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Marcel Proust (1871-1922): Criticism in English

Last Updated: Feb 19, 2024 12:43 PM

Bibliotheque Nationale de France, reading room
Above: Reading room ("Salle Ovale") at the Richelieu site of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (National Library of France), which holds the collection of all extant manuscripts related to Proust's A la Recherche du temps perdu. Image source: Wikimedia Commons. Image author: Poulpy. Image license: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported. Image has been cropped without altering its content.
The critical tradition of writing on Proust in English runs through every vital nerve-center of twentieth- and twenty-first century thought on literature and culture, from the New Criticism to structuralism and beyond, from the most conservative to the most subversive perspectives, from the microscopic study of manuscripts to the broadest analyses of modern history and politics. Proust's inexhaustible complexity, as well as his unfailing approachability, have offered a rich environment for every imaginable critical temperament and a point of departure for every imaginable critical project. As a result, it is not a stretch to claim that the thorough study of Proust's writing, and of writing on Proust, can offer as deep and incisive an education as any in what reading and writing mean to us now.
This page offers a complete guide to scholarship on Proust in English. Each gallery of books below is organized either by type of work or by topic, and each group of books is arranged from newest to oldest, left to right.
On this page you can discover a rich selection of resources in English on the most significant dimensions of Proust's historical context, arranged by broad topical areas. Each book listed below is linked to WorldCat, where you can discover library holdings for that item in your region. Resources within each gallery box are generally arranged from the newest to the oldest publications, left to right.

General Works

This book offers the first translation of painter and writer Józef Czapski's inspiring lectures on Proust, first delivered in a prison camp in the Soviet Union during World War II. During the Second World War, as a prisoner of war, and with nothing but memory to go on, the Polish artist and soldier Józef Czapski brought Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time to life for an audience of prison inmates. In a series of lectures, Czapski described the arc and import of Proust’s masterpiece, sketched major and minor characters in striking detail, and movingly evoked the work’s originality, depth, and beauty. Eric Karpeles has translated this brilliant and ­altogether unparalleled feat of the critical imagination into English for the first time, and in a thoughtful introduction he brings out how, in reckoning with Proust’s great meditation on memory, Czapski helped his fellow officers to remember that there was a world apart from the world of the camp. Proust had staked the art of the novelist against the losses of a lifetime and the imminence of death. Recalling that triumphant wager, unfolding, like Sheherazade, the intricacies of Proust’s world night after night, Czapski showed to men at the end of their tether that the past remained present and there was a future in which to hope.

The Weather in Proust Cover artThe Weather in Proust by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, edited by Jonathan Goldberg. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011.

This volume gathers pieces written by the eminent critic and theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in the last decade of her life, as she worked toward a book on Proust. This book takes its title from the first essay, a startlingly original interpretation of Proust. By way of Neoplatonism, Buddhism, and the work of Melanie Klein, Sedgwick establishes the sense of refreshment and surprise that the author of the Recherche affords his readers. Proust also figures in pieces on the poetry of C.P. Cavafy, object relations, affect theory, and Sedgwick’s textile art practices. More explicitly connected to her role as a pioneering queer theorist are an exuberant attack against reactionary refusals of the work of Guy Hocquenghem and talks in which she lays out her central ideas about sexuality and her concerns about the direction of US queer theory. Sedgwick lived for more than a dozen years with a diagnosis of terminal cancer; its implications informed her later writing and thinking, as well as her spiritual and artistic practices. In the book’s final and most personal essay, she reflects on the realization of her impending death. Featuring thirty-seven color images of her art, this book offers a comprehensive view of Sedgwick’s later work, underscoring its diversity and coherence.

Proust's Way: A Field Guide to In Search of Lost Time Cover artProust's Way: A Field Guide to In Search of Lost Time by Roger Shattuck. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2000.

"Shattuck leaves us not only with a deepened appreciation of Proust's great work but of all great literature as well."―Richard Bernstein, in The New York Times. For any reader who has been humbled by the language, the density, or the sheer weight of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time, Roger Shattuck is a godsend. Winner of the National Book Award for Marcel Proust, a sweeping examination of Proust's life and works, Shattuck now offers a useful and eminently readable guidebook to Proust's epic masterpiece, and a contemplation of memory and consciousness throughout great literature. Here, Shattuck laments Proust's defenselessness against zealous editors, praises some translations, and presents Proust as a novelist whose philosophical gifts were matched only by his irrepressible comic sense. Proust's Way, the culmination of a lifetime of scholarship, will serve as the next generation's guide to one of the world's finest writers of fiction.

Proust Among the Stars cover artProust Among the Stars by Malcolm Bowie. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.

