Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The Guermantes Way by Marcel Proust

Image result for guermantes waySo, I'm almost halfway through Remembrance of Time Past. I am nothing if not stubborn - I'll read the other four books just so I can say that I have. There's pride on the line, and sheer pigheadedness. Honestly, though, it's a little wearing, and I need a break before book #4.

It took me months to slowly work my way through The Guermantes Way and at the end, I was left a bit nonplussed. It's mostly about Proust's narrator/self entering into high society through a small number of gatherings, either at-homes or parties. As such, it's 800 pages of characterizing the people he finds there, their small cruelties, their attention to position and how they jockey for it while trying to look like they couldn't care less.

In the early going, there is a while spent in what society looks like when you're socializing with other young men exclusively, and while homosexuality is hinted at, it's done very vaguely. The main character, of course, is still a nervous mess, and when going to visit a friend of his in the military, he is shaken by the thought of spending the night in a bed not his own, and must see his friend as much as possible to calm his nerves.

Then, back in Paris, he falls slowly into the circle of Mme de Guermantes, first through an unrequited crush, which throws him further into the orbit of his military friend and his military friend's mistress.

His grandmother dies from a series of strokes over several days, and that was probably the most affecting part of the book, although it is leavened with M. de Guermantes showing up and not understanding why people are too sad to turn all their attention to him.

From there, we go from party to party, are introduced in exquisite detail to all the undercurrents of feeling between all of them, including many references of the cruelty of M. de Guermantes towards his wife, his wife's reputation for wit, and who is allowed to be invited to which party, which rules of society can be bent, and which are still inviolable, all mixed up with a hefty dose of the anti-Semitism that accompanied the Dreyfus affair.

Without knowing who these people were based on, there are times this gets very wearing. Every moment is detailed, and there's something admirable in that, but also something incredibly obsessive. While I admire the moments when Proust is able to capture moments that I've never seen captured so well in words, we get there because he's trying to capture every goddamned moment of every goddamned day.

I'm a little tired of it, at the moment. I'll take a break, and come back in a few months to the next volume and slog my way through that.

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