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ClassicsOnline Home » PROUST, M.: Remembrance of Things Past, Vol. 2: Within a Budding Grove: Part I (Abridged)
Within a Budding Grove, Part One, continues Marcel Proust’s monumental cycle Remembrance of Things Past which has been described as ‘one of the greatest works of imagination of all time’. As the young narrator succumbs to the charms of the enchanting Gilberte, the author presents us with an unparalleled account of the pangs of adolescent love. Proust has created from the raw material of his life a work of art of unsurpassed originality, filled with his own uniquely sensitive and subtle spirit. Within a Budding Grove was awarded the Prix Goncourt in 1918.
The Good Book Guide
Within a Budding Grove, Part I
The two parts of Within a Budding Grove form the second book
of Remembrance of Things Past, which has been described by the critic André
Maurois as “one of the greatest works of the imagination of all time”. Although
a form of autobiography, and the narrator, though never named, clearly a
fictionalized version of Proust himself, the cycle is, at the same time,
undoubtedly and supremely a work of the imagination.
Scholars and literary historians have identified many of the
sources of the characters and places, which appear in the novel. Illiers, for
instance, a small town not far from Chartres where the young Marcel spent his
holidays, was the home of his father’s family and appears in Swann’s Way as
Combray. Cabourg, a modest seaside resort on the Normandy coast often visited
by the Proust family was the original of that Balbec to which Marcel and his
grandmother travel in Within a Budding Grove. Both Swann and Odette had real
life counterparts whose photographs exist for us to study, searching for some
signs of the characters we know so intimately through their fictional selves.
But although such literary detective work may be
fascinating, it is in the final analysis irrelevant, because the world with
which Proust presents us is not the external world in which he lived, shackled
by time and objective reality, but his own internal world, the world of his
mind and his spirit, into which he allows us to enter and share his feelings,
thoughts, perceptions and memories.
Proust created out of the incidents of his life and the
surroundings in which he lived, a magic world, uniquely his own. Perhaps more
than any other writer, he succeeded in making of the raw material of his life
an enduring work of art. Thus, to describe Remembrance of Things Past as
autobiographical, though it may be accurate, falls as short of the truth as to
describe Monet’s Nymphéas as paintings of aquatic weeds, or Shakespeare’s
Hamlet as a tale about the Danish Royal family.
And yet, Proust, great artist that he is, writes on many
levels. His descriptions of clothes, carriages, the interiors of drawing rooms,
provide us with vivid images of the period in which he lived. Just as Cézanne
saw the world in an apple, so Proust finds heaven in the silk lining of a
There is no subtler observer than Proust of his social
surroundings, which he describes with inimitable humor, (a characteristic of
his writing seldom remarked upon, but notably present). Not only the depth of
his psychological understanding distinguishes his descriptions, but also his
keen observation of the manners and attitudes of different social circles.
Indeed the tension between the haute bourgeoisie and the aristocracy is one of
the many themes woven into the rich texture of the work, and is the note on
which Within a Budding Grove ends.
It feels, perhaps, a less than satisfactory ending, which
was due possibly to Proust’s habit, having finished a book and corrected the
proofs, of adding new material to what was already written, and returning
packets to the publisher which were considerably bulkier than those that had
been sent out.
So we may imagine the poor distracted publisher hurrying
into print before the author’s fertile mind presented him with yet more
pensées, even further delaying the approaching deadline for the book’s
appearance. But we are able to comfort ourselves with the knowledge that this
is not really an ending at all but merely a breaking-off point, before the
Madame Swann at Home
The opening of Within a Budding Grove finds Swann married to
Odette, and greatly changed. Swann, the sophisticated man of the world, who
once studiously avoided any mention of his connections with people of the
highest social standing, now boasts loudly of every invitation he and his
socially unacceptable wife receive. Another person greatly altered is Cottard,
the foolish and insecure country doctor of the Verdurin’s ‘little circle’. Now
a successful member of the medical profession, Cottard has become a notable and
self-possessed figure in society.
Marcel’s father invites home for dinner a colleague, M. de
Norpois, a distinguished former member of the diplomatic service. De Norpois
shows an interest in Marcel’s aspirations to be a writer, and asks to see an
example of his work. Marcel shows him a piece he has written, and is dashed by
the old ambassador’s dismissive response. However Marcel’s father is persuaded
to believe in the possibility of writing as a career, and de Norpois is instrumental
in Marcel being allowed to attend a performance by the famous actress, Berma.
Having determinedly rejected Marcel as a suitable playmate
for their daughter Gilberte, Odette and Swann become persuaded of his good
influence on her, and welcome him to their house. Through Swann, Marcel becomes
acquainted with his idol, the author Bergotte.
At last Marcel finds himself in the position he had dreamed
of occupying, – an intimate not only of his beloved Gilberte, but also of her
parents, who have always seemed to him god-like beings.
Now that there seems to be no obstruction to Marcel’s love
for Gilberte, the influence of her parents, upon which Marcel always counted to
influence her in his favor, begins to have the opposite effect. Marcel senses
her irritation at feeling pressured by them to spend time with him, and vows
never to see her again.