For many, Proust is the supreme European writer of the twentieth century. This book tackles his achievement head-on. Art, death, sex, politics, loss, guilt, morality―Proust's major themes are revealed and explained here. Malcolm Bowie offers a matchless close reading of Remembrance of Things Past and a lesson in how to read the great books profitably and pleasurably, asserting that Proust's novel is one of the great exercises in speculative imagining in the world's literature, and that its originality lies first in the quality of Proust's textual invention, page after page, line after line. Proust's world constantly shimmers with a sense of multiple possibilities and is at the same time infused with the urge to order, obsessively to organize. Bowie examines how Proust achieves this in his writing, as opposed to his themes, plots, or theories. An original, beautiful, and deeply moving book, this work shows how Proust's work deepens our understanding of our lives and ourselves.

Introductions, Guides, and Reference Works

Proust's work is many things at once: a novel of education, a portrait of French society during the Third Republic, a masterful psychological analysis of love, a reflection on homosexuality, an essay in moral and aesthetic theory, and, above all, one of the great literary achievements of the twentieth century. This Reader's Guide analyses each volume of the 'Recherche' in order and in detail. Without jargon or technical language, David Ellison leads the reader through the work, clarifying but not oversimplifying the intricate beauty of Proust's imaginary universe. Focused both on large themes and on narrative and stylistic particularities, Ellison's readings expand our understanding and appreciation of the work and provide tools for the further study of Proust. All French quotations are translated, making this an ideal guide for students of comparative literature as well as of French.


An accessible, irreverent guide to one of the most admired—and entertaining—novels of the past century: Remembrance of Things Past. There is no other guide like this; a user-friendly and enticing entry into the marvelously enjoyable world of Proust. At seven volumes, three thousand pages, and more than four hundred characters, as well as a towering reputation as a literary classic, Proust’s novel can seem daunting. But though begun a century ago, in 1909, it is in fact as engaging and relevant to our times as ever. Patrick Alexander is passionate about Proust’s genius and appeal—he calls the work “outrageously bawdy and extremely funny”—and in his guide he makes it more accessible to the general reader through detailed plot summaries, historical and cultural background, a guide to the fifty most important characters, maps, family trees, illustrations, and a brief biography of Proust.

Collections of Essays

This collection of essays brings together expert Proustians and renowned interdisciplinary scholars in a major reconsideration of the novelist's relation to the arts. Going beyond the classic question of the models used by Proust for his fictional artists, the essays collected here explore how he learned from and integrated, in highly personal ways, the work of such creators as Wagner or Carpaccio. This volume reveals the breadth of Proust's engagement with varied art forms from different eras: from "primitive" arts to sound recordings, from medieval sculpture to Art Nouveau glassmaking, and from portrait photography to the private art of doodling. Chapters bring into focus issues of perception and detail in examining how Proust encountered and responded to works of art, and attend to the ways art shaped his complex relationship to identity, sexuality, humor, and the craft of writing.

The Strange M. Proust Cover artThe Strange M. Proust, edited by André Benhaïm. New York: Routledge, 2008.

The strange M. Proust - the narrator, the author, and the embodiment of A la Recherche du Temps perdu - is now so canonical a writer that his very strangeness is easily overlooked. His book made of other books, his epic composed of extraordinary miniatures, his orderly structure where every law is subverted, his chronology where time can be undone and his geography where places can superimpose: in these, and many other ways, Proust continues to astonish even readers who have engaged with him for their entire careers. In this book, arising from the Princeton symposium of 2006, major critics come together to offer provocative readings of a work which is at the same time classical and unusual, French and foreign, familiar and strange. The book is dedicated to the memory of Malcolm Bowie (1943-2007), whose keynote address was one of his last major lectures. Other contributors include David Ellison, Anne Simon, Eugene Nicole, Joseph Brami, Raymonde Coudert, Christie McDonald, Michael Wood and Antoine Compagnon.


Proust in Perspective: Visions and Revisions Cover artProust in Perspective: Visions and Revisions, edited by Armine K. Mortimer & Katherine Kolb. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2002.

Marcel Proust speaks to us today as a contemporary and a classic. His great novel resonates across languages and time, summing up the past, interpreting the present, and envisioning the future. For this collection, scholars from France, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Japan, Canada, and the United States have drawn on rich new editions of Proust's novel and correspondence to bring us fresh views of his work. In nineteen original essays, a foreword by Jean–Yves Tadié, and an introduction by editors Armine Kotin Mortimer and Katherine Kolb, this volume guides readers through the dense weave of Proust's fiction and correspondence. The essays take us into the realm of Proustian language–-as quotation, metaphor, and memory–-and into art history and musical ideology, connecting the art of words with the words of art. They explore the interface of history and fiction, the mysteries of the text's evolution, and the dilemmas of its publication. They present the revelations of genetic criticism and the surprises of gender analysis. Taken together, these essays conjure a multifaceted profile of Proust–-his work, life, character, and influence–-and of new directions in Proust scholarship today. With compelling rigor and infectious enthusiasm, this work conveys the magnitude of Proust's continuing appeal.

The Cambridge Companion to Proust Cover artThe Cambridge Companion to Proust, edited by Richard Bales. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

This Companion provides a broad account of the major features of Marcel Proust's great work A la recherche du temps perdu (1913-1927). The specially commissioned essays, by acknowledged experts on Proust, address a wide range of issues relating to his work. Progressing from background and biographical material, the chapters investigate such essential areas as the composition of the novel, its social dimension, the language in which it is couched, its intellectual parameters and its humor.

