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The Proustian Quest

The Proustian Quest

William C. Carter
Copyright Date: 1992
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 324
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  • Book Info
    The Proustian Quest
    Book Description:

    "An ambitious study, the fruit of sustained work over many years. Professor Carter's book deploys a stunning knowledge of Proust and places Carter among the first line of Proust scholars in the country." - Roger Shattuck,Boston University The Proustian Quest is the first full-length study that explores the influence of social change on Proust's vision. In Remembrance of Things Past, Proust describes how the machines of transportation and communication transformed fashion, social mores, time-space perception, and the understanding of the laws of nature. Concentrating on the motif of speed, Carter establishes the centrality of the modern world to the novel's main themes and produces a far- reaching synthesis that demonstrates the work's profound structural unity.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-9012-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. CHAPTER 1 The Age of Speed
    (pp. 1-22)

    Marcel Proust lived from 1871 until 1922, an epoch that he himself characterized as the age of locomotion and speed because of the conquest of land and air.¹ The end of the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth may be seen as a great turning point in Western history, when tremendous changes occurred in the way people lived. This era saw rapid developments in transportation, including the invention of the bicycle, automobile, airplane, and the continued expansion of train service. In 1850, Emperor Napoléon III made the trip from Paris to Marseille in an ultralight train that...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Women as Landscapes
    (pp. 23-38)

    All the women desired by Proust’s narrator have two elements in common: their fugacity and their identification with a precise geographic location. And all of them are seen for the first time out-of-doors and in motion.¹ Indeed, for Proust the constant identification of girl and landscape—as though the experience of sighting a girl moving along the beach or in a forest was total and unique—seems to indicate that the girl has no being and no life distinct from that of the locale in which she is seen; yet, for reasons that I will examine, the girl herself and...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Girls in Motion
    (pp. 39-62)

    Proust was as fascinated by the influence of speed on the way we perceive figures in motion as was the photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue (1894-1986). Both moved easily among the well-to-do upper bourgeoisie and aristocracy, being roughly contemporary as far as their early creative years are concerned. Lartigue’s father gave him his first camera at the age of eight, and the youth began assembling his extraordinary photographic record of the new age in transportation and sports in 1902—well before Proust began writingla Recherchein 1907 or 1908.¹

    The enthusiasm of the Lartigues for the new machines of speed was...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Speed and Desire
    (pp. 63-92)

    The association of agitation and motion with unrequited desire appears often in literature. Wallace Fowlie points out that such motifs occur in Dante: “in the second circle [of hell] … the sins of carnality are punished and … a continuous wind storm buffets the spirits. This is agitation, ceaseless movement designating the insistence of sexual demands.”¹ Jean Milly reminds us of Proust’s depiction of the rocking motion of sleep in passages fromJean Santeuiland the opening pages ofla Recherche. Milly also finds French literary antecedents in Flaubert’s erotic oscillations inMadame BovaryandL’Education sentimentale, pointing out similar...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Prison
    (pp. 93-132)

    While Proust’s novel continues Balzac’s depiction of the human comedy,la Rechercheis also a divine comedy, the spiritual autobiography of a soul. It is the story of paradise lost and regained: a child loses his will at Combray, experiences years of wandering in the arid social desert in pursuit of mirages, and finally is reborn and ascends to a state of time regained. Success, however, comes at the price of a long and difficult struggle. In the prison section of the novel, the main question becomes whether or not the Narrator will free himself and regain his lost will....

  10. CHAPTER 6 Death of an Aviator
    (pp. 133-186)

    As Proust elaborated his novel, the aviator emerged as one of the dominant symbols of the creative person. When Alfred Agostinelli reappeared in Proust’s life in late 1912 or early 1913 and was hired as his secretary, the writer quickly became infatuated with the young man. It will be recalled that Agostinelli died in an airplane crash not long after fleeing Proust’s apartment. Since the writer subsequently borrowed a number of incidents from his relationship with Agostinelli and used them in describing the Narrator’s experience with Albertine, much has been written about the role of Agostinelli in Proust’s life and...

  11. CHAPTER 7 The Artist and the Aviator
    (pp. 187-206)

    The image of the artist as aviator occurs in the earliest passages ofla Recherche, where Proust first defines artistic genius. In an astonishing metaphor, he depicts Bergotte, the successful writer of bourgeois origin, as the pilot¹ of a car that, though modest in appearance and lagging behind the others in such earthbound matters as wit or social refinement, is able to transform itself into an airplane and fly over the society people in their Rolls-Royces: “[Bergotte], de son modeste appareil qui venait enfin de ‘décoller’, il les survolait” (I, 555).

    Proust explains the superiority of the artist in terms...

  12. CHAPTER 8 The Cosmos Builder
    (pp. 207-240)

    The day of revelations begins when the Narrator, on his way to a reception at the Guermantes’s town house, enters the courtyard and literally stumbles upon the key to his quest in the form of an uneven paving stone similar to the one he had tripped over in Venice, Suddenly images of the Italian city well up before him and alternate with the view of his actual surroundings. This time he is determined to find out what lies behind the phenomenon of involuntary memory He continues to rock back and forth on the stone, concentrating and trying to understand this...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 241-296)
  14. Index
    (pp. 297-308)
  15. About the Author
    (pp. 309-310)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 311-311)