Marcel’s friend Bloch takes him to a second rate brothel,
where the Madam attempts to introduce him to an intelligent Jewish girl,
Rachel. Marcel has given his aunt’s furniture, which he inherited and for which
he had no space, to the brothel, but cannot bear to see it in such
Place Names-the Place
Marcel and his grandmother depart for Balbec. Marcel is
finding, instead of the wild, storm-swept coast he expected,
a sunny, comfortable seaside resort. His grandmother meets an old friend, Mme.
de Villeparisis, and through her, they are introduced to the Princess de
Luxembourg. Marcel observes the mutual suspicion of the two separate worlds,
the bourgeois and the aristocratic.
Within a Budding Grove, Part II
Place Names: the Place (continued)
“The facts of life have no meaning for the artist, they are
to him merely an
opportunity for exposing the naked blaze of his genius.”
In writing these words Marcel Proust might well, but for his
extreme modesty, have been referring to himself, rather than to his creation,
the painter Elstir. For nowhere in literature is there a greater example of
artistic metamorphosis than in Proust’s transformation of the facts of his
brief and troubled life into the fictional world of Remembrance of Things Past.
Born into a well-to-do bourgeois family at the end of the
last century, the course of Proust’s life was, on the surface, unremarkable.
But he possessed a unique ability to reveal what lay below that surface.
Remembrance of Things Past is so original a work that it is
difficult to categorize. Whilst written in the form of an autobiography, it is
far from being a literal account of the author’s life, and he denied many times
that the Narrator was himself, or that the characters he described were
portraits of people he knew.
But the characters and events of the book are nonetheless
true in a deeper sense. They are the essence of the author’s experience,
distilled in the fire of his genius. Proust has created from the raw material
of his life an enduring work of art. The facts of his life are in themselves of
no special interest; what transforms them is his vision. And he has the
capacity to convey that vision to us, to allow us to enter into his internal
world; for, as he writes in Within a Budding Grove;
“...the march of thought in the solitary travail of artistic
creation proceeds downwards, into the depths, in the only direction that is not
closed to us, along which we are free to advance, though with more effort, it
is true – towards a goal of truth.”
In Remembrance of Things Past, Proust addresses such varied
subjects as painting, music, aesthetics, philosophy, psychology, medicine, and
love – but never in a theoretical or impersonal way. His thoughts and
meditations always arise in response to the experiences he describes, and form
an integral part of the narrative.
If time is the thread which runs through the novel, another,
equally important theme is love in its various forms. The quality both time and
love have in common, that which obsesses Proust, is their elusiveness. Proust’s
search for lost time is accompanied by his search for lost love.
From the Narrator’s childhood experience of being sent to
bed without the benison of his mother’s goodnight kiss, arises his awareness of
the impossibility of his complete possession of his mother’s undivided love.
Thus, within his nature, love and yearning become inextricably combined; desire
attaches itself to the inaccessible, and becomes the cause of his pain and
In Within a Budding Grove, we follow the course of Marcel’s
search for love. His childish passion for Gilberte, the daughter of Swann and
Odette, has faded, leaving an amorous vacuum, and Marcel sees in every pretty
young girl a potential lover. His illness has forced him to abandon his
proposed trip to Venice, and instead he has accompanied his grandmother to the
northern coastal town of Balbec. Here, he is disappointed to find, not the
savage, storm-swept coast of his imagination, but a tranquil seaside resort of
suburban villas, inhabited by members of the local bourgeois society and a
sprinkling of Parisian aristocrats.
So, having expected to learn from the wild, untrammeled
forces of nature, it is instead the luxurious Grand Hotel, which becomes the
setting for Marcel’s subsequent lessons in life. Here he comes into contact
with high society in the form of Madame de Villeparisis and her friend the
Princess de Luxembourg, vulgarity in the form of Bloch and his family, predatory
homosexuality in the person of the arrogant Baron de Charlus, friendship in the
sympathetic attentions of Robert de Saint-Loup, and love in his infatuation
for, initially, the entire ‘little band’ of girls, but which eventually settles
Yet even behind the beauty and energy of these young girls,
the author senses the implacable progress of time. Andre Maurois has written;
“The Jeunes Filles en Fleurs are more than an image. They define a season in
the brief life of the human plant.
Even while he is gazing in wonder at their freshness, he is already
noting the tiny signs, which announce the successive stages of fruiting,
maturity seeding and desiccation. ‘As in the case of a tree whose flowers
blossom at different periods, I saw in the old ladies who thronged the beach at
Balbec the hard, tough seeds, the soft tubers, which those girls would sooner
or later become...’” (Andre Maurois, The Quest for Proust, London, Jonathan
The experiences of Marcel the narrator afford Marcel the
author the opportunity of sharing with us his thoughts and feelings, and as a
result we are enriched by the depth of his wisdom, the keenness of his
observation, the generosity of his humor, and the poetry of his language.
Although Within a Budding Grove is but a part of this
marvelous cycle, it stands on its own as one of the most touching and revealing
evocations of the growth of young love in literature. It was awarded the Prix
Goncourt in 1919, the first official recognition of the rare genius of Marcel
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
Neville Jason trained at RADA where he was awarded the
Diction Prize by Sir John Gielgud. He has worked with the English Stage Co.,
the Old Vic Company and the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as in films and
musicals. Jason has appeared in popular television serials such as Maigret,
Emergency Ward 10 and Dr. Who, as well as playing classical roles such as
Orestes and Horatio. Formally a member of the BBC Radio Drama Co., he can be
frequently heard on radio. Jason’s passion for Remembrance of Things Past comes
alive in his adaptation and reading of the series, for which he has received
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