Morisot, Portrait of Berthe Morisot and Her Daughter

Above: Berthe Morisot (1841-1895), Portrait of Berthe Morisot and Her Daughter (1885), oil on canvas.
Image source: Wikiart. Image author: Berthe Morisot. Image license: Public domain.

Comparative and Transcultural Perspectives

This book offers the first discussion of Proust’s circle of Latin American friends, lovers, and literary models. Part biography, part cultural history, part literary study, Gallo's work explores the presence of Latin America in Proust's life and work. The novelist lived in an era shaped by French colonial expansion into the Americas: just before his birth, Napoleon III installed Maximilian as emperor of Mexico, and during the 1890s France was shaken by the Panama Affair, a financial scandal linked to the construction of the canal in which thousands of French citizens lost their life savings. It was in the context of these tense Franco-Latin American relations that the novelist met the circle of friends discussed in Proust's Latin Americans: the composer Reynaldo Hahn, Proust’s Venezuelan lover; Gabriel de Yturri, an Argentinean dandy; José-Maria de Heredia, a Cuban poet and early literary model; Antonio de La Gandara, a Mexican society painter; and Ramon Fernandez, a brilliant Mexican critic turned Nazi sympathizer. Gallo discusses the correspondence―some of it never before published―between the novelist and this heterogeneous group and also presents insightful readings of In Search of Lost Time that posit Latin America as the novel’s political unconscious.

Dying for Time: Proust, Woolf, Nabokov Cover artDying for Time: Proust, Woolf, Nabokov by Martin Hägglund. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012.

Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, and Vladimir Nabokov transformed the art of the novel in order to convey the experience of time. Nevertheless, their works have been read as expressions of a desire to transcend time―whether through an epiphany of memory, an immanent moment of being, or a transcendent afterlife. Martin Hägglund takes on these themes but gives them another reading entirely. The fear of time and death does not stem from a desire to transcend time, he argues. On the contrary, it is generated by the investment in temporal life. From this vantage point, Hägglund offers in-depth analyses of Proust’s Recherche, Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and Nabokov’s Ada. Through his readings of literary works, Hägglund also sheds new light on topics of broad concern in the humanities, including time consciousness and memory, trauma and survival, the technology of writing and the aesthetic power of art. Finally, he develops an original theory of the relation between time and desire through an engagement with Freud and Lacan.

Opera in the Novel from Balzac to Proust Cover artOpera in the Novel from Balzac to Proust by Cormac Newark. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

The turning point of Madame Bovary, which Flaubert memorably set at the opera, is only the most famous example of a surprisingly long tradition, one common to a range of French literary styles and sub-genres. In the first book-length study of that tradition to appear in English, Cormac Newark examines representations of operatic performance from Balzac's La Comédie humaine to Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu, by way of (among others) Dumas père's Le Comte de Monte-Cristo and Leroux's Le Fantôme de l'Opéra. Attentive to textual and musical detail alike in the works, the study also delves deep into their reception contexts. The result is a compelling cultural-historical account: of changing ways of making sense of operatic experience from the 1820s to the 1920s, and of a perennial writerly fascination with the recording of that experience.

Proust and America Cover artProust and America by Michael Murphy. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2008.

"It is strange," Proust wrote in 1909, "that, in the most widely different departments . . . there should be no other literature which exercises over me so powerful an influence as English and American." In the spirit of Proust's admission, this engaging and critical volume offers the first comparative reading of the French novelist in the context of American art, literature, and culture. In addition to examining Proust's key American influences-Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allen Poe, and James McNeill Whistler-Proust and America investigates the previously overlooked influence of the American neurologist George Beard, whose writings on neurasthenia and "American nervousness" contributed to the essential modernity of the author's work.

Topics in Proust

Known for her far-reaching examinations of psychoanalysis, literature, and politics, Jacqueline Rose has in recent years turned her attention to the Israel-Palestine conflict, one of the most enduring and apparently intractable conflicts of our time. In this book, she takes the development of her thought on this crisis a stage further, revealing it as a distinctly Western problem. In a radical rereading of the Dreyfus affair through the lens of Marcel Proust in dialogue with Freud, Rose offers a fresh and nuanced account of the rise of Jewish nationalism and the subsequent creation of Israel. Following Proust’s heirs, Beckett and Genet, and a host of Middle Eastern writers, artists, and filmmakers, Rose traces the shifting dynamic of memory and identity across the crucial and ongoing cultural links between Europe and Palestine. A powerful and elegant analysis of the responsibility of writing, Rose's book makes the case for literature as a unique resource for understanding political struggle and gives us new ways to think creatively about the violence in the Middle East.

Proust Outdoors Cover artProust Outdoors by Nathan Guss. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2009.

