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pp. 624-625
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