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ClassicsOnline Home » PROUST, M.: Remembrance of Things Past, Vol. 1: Swann's Way: Part I (Abridged)
The Good Book Guide
In Swann’s Way, the narrator, in the person of the author,
introduces us to
the highly sensitive and imaginative child he was; to the
mother he loved so passionately, and from whom to be parted was such agony; and
to his father who, although loving in his way, was incapable of understanding
the emotional behavior of his nervous and delicate child.
The little village of Combray, to which Marcel’s family
traveled regularly from Paris to spend their holidays at his great aunt’s house,
is the setting for these childhood memories. Here we meet his other relatives
in a succession of richly-drawn portraits; his grandmother whose passion for
nature drives her to run up and down the garden paths in the pouring rain; his
somewhat ‘common’ great aunt who takes every opportunity of putting down her
more refined sister-in-law; his two spinster aunts, grown deaf through lack of
interest in the dinner table conversations; and Aunt Leonie, who has retired
permanently to her bed, from whence she learns, by observing through her window
the comings and goings in the street below, every detail of the lives of the
The family’s neighbors also attract the interest of the
precocious Marcel, whose highly developed powers of observation pierce through
their urbane exteriors to the pretensions and hypocrisy beneath – M. Legrandin,
declared arch-enemy of snobbery, who cuts off Marcel and his family when he is
in the company of grander folk; M. Vinteuil, who condemns Swann’s ‘unfortunate’
marriage, while turning a blind eye to his daughter’s love affair with an older
woman; and Swann himself, who disparages the emptiness of high society while
devoting his life to parties and balls.
Proust presents these characters with a depth of understanding
of the human psyche, which links him to another great figure of his time,
Sigmund Freud. Proust, like Freud, understood the power of the past to
influence the present. His search for his former self is part of the process of
understanding the person he has become.
For Proust, the two ‘Ways’, Swann’s ‘Way’ and the Guermantes
‘Way’ – different directions taken by the family for their regular country
walks – are more than mere geographical designations. Through the thoughts,
sensations and memories they invoke, each comes to represent a different aspect
of his life, another ‘way’ of being.
But no less memorable than the philosophical and social
observations to be found in Remembrance of Things Past are the rhapsodic and
minutely observed descriptions of nature, in particular the hawthorn and lilac
trees, which filled the writer’s youthful soul with such passionate love.
Like all great works, Swann’s Way is capable of many
interpretations, and for this abridged version it has been necessary to curtail
some of the more discursive passages. However, the complete text is always
available for the interested reader, and a spoken version has the advantage
that the listener
may be able to detect an echo, however faint, of the
author’s own unique voice, traveling towards him across the years. For, as
Marcel Proust knew, art has the power to conquer time.
Marcel Proust was born on July 10, 1871. His father, a
distinguished professor of medicine, was from a Catholic family, while his
mother was Jewish.
Although intent on becoming a writer from an early age,
Proust was riddled with self-doubt. During his twenties he co-founded a
short-lived review, Le Banquet, contributed to La Revue Blanche and had his
first book published, a collection of articles and essays entitled Les Plaisirs
et les Jours.
He became an enthusiastic admirer of the work of Ruskin and
translated his Bible of Amiens and Sesame and Lilies into French. A novel, Jean
Santeuil, which was the precursor of Remembrance of Things Past, was eventually
abandoned and only published long after his death, in 1954.
For much of his youth he led the life of a man of fashion,
frequenting fashionable Paris drawing rooms and literary salons, and these
formed the background for a number of his stories and sketches, and
subsequently of Remembrance of Things Past.
The death of his adored mother in 1905 resulted in a nervous
collapse and aggravated his chronic asthma and insomnia. But despite his grief
and the sense of loss from which he never recovered, his mother’s death freed
him with regard to his homosexual emotional life and allowed him to address
homosexuality in his writing, albeit in a manner which treated such experiences
as happenings to others rather than to himself.
In 1907 he moved into an apartment in the Boulevard
Haussmann where, in the bedroom which he had lined with cork to keep out noise,
he embarked upon his great work A la Recherche du Temps Perdu (Remembrance of
This long cycle of autobiographical novels was published in
eight sections: Du Côté de Chez Swann
(Swann’s Way) in 1913; A L’Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleur (Within A
Budding Grove) in 1918; Le Côté de Guermantes I (The Guermantes Way I) in 1920;
Le Côté de Guermantes II and Sodome et Gomorrhe (Cities of the Plain I) in
1921; Sodome et Gomorrhe II in 1922; La Prisonnière (The Captive) in 1923;
Albertine Disparue (The Sweet Cheat Gone) in 1925; Le Temps Retrouvé (Time
Regained) in 1927.
Proust was obliged to publish Swann’s Way at his own
expense, and even after it had appeared, he had trouble finding a publisher for
the next volume, A L’ Ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleur. However, when it
appeared in 1918 it received considerable acclaim, and was awarded the Prix
Goncourt the following year.
By the time Proust died on November 18, 1922, the first four
parts of the cycle had been published, leaving the others to appear
posthumously. The English translations by C.K. Scott Moncrieff, from which this
abridged audiobook version has been prepared, were published between 1922 and
In Remembrance of Things Past, the minuteness of Proust’s
observation, the depth of his psychological understanding and the vividness of
his descriptive powers have combined to create one of the most poetic and
magical works in all literature.
Notes by Neville Jason
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