Thisbook will surprise anyone familiar with Marcel Proust, a writer associated with the cork-lined bedroom, the aristocratic salon, the interiority of memory, and, more recently, the figurative closet. The narrator uses figures of interior space to express literature's ability to recapture the past. However, his depictions of great works and other characters' theories convey art's power to open new horizons of meaning in vast, wild spaces such as alpine wilderness, the eastern steppe, or stormy seas. This study focuses on the aesthetic stakes of these conflicting spaces. Moving between close rhetorical readings of passages where the opposing aesthetics are grafted together and general considerations of the book's overarching structure and critical reception, a Proust emerges whose postmodern exploration of the explosive signifier challenges the predominant reading of the novel as a high modernist celebration of artistic mastery.


Proust's English Cover artProust's English by Daniel Karlin. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2005.

English is the 'second language' of A la recherche du temps perdu. Although much has been written about Proust's debt to English literature, especially Ruskin, Daniel Karlin is the first critic to focus on his knowledge of the language itself - on vocabulary, idiom, and etymology. He uncovers an 'English world' in Proust's work, a world whose social comedy and artistic values reveal surprising connections to some of the novel's central preoccupations with sexuality and art. Anglomanie – the fashion for all things English – has been as powerful a presence in French culture as hostility to perfide Albion; Proust was both subject to its influence, and a brilliant critic of its excesses. French resistance to imported English words remains fierce to this day; but Proust's attitude to this most contentious aspect of Anglo-French relations was marked by his rejection of concepts of national and racial 'purity', and his profound understanding of the necessary 'impurity' of artistic creation.

Proust in the Power of Photography Cover artProust in the Power of Photography by Brassaï. translated by Richard Howard. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

One of the most original and memorable photographers of the twentieth century, Brassaï was also a journalist, sculptor, and writer. He took great pride in his writing, and he loved literature and language – French most of all. When he arrived in Paris in 1924, Brassaï began teaching himself French by reading Proust. Captured by the sensuality and visual strategies of Proust's writing, Brassaï soon became convinced that he had discovered a kindred spirit. Brassaï wrote: "In his battle against Time, that enemy of our precarious existence, ever on the offensive though never openly so, it was in photography, also born of an age-old longing to halt the moment, to wrest it from the flux of duration in order to 'fix' it forever in a semblance of eternity, that Proust found his best ally." He quoted Proust in his own writing, and from the annotated books in his library, we know that he spent a lifetime studying and dissecting Proust's prose, often line by line. Drawing on his own experience as a photographer and author, Brassaï discovers a neglected aspect of Proust's interests, offering us a fascinating study of the role of photography both in Proust's oeuvre and in early-twentieth-century culture. Brassaï shows us how Proust was excessively interested in possessing portraits of his acquaintances and how the process by which he remembered and wrote was quite similar to the ways in which photographs register and reveal life's images. This book – beautifully translated by Richard Howard – features previously obscure photographs from Brassaï's High Society series and offers a rare glimpse into two of France's most fascinating artistic minds.

Proust and Literature

This a comprehensive comparison of the narrative techniques of two of the twentieth century's most important writers of prose. Using a combination of theoretical analysis and close readings of Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu and Beckett's trilogy of novels, Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable, James H. Reid compares the two novelists' use of first-person narration in constructing and demystifying fictions of consciousness. Reid focuses on the narrator's search to represent the voice that speaks the novel, a search, he argues, that structures first-person narration in the works of both novelists. He examines in detail the significant impact of Proust's writing on Beckett's own work as well as Beckett's subtle reworkings of Proust's themes and strategies. This study is an important contribution to critical literature, and offers fresh perspectives on the crucial importance of the Recherche and the trilogy in the context of the twentieth-century novel.

Reading in Proust's a la Recherche: 'le délire de la lecture,' Cover artReading in Proust's a la Recherche: 'le délire de la lecture' by Adam A. Watt. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Through close textual analysis of the scenes of reading in Proust's novel, Adam Watt offers an invigorating new study of the novel and previously unacknowledged paths through it. After considering key childhood 'Primal Scenes' which mark the act of reading as revelatory and potentially traumatic, the book then identifies and examines the interwoven strands of the novel's narrative of reading: showing that scenes where the narrator reads and where others provide 'lessons in reading' are intricately connected within the narrator's ever unfolding considerations of intelligence, sense experience, knowledge, and desire. These acts of reading, often bewildering the narrator with their mix of illuminations, wrong turns and over-determinations, lead us to interrogate our own understanding of the act we accomplish as we read A la recherche. This book emphasizes the complexities and contradictions with which reading (always inescapably an engagement of both mind and body) is driven, and which connect it repeatedly to the experience of involuntary memory. Reading is shown to be frequently fraught with heady instability – 'délire' – of a highly revealing sort, from which narrator and readers alike have much to learn. The book's final chapter shows how the narrator's critical energies, turned contemplatively inwards in the Guermantes' library, are subsequently turned outwards for a final interpretive effort-the reading of his now aged acquaintances at the 'Bal de têtes' – in a shift that provides the narrator not only the confidence to begin his work of art, but also the humility to face death undeterred.


