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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Tom's Gift to Me: Reading Proust

Tom's birthday was Monday. I am uncertain what gifts I have brought to his life, but he has brought me many. I began to be smitten when the person who introduced us remarked "He spent the summer in the woods reading Proust. In French."

And so it began. Tom rescued me from my loneliness. I am a moody person: he continues to put up with that and to soothe me through my many insecurities.

He still reads Proust all the time. After you've read it once, you can dip in anywhere, at any time. You only know that when you're finished though.

I probably would not have had the discipline to read all of Proust on my own. I am an extremely fast reader of prose, probably why I ended up studying poetry, which forces one to slow down. Proust requires verrrry slow reading. Even a slow reader can advance through a two page sentence, get lost, and have to start over again.

I finally read all the volumes two or so years ago. It took me fourteen months. While the madeleine episode is the most famous (it occurs in the first volume, thereby, perhaps, relieving many of the need to labor though the rest) the true great moment of the book is in the last few pages of the last volume, "Time Regained."

There, he says that Gilberte, now grown up, is "like one of those star-shaped crossroads in a forest as in our lives, from the most diverse quarters? Numerous for me were the roads which led to Mlle. de Saint-Loup and which radiated around her."

Then, a few pages later, the end of that paragraph: "But the truth, even more, is that life is perpetually weaving fresh threads which link one individual and one event to another, and that these threads are crossed and recrossed, doubled and redoubled to thicken the web, so that between any slightest point of our past and all the others a rich network of memories gives us an almost infinite variety of communicating paths to choose from." (These are from pages 502-504 in Modern Library translation).

Of course, I don't--or really can't--aspire to anything like Proust's grand cathedral. And I am not writing about my own memories, really. I would like to create a bit of a record for my children (who may not even be interested) of people who died before they were born. I have a few letters, the guestbook, a few photographs, a few documents. Too few.  But I am trying to get a sense of the web. For me, it always centered on the cottage in Stockbridge.

It is interesting that I started writing these little musings right before a realtor came to my mother with a "rich doctor" who wanted to buy the cottage.

Happy Birthday Tom. Thanks for the gift.


tess said...

I liked slowing down to savor every passage, pleasure from beginning to end.

Frugal Scholar said...

@tess--You are lucky. For me, it's a constant struggle against the fast reading that is part of my nature.