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Archive for the ‘Proust’ Category

The Multiple Muses of Virginia WoolfThis week a member of the VWoolf Listserv asked for resources she could peruse regarding Virginia Woolf and Marcel Proust. As usual, list participants came quickly to the rescue. Here are some of the resources they shared:

From Anne Fernald:

“There is a lovely scene in the closing pages of the first section of vol. 1 of Proust of watching Japanese paper flowers unfold in water. It’s a scene that I think Woolf drew on, more than the madeleine–especially, say in Peter Walsh’s memories of Sally’s flowers at Bourton.

“More generally, Proust shared Woolf’s fascination with parties. Like Woolf, he was a serious, contemplative writer who took seriously the kinds of social foibles that might unfold at a party like the one Clarissa Dalloway gives. Knowing that Woolf read Proust while writing Dalloway is helpful: I imagine that his example fortified her sense that the topic, flimsy in the wrong hands, had possibilities for greatness.

“Woolf’s diaries, Hermione Lee, Sallye Greene, and Nicola Luckhurst might all be places to comb for more.”

Articles and books shared by several list members:

  • Pericles Lewis. “Proust, Woolf, and Modern Fiction.” Romanic Review. 99:1
  • Cheryl Mares, “‘The Burning Ground of the Present: Woolf and Her Contemporaries.”  Virginia Woolf and the Essay. Eds. Beth Rosenberg and Jeanne Dubino. NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1997. 117-36.
  • “Reading Proust: Woolf and the Painter’s Perspective.” The Multiple Muses of Virginia Woolf. Ed. Diane Gillespie. University of Missouri Press, 1993. 58-89.
  • “Woolf’s Reading of Proust.” Reading Proust Now. Eds. Mary Ann Caws and Eugene Nicole. Peter Lang, 1990.
  •  J. Hillis Miller writes of Proust and the party in Mrs. Dalloway in Fiction and Repetition.
  • Emily Delgarno has a chapter on “Proust and the Fictions of the Unconscious” in her Virginia Woolf and the Migrations of Language

And quotes from Woolf on Proust shared by two on the list:

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)

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I know more people who, like myself, keep threatening to read Remembrance of Things Past “some day” than those who have actually done so.

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…

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