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Archive for April 8th, 2020

The New York Times reports that about half the world is in lockdown, due to COVID-19. So is now the time to read Proust? Some say yes. Others say no.

Drew Shannon’s Modern Library set of Proust

One naysayer is Suzanne Moore of The Guardian. She writes, “I never managed Proust in pre-virus days, so don’t saddle me with him now, for God’s sake.”

Others say yes. In fact, a Facebook group formed by Elisa Kay Sparks and dubbed “The Woolf Pack Reads Proust” has taken on Proust as a pandemic reading project. It has 29 members from around the globe.

Woolf on Proust

Woolf herself read Proust. Here’s what she had to say about him:

Last night I started on Vol 2 [Jeunes Filles en Fleurs] of him (the novel) and propose to sink myself in it all day. [. . . ] But Proust so titillates my own desire for expression that I can hardly set out the sentence. Oh if I could write like that! I cry. And at the moment such is the astonishing vibration and saturation and intensification that he procures?theres something sexual in it?that I feel I can write like that, and seize my pen and then I can’t write like that. Scarcely anyone so stimulates the nerves of language in me: it becomes an obsession. But I must return to Swann” – Letter to Roger Fry, 6 May 1922 (Letters II 525)

My great adventure is really Proust. Well–what remains to be written after that? I’m only in the first volume, and there are, I suppose, faults to be found, but I am in a state of amazement; as if a miracle were being done before my eyes. How, at last, has someone solidified what has always escaped–and made it too into this beautiful and perfectly enduring substance?  One has to put the book down and gasp. The pleasure becomes physical–like sun and wine and grapes and perfect serenity and intense vitality combined. Far otherwise is it with Ulysses. – Letter to Roger Fry, 3 October 1922 (Letters II 565-6)

Resources for reading Proust

Founding member Benjamin Hagen, who is also heading up the 30th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf: Profession and Performance, which has been postponed until 2021, has added a number of resources to the group page.

They include:

Hagen, assistant professor of 20th-Century British and Anglophone literature at the University of South Dakota, also posted this drawing and comment to the group page on April 6. He is also blogging about his experience.

Me [Ben Hagen] trying (with not too much success) to map out connections between topics / themes from last week’s reading.

Focusing — or not — on Proust

Hagen has made much more progress than I have, bless him. I must confess that the farthest I have gotten with reading Proust is locating the first volume on my bookshelf and dropping it on my desk. There it sits, unopened and unread.

The inability to focus on the task at hand is common at this time, no matter what we are doing. Here’s a quote shared to the group Facebook page by Gill Lowe, who said of her own reading of Proust: “I started. But I just can’t concentrate…”.

Proust on illness

It is illness that makes us recognise that we do not live in isolation but are chained to a being from a different realm, worlds apart from us and by whom it is impossible to make ourselves understood: our body. – The Guermantes Way by Marcel Proust

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