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ClassicsOnline Home » PROUST, M.: Remembrance of Things Past, Vol. 7: Time Regained (Abridged)
In this, the final volume of Remembrance of Things Past, as the various threads which have emerged through the vast novel are brought together, and sometimes resolved, Marcel considers the nature of time and its effect on himself and the people he has known. ‘For after death time leaves the body, and memories—indifferent and pale—are obliterated in her who exists no longer and soon will be in him they still torture, memories which perish with the desire of the living body.’
The Good Book Guide
Time Regained is the final part of Remembrance of Things
Past. In between lengthy stays in a sanatorium, the Narrator (Marcel) makes
several return visits to Paris during the First World War. When he finally
leaves the sanatorium at the end of the war, he discovers that the old social
order has changed. The two Ways of his childhood walks in Combray have now come
together; the Méséglise (or Swann’s Way), representing the bourgeois society
into which Marcel was born, and the Guermantes Way, the aristocratic circle of
the Guermantes family into which he has been admitted, are now united, and
members of both worlds are to be found mingling in Paris society.
Gilberte, Swann’s daughter, has married Robert de
Saint-Loup, thus becoming a member of the Guermantes family; the Prince de
Guermantes marries Mme. Verdurin, formerly ‘Mistress’ of ‘the little clan,’ a
bohemian artistic circle, whose husband has since died; the aged Duc de
Guermantes is in love with Swann’s widow, the former courtesan Odette de Crecy;
Marcel’s old school friend Bloch, now a respected playwright, has become much
in demand in society salons; the Duchesse de Guermantes, previously unwilling
to acknowledge any but the most fashionable members of her world, now cultivates
the friendship of the actress Rachel, previously the mistress of her nephew
Saint-Loup, and originally a whore.
In attempting to find his way home through the darkened
streets during an air raid, Marcel becomes lost and stumbles into a male
brothel. He sees a shadowy figure reminiscent of Saint-Loup leave the building.
His curiosity leads him to witness the Baron de Charlus undergoing an episode
of sado-masochistic whipping. A croix-de-guerre is discovered in the brothel,
which later on turns out to have been lost by Saint-Loup. Unknown to Gilberte,
Robert has been involved in homosexual affairs, and is in love at present with
the violinist Charles Morel. Morel is the son of Marcel’s uncle’s valet, and
was formerly the protégé of the Baron de Charlus, whom he has treated with
cruelty and ingratitude. Later Marcel is devastated to learn
that Robert de Saint-Loup has been killed in battle, having proved himself a
daring and valiant officer.
Gilberte returns to Tansonville, her house at Combray, which
has been requisitioned by German troops. She writes to Marcel that the hawthorn
path where they first met has become a military objective and is the center of
a fierce battle, while Combray church has been destroyed by the British and the
French, because it was used as a look-out post by the Germans.
When Marcel returns to Paris from his sanatorium after the
war, he accepts an invitation to attend a reception at the Prince de
Guermantes’magnificent new mansion. Here he experiences several episodes of
involuntary memory in which the past is so vividly re-created, that it becomes
indistinguishable from the present. These experiences lead to his discovering
that the theme, for which he has been searching as the subject for his work, is
his own life. He meets friends from his earlier life whom he is astonished to
find have become old, and it is brought home to him that if time has passed for
them, it has passed for him as well, and that he too is now old. He realizes
that he only has a limited time in which to work, and that he must begin at
Time Regained brings together the two themes of the book,
‘Time Lost’ and ‘Time Re-discovered’. The novel’s original title in French, A
La Recherché du Temps Perdu translates literally into ‘In Search of Lost Time’,
and the phrase ‘lost time’ may be taken to refer both to time which has passed,
and time which has been wasted. The two meanings are relevant both to Proust’s
own life and to the novel, which, if not directly autobiographical, is
certainly a record of Proust’s inner journey through life.
Proust wanted to be a writer from his early youth, but he
was tortured by
self-doubt and the fear that he lacked talent. He was also
highly susceptible to the attractions of society, and spent much of his time in
the fashionable salons of the time, which were frequented by well-known
writers, composers, artists and politicians, as well as by members of the
aristocracy and the social elite. But Proust was aware that his life as a man
about town was sapping time and energy, which ought to be devoted to his work,
and he constantly berated himself for lacking the willpower to keep regular
hours and embark on a sustained regime of work.
However, in retrospect his whole life can be seen as a
preparation for writing his masterpiece, Remembrance of Things Past. All his experiences,
both serious and frivolous, were to serve as raw material for his novel.