The Novel Map: Space and Subjectivity in Nineteenth-Century French Fiction Cover artThe Novel Map: Space and Subjectivity in Nineteenth-Century French Fiction by Patrick M. Bray. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2005.

Focusing on Stendhal, Gérard de Nerval, George Sand, Émile Zola, and Marcel Proust, Bray's book explores the ways that these writers represent and negotiate the relationship between the self and the world as a function of space in a novel turned map. With the rise of the novel and of autobiography, the literary and cultural contexts of nineteenth-century France reconfigured both the ways literature could represent subjects and the ways subjects related to space. In the first-person works of these authors, maps situate the narrator within the imaginary space of the novel. Yet the time inherent in the text’s narrative unsettles the spatial self drawn by the maps and so creates a novel self, one which is both new and literary. The novel self transcends the rigid confines of a map. In this significant study, Patrick M. Bray charts a new direction in critical theory.

Unknowing: The Work of Modernist Fiction Cover artUnknowing: The Work of Modernist Fiction by Philip Weinstein. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005.

Philip Weinstein explores the modernist commitment to "unknowing" by addressing the work of three supreme experimental writers: Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, and William Faulkner. In their novels, the narrative props that support the drama of coming to know are refused. When space turns uncanny rather than lawful, when time ceases to be linear and progressive, objects and others become unfamiliar. So does the subject seeking to know them. Weinstein argues that modernist texts work, by way of surprise and arrest, to subvert the familiarity and narrative progression intrinsic to realist fiction. Rather than staging the drama of coming to know, they stage the drama of coming to unknow. The signature move of modernism is shock, just as resolution is the trademark of realism. Kafka, Proust, and Faulkner wrought their most compelling experimental effects by undermining an earlier Enlightenment project of knowing. Weinstein draws on major Enlightenment thinkers to identify constituent components of the narrative of "coming to know"―the progressive narrative underwriting two centuries of Western realist fiction. The book proceeds by framing modernist unknowing between prior practices of realist knowing, on the one hand, and, on the other, certain later practices―postmodern and postcolonial―that move beyond knowing altogether. In so doing, Weinstein proposes a metahistory of the Western novel, from Daniel Defoe to Toni Morrison.

Odilon Redon, Pantheon

Above: Odilon Redon (1840-1916), Pantheon (ca. 1910), pastel on paper.
Image source: Wikiart. Image author: Odilon Redon. Image license: Public domain.

Proust and Philosophy

Proust's work has long fascinated philosophers for its complex accounts of time, personal identity and narrative, amongst many other themes. De Beistegui's is the first book to try and connect Proust’s implicit ontology of experience with the question of style, and of metaphor in particular. De Beistegui begins with an observation: throughout In Search of Lost Time, the two main characters seem prone to chronic dissatisfaction in matters of love, friendship and even art. Reality always falls short of expectation. At the same time, the narrator experiences unexpected bouts of intense elation, the cause and meaning of which remain elusive. Beistegui argues we should understand these experiences as acts of artistic creation, and that this is why Proust himself wrote that true life is the life of art. He goes on to explore the nature of these joyful and pleasurable experiences and the transformation required of art, and particularly literature, if it is to incorporate them. He concludes that Proust revolutionises the idea of metaphor, extending beyond the confines of language to understand the nature of lived, bodily experience.

Memory and Understanding: Concept Formation in Proust's 'A la Recherche du temps perdu,' Cover artMemory and Understanding: Concept Formation in Proust's 'A la Recherche du temps perdu' by Renate Bartsch. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2005.

This book treats memory and understanding on two levels, on the phenomenological level of experience, on which a theory of dynamic conceptual semantics is built, and on the neuro-connectionist level, which supports the capacities of concept formation, remembering, and understanding. A neuro-connectionist circuit architecture of a constructive memory is developed in which understanding and remembering are modelled in accordance with the constituent structures of a dynamic conceptual semantics. Consciousness emerges by circuit activation between conceptual indicators and episodic indices with the sensory-motor, emotional, and proprioceptual areas. This theory of concept formation, remembering, and understanding is applied to Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu, with special attention to the author’s excursions into philosophical and aesthetic issues. Under this perspective, Proust’s work can be seen as an artistic exploration into our capacity of understanding, whereby the unconscious, the memory, is exteriorized in consciousness by presenting the experienced episodes in the conceptual order of similarity and contiguity through our capacity of concept formation.

Philosophy As Fiction: Self, Deception, and Knowledge in Proust Cover artPhilosophy As Fiction: Self, Deception, and Knowledge in Proust by Joshua Landy. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004.

