This year I have the time and the resolve; I have acquired the first volume and have dipped in for a few warm-up sessions. Initial reactions: I find the languid pace entrancing at times, frustrating at others. I love his keen observations, his humor, but I can’t stay focused for very long at a time, so it will be slow going.
And of course I keep thinking about Woolf, about comparisons between the two, and particularly about her own response to this work at the time of its publication and acclaim. She started reading it in 1922 and was still working her way through in 1934, when she is said to have finished.
Proust appears frequently in her diaries and letters over the years, as a topic of conversation among friends as well as her own reactions to her reading. Given the frequency and relevance of her remarks, I’m amazed that Leonard Woolf includes no mentions of Proust in A Writer’s Diary, since clearly her reading influenced both her thinking and her writing.
She starts the second volume in January of 1923 and wonders if her writing will be influenced by his, as “one can hardly fail to profit” (Diary 2: February 10, 1923). She later writes: “No doubt Proust could say what I mean… . He makes it seem easy to write well; which only means that one is slipping along on borrowed skates” (Diary 2: Nov. 18, 1924). In 1932 she remarks that reading Proust, she feels free and can escape, compared to Lawrence, who makes her feel confined.
And so with a cup of tea and a madeleine, I open to page 66…