Despite Proust’s self-criticism, and although he never earned his living from
writing and depended on a private income before embarking on Remembrance of
Things Past, he still managed to write—in addition to endless letters—articles,
essays, poetry, translations of several works of Ruskin, a volume of short
stories, and an unfinished novel. The volume of stories, The Pleasures and the
Days, was published in 1896, to little public acclaim, while the unfinished
novel, Jean Santeuil, an unsuccessful first attempt to write what was to become
Remembrance of Things Past, lay among Proust’s papers, until being discovered
and published in 1954, more than thirty years after his death.
The Narrator of Remembrance of Things Past is a thinly
disguised version of the author himself. Like Proust, he is an invalid who
wastes his time socializing, constantly putting off the work he intends to
write. In the last volume, Time Regained, he finally realizes that the subject
for his book, which always eluded him, was there in front of him all the time;
it is his own life.
Because of its digressive nature, Remembrance of Things Past
has been criticized as formless, lacking shape. But although Proust altered and
added enormously to the original scheme of the novel, which ended up
unimaginably longer than he originally planned, its structure was there from
the beginning, and it is not until we reach the final part, that the author’s
intention can be fully appreciated.
Remembrance of Things Past is the story of a man who is
unable to bring himself to write. Finally he discovers his theme and decides it
is time to begin. And as we finish reading the novel, we realize that it is the
book on which he is about to start. Here we have the perfectly formed circle of
‘Time Lost’ and ‘Time Regained’, which was Proust’s original plan.
Proust’s theory of involuntary memory is central to the
work. The incident of the madeleine dipped in lime-flower tea, which brings
back for the Narrator a whole lost world of childhood, takes place in the first
part of the novel, Swann’s Way, and with it the author sets forth his subject
as a composer and states a theme which he intends to develop in the rest of the
According to Proust, it is this power of involuntary memory,
which enables us to
re-experience the past, rather than merely to visualize it,
which is a function of the intellect. On such occasions, we feel again the same
sensations, which surrounded the original event. And when the Narrator returns
to Paris after many years in a sanatorium, several instances of involuntary
memory are crowded together in one day. These lead to his realization that he
is able to use these experiences, in which the past and the present are
inextricably mixed, to re-live his life, to regain lost time.
As Marcel arrives at the Prince de Guermantes’ mansion, he
steps on an uneven paving stone, and is immediately filled with a sense of
coolness and dazzling light. He searches for the origin of these feelings, and
realizes that they have transported him back to Venice, where he had
encountered a similar uneven paving stone in the Baptistry of St. Mark’s. In
the library, a servant accidentally knocks a spoon against a plate, and Marcel finds
himself again in a railway carriage contemplating the beauty of the evening
light on a row of trees, a sight to which he had felt unable to respond the
previous day. When he wipes his mouth with a starched napkin, he re-lives the
sensation of being once again in Cabourg, drying his face by the open window
with one of the hotel’s stiff linen towels, and as he breathes the salt air he
feels he has only to open the windows to step out onto the beach. These
experiences serve to remove all his self-doubt and to give him courage by
affirming that the past is alive within him and that his youthful self is still
And so ‘Lost Time’ — in the sense both of time that has
passed, and time that
has been wasted, becomes ‘Time Regained’ — that is time,
which can not only be lived through again, but also can be captured and
immobilized through literature. Encapsulated in a work of art, time is
suspended, and a life, which would otherwise have been as ephemeral as a plant
that blooms only for a season and then dies, is enabled to exist indefinitely.
This yearning for immortality is the spur, which drives the
artist forward, impelling him to create art as a defense against the finality
of death. And the last third of Marcel Proust’s short life was taken up with this
struggle against mortality, as bedridden and suffering, he called upon all his
remaining strength to complete his task.
Proust, the life-long invalid, sensed the advance of death
and was conscious of the shortness of time remaining for the accomplishment of
his work. And with an irony worthy of one of his own characters, who so often
turn out to be quite different from what we have been led to suspect, the
fashionable man about town, who had been seen by his critics as a dilettante,
who since his youth had berated himself for his lack of will-power and his
inability to work, now became an example of courage, single-minded
determination and tenacity, as he battled against illness and death to finish
what he had set out to do.
In the end, Proust succeeded in completing his novel before
death claimed him, and in Remembrance of Things Past he leaves us his legacy, a
distillation of his life through which he enables us to see our own more
clearly. As he wrote, ‘Our greatest fears, like our greatest ambitions, are not
beyond our strength, and we are able in the end to overcome the one and to
realize the other.’ The work he feared he might never accomplish stands now for
all time—a reminder that with sufficient courage and will, we too have the
power to transform Time Lost into Time Regained.
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
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
(volumes one through eleven of) this abridged audiobook version has been
prepared, were published between 1922 and 1930. The translation of Time
Regained is by Neville Jason.
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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