This work seeks to account for the peculiar power of philosophical literature by taking as its case study the paradigmatic generic hybrid of the twentieth century, Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time. At once philosophical--in that it presents claims, and even deploys arguments concerning such traditionally philosophical issues as knowledge, self-deception, selfhood, love, friendship, and art--and literary, in that its situations are imaginary and its stylization inescapably prominent, Proust's novel presents us with a conundrum. How should it be read? Can the two discursive structures co-exist, or must philosophy inevitably undermine literature (by sapping the narrative of its vitality) and literature undermine philosophy (by placing its claims in the mouth of an often unreliable narrator)? In the case of Proust at least, the result is greater than the sum of its parts. Not only can a coherent, distinctive philosophical system be extracted from the Recherche, once the narrator's periodic waywardness is taken into account; not only does a powerfully original style pervade its every nook, overtly reinforcing some theories and covertly exemplifying others; but aspects of the philosophy also serve literary ends, contributing more to character than to conceptual framework. What is more, aspects of the aesthetics serve philosophical ends, enabling a reader to engage in an active manner with an alternative art of living. Unlike the "essay" Proust might have written, his novel grants us the opportunity to use it as a practice ground for cooperation among our faculties, for the careful sifting of memories, for the complex procedures involved in self-fashioning, and for the related art of self-deception. It is only because the narrator's insights do not always add up--a weakness, so long as one treats the novel as a straightforward treatise--that it can produce its training effect, a feature that turns out to be its ultimate strength.

Proust and Signs Cover artProust and Signs by Gilles Deleuze, translated by Richard Howard. New York: Continuum, 2000.

The essential work on Proust--now in paperback! In a remarkable instance of literary and philosophical interpretation, the incomparable Gilles Deleuze reads Marcel Proust's work as a narrative of an apprenticeship--more precisely, the apprenticeship of a man of letters. Considering the search to be one directed by an experience of signs, in which the protagonist learns to interpret and decode the kinds and types of symbols that surround him, Deleuze conducts us on a corollary search--one that leads to a new understanding of the signs that constitute A la recherche du temps perdu. In Richard Howard's graceful translation, augmented with an essay that Deleuze added to a later French edition, Proust and Signs is the complete English version of this work. Admired as an imaginative and innovative study of Proust and as one of Deleuze's more accessible works, this book stands as the writer's most sustained attempt to understand and explain the work of art.

Proust and Desire

Jacques Rivière knew how to accept art emotionally. No French critic was ever less a traditional pedagogue. Rivière was an intelligent French writer, who knew that the summit of the intellect is to admit aff ective knowledge, instinct, and intuition. The "heart," or taste, is always superior to raw intelligence. Rivière's supple metaphors are not easily rendered into English. The density of his thought, the complexity of his views, the moral and spiritual fervor that vibrates in these pages, further enhances the difficulties the skilled translator must overcome. Literary criticism is often ephemeral; it has served its purpose if it stimulates discussion about the work of art under scrutiny. Not so with essays like these. They demand an active reading, as do the original works themselves. They do not easily yield their significance. Among the critics who came into the French literary scene in the years immediately preceding and following the First World War, Jacques Rivière has been least affected by the attrition of time. His studies of Proust and Rimbaud still rank among the two or three essential works to be read on these authors. Few other critics have gone further in a sensuous perception of these authors' work and the intellectual lucidity in analyzing it. Rivière had few pretensions to profundity and a great purity of style. In an age of slogans and judgments, this volume reminds the reader of the extraordinary role of European critical thought in the twentieth century.

Never Say 'I': Sexuality and the First Person in Colette, Gide, and Proust Cover artNever Say 'I': Sexuality and the First Person in Colette, Gide, and Proust by Michael Lucey. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.

This book reveals the centrality of representations of sexuality, and particularly same-sex sexual relations, to the evolution of literary prose forms in twentieth-century France. Rethinking the social and literary innovation of works by Marcel Proust, André Gide, and Colette, Michael Lucey considers these writers’ production of a first-person voice in which matters related to same-sex sexuality could be spoken of. He shows how their writings and careers took on political and social import in part through the contribution they made to the representation of social groups that were only slowly coming to be publicly recognized. Proust, Gide, and Colette helped create persons and characters, points of view, and narrative practices from which to speak and write about, for, or as people attracted to those of the same sex. Considering novels along with journalism, theatrical performances, correspondences, and face-to-face encounters, Lucey focuses on the interlocking social and formal dimensions of using the first person. He argues for understanding the first person not just as a grammatical category but also as a collectively produced social artifact, demonstrating that Proust’s, Gide’s, and Colette’s use of the first person involved a social process of assuming the authority to speak about certain issues, or on behalf of certain people. Lucey reveals these three writers as both practitioners and theorists of the first person; he traces how, when they figured themselves or other first persons in certain statements regarding same-sex identity, they self-consciously called attention to the creative effort involved in doing so.

Proust's Lesbianism Cover artProust's Lesbianism by Elisabeth Ladenson. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999

For decades, Elisabeth Ladenson says, critics have misread or ignored a crucial element in Marcel Proust's fiction―his representation of lesbians. Her challenging new book definitively establishes the centrality of lesbianism as sexual obsession and aesthetic model in Proust's vast novel. Traditional readings of the Recherche have dismissed Proust's "Gomorrah"―his term for women who love other women―as a veiled portrayal of the novelist's own homosexuality. More recently, "queer-positive" rereadings have viewed the novel's treatment of female sexuality as ancillary to its accounts of Sodom and its meditations on time and memory. Ladenson instead demonstrates the primacy of lesbianism to the novel, showing that Proust's lesbians are the only characters to achieve a plenitude of reciprocated desire. The example of Sodom, by contrast, is characterized by frustrated longing and self-loathing. She locates the work's paradigm of hermetic relations between women in the self-sufficient bond between the narrator's mother and grandmother. Ladenson traces Proust's depictions of male and female homosexuality from his early work onward, and contextualizes his account of lesbianism in late-nineteenth-century sexology and early twentieth-century thought. A vital contribution to the fields of queer theory and of French literature and culture, Ladenson's book marks a new stage in Proust studies and provides a fascinating chapter in the history of a literary masterpiece's reception.

Epistemology of the Closet Cover artEpistemology of the Closet by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1990.

Since the late 1980s, queer studies and theory have become vital to the intellectual and political life of the United States. This has been due, in no small degree, to the influence of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's critically acclaimed Epistemology of the Closet. Working from classic texts of European and American writers - including Melville, James, Nietzsche, Proust, and Wilde - Sedgwick analyzes a turn-of-the-century historical moment in which sexual orientation became as important a demarcation of personhood as gender had been for centuries. In her preface to this updated edition Sedgwick places the book both personally and historically, looking specifically at the horror of the first wave of the AIDS epidemic and its influence on the text.

Proust and the Arts

This book is about reading Proust’s novel via philosophical and musicological approaches to “modern” listening. It articulates how insights into the way we listen to and understand classical music inform the creation of literary meaning. It asks: are we to take at face value the ideas about art that the novel contains, or are those part of the fiction? Is there a difference between what the novel says and what it does, and how can music provide a key to answering that question? According to this study, Proust asks us to temporalize our interpretation by recognizing the distance between initial and final experiences of the novel, and by being open to the ways in which it challenges attempts at interpretive closure. Proust’s novel responds to the kind of attentive and eternally changing perspectives that can be generated from music and our attempts to make sense of it.

Film established itself as an artistic form of expression at the same time that Proust started work on his masterpiece. If Proust apparently took little interest in what he described as a poor avatar of reductive, mimetic representation, the resonances between his own radical reworking of writing styles and the novelistic forms, and cinema as the art of time are undeniable. This book is the first study in English to consider these rich interconnections. Its introductory chapter charts the missed encounter between Proust and the cinema and addresses the problems inherent in adapting his novel to the screen. The following chapters examine the various cinematic responses to A la recherche du temps perdu attempted to date, while the last chapter tracks the echoes of Proust's writing in the work of various directors, from Abel Grace to Jean-Luc Godard. The approach is multidisciplinary, combining literary criticism with film theory and elements of philosophy of art. Special attention is given to the modernist legacy in literature and film with its distinctive aesthetic and narrative features. An outline of the history and recent evolution of contemporary art cinema thus emerges: a cinema where the themes at the heart of Proust's work - memory, time, perception - are ceaselessly explored.


Aubert Proust Visual cover artProust and the Visual, edited by Nathalie Aubert. Cardiff, UK: University of Wales Press, 2013.

This edited collection considers the role of the visual in Proust's work and how it contributes to the novel’s sense of modernity. The first few essays examine the philosophical implications of Proust’s quest for truth, taking up analyses of the thing, the body, and the relation between the seer and the visible. The essays in the second section concentrate on the way meaning emerges from the description of experience, as well as the cultural environment in which it is inscribed through the workings and reworkings of certain images and textures. The final essays explore how Proust’s unique approach to the visual has become in recent years the inspiration for other visual practices: film, sculpture, painting, and dance.

This book offers a captivating, colorful examination of the ways in which Proust incorporated artists and the visual arts in his work, one of the most profoundly visual books in Western literature. Eric Karpeles has identified and located the many paintings to which Proust makes reference; in other cases, where only a painter's name is mentioned to indicate a certain style or appearance, Karpeles has chosen a representative work to illustrate the impression that Proust sought to evoke. With some 200 paintings beautifully reproduced in full color and texts drawn from the Moncrieff-Kilmartin-Enright translation, as well as concise commentaries on the novel's evolving story, this book is an essential addition to the libraries of Proustians everywhere. The book also includes an authoritative introduction examining the ways in which Proust used paintings and the arts to extend his descriptive vocabulary, and a comprehensive index of artists and paintings mentioned in the novel.

Tissot, Circle of the Rue Royale

Above: James Tissot (1836-1902), The Circle of the Rue Royale (1868), oil on canvas. Charles Haas (1833-1902), a wealthy Jewish socialite and one of the main sources for the character of Charles Swann in Proust's novel, is pictured standing at the extreme right of the image.
Image source: Wikiart. Image author: James Tissot. Image license: Public domain.

Proust, Modernity, and Modernism

This book investigates crises of evaluation in twentieth-century France. Taking Marcel Proust as its central figure, the book theorizes the disorienting force of everyday aesthetic experience. In a series of surprising readings, Hannah Freed-Thall frees Proust from his reputation as the most refined of high modernists. The author of In Search of Lost Time appears here as a journalist and newspaper enthusiast, a literary ventriloquist and connoisseur of popular scandals, and a writer attentive to the unsophisticated phenomenology of the here and now. The final chapters of the book consider the legacy of Proust's experiments with inestimable worth. Authors Francis Ponge, Nathalie Sarraute, and Yasmina Reza also explore the underside of cultural distinction. With Proust, they elaborate modernist variations on the beautiful and sublime--from nuance to the "whatever" and from the awkward to the sickly-sweet. Freed-Thall's work thus revitalizes the critical discourse on aesthetics. Mapping the intersection of phenomenology, aesthetic theory, and the sociology of culture, the book reveals how enchanting the ordinary can be.

Fictions of Autonomy: Modernism from Wilde to de Man Cover artFictions of Autonomy: Modernism from Wilde to de Man by Andrew Goldstone. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

No aspect of modernist literature has attracted more passionate defenses, or more furious denunciations, than its affinity for the idea of autonomy. A belief in art as a law unto itself is central to the work of many writers from the late nineteenth century to the present. But is this belief just a way of denying art's social contexts, its roots in the lives of its creators, its political and ethical obligations? This work argues that the concept of autonomy is, on the contrary, essential for understanding modernism historically. Disputing the prevailing skepticism about autonomy, Andrew Goldstone shows that the pursuit of relative independence within society is modernism's distinctive way of relating to its contexts. Modernist autonomy is grounded in connections to servants and audiences, aging bodies and wardrobe choices; it joins T.S. Eliot to Adorno as exponents of late style and Djuna Barnes to Joyce as anti-communal cosmopolitans. Autonomy reveals new affinities across an expansive modernist field from Henry James and Proust to Stevens and de Man. Drawing on Bourdieu's sociology, formalist reading, and historical contextualization, this book shows autonomy's range--and its limitations--as a modernist mode of social practice. Nothing less than an argument for a wholesale revision of the assumptions of modernist studies, Goldstone's book is also an intervention in literary theory. This book shows why anyone interested in literary history, the sociology of culture, and aesthetics needs to take account of the social, stylistic, and political significance of the problem, and the potential, of autonomy.

Martens Promise cover artThe Promise of Memory: Childhood Recollection and Its Objects in Literary Modernism by Lorna Martens. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011.

Readers once believed in Proust’s madeleine and in Wordsworth’s recollections of his boyhood―but that was before literary culture began to defer to Freud’s questioning of adult memories of childhood. In this first sustained look at childhood memories as depicted in literature, Lorna Martens reveals how much we may have lost by turning our attention the other way. Her work opens a new perspective on early recollection―how it works, why it is valuable, and how shifts in our understanding are reflected in both scientific and literary writings. Science plays an important role in this work, which is squarely situated at the intersection of literature and psychology. Psychologists have made important discoveries about when childhood memories most often form, and what form they most often take. These findings resonate throughout the literary works of the three writers who are the focus of Martens’ book. Proust and Rilke, writing in the modernist period before Freudian theory penetrated literary culture, offer original answers to questions such as “Why do writers consider it important to remember childhood? What kinds of things do they remember? What do their memories tell us?” In Walter Benjamin, Martens finds a writer willing to grapple with Freud, and one whose writings on childhood capture that struggle. For all three authors, places and things figure prominently in the workings of memory. Connections between memory and materiality suggest new ways of understanding not just childhood recollection but also the artistic inclination, which draws on a childlike way of seeing: object-focused, imaginative, and emotionally intense.

Gay Lure of Heresy cover artModernism: The Lure of Heresy: From Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond by Peter Gay. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2007.

A celebration of subversives: this is the first one-volume history of the greatest cultural movement since the Enlightenment. Peter Gay's most ambitious endeavor since Freud explores the shocking modernist rebellion that, beginning in the 1840s, transformed art, literature, music, and film with its assault on traditional forms. Beginning his epic study with Baudelaire, whose lurid poetry scandalized French stalwarts, Gay traces the revolutionary path of modernism from its Parisian origins to its emergence as the dominant cultural movement in world capitals such as Berlin and New York. A work unique in its breadth and brilliance, this book presents a thrilling pageant of heretics that includes (among others) Oscar Wilde, Pablo Picasso, and D. W. Griffiths; James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and T. S. Eliot; Walter Gropius, Arnold Schoenberg, and (of course!) Andy Warhol. Finally, Gay examines the hostility of totalitarian regimes to modernist freedom and the role of Pop Art in sounding the death knell of a movement that dominated Western culture for 120 years. Lavishly illustrated, this is a superlative achievement by one of our greatest historians.

The Genesis of Proust's Novel

Alphonse Mucha, The Times of Day print

Above: Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939), The Times of Day (1899), color print.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons. Image author: Alphonse Mucha. Image license: Public domain.

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