Typos p. 195: Recherce [= Recherche]
Welcome light on Proust *
Anthony M. Ludovici
The New English Weekly 18, 194041, pp. 195196
- p. 195 -
In the first flush of my enthusiasm, in the spring of 1938, I tried at the British Museum Reading Room to glean what information I could about the author who had been able to perform the extraordinary feat of adding the whole of another life to my own. For, just as Dickens created tout d'une pièce an English mythology, so it might be said of Proust that he doubles the life of anyone who reads him. The events, the contacts and the experiences of "A la Recherce du Temps Perdu" are depicted with so much penetration and care, and with such a wealth of authentic human emotion and passion, that it is in the end difficult to disentangle his panorama from that of one's own life; and, looking back on the path one has travelled, the Guermantes, the Swanns, the Albertines and the Verdurins become indistinguishable from the characters of equal importance that people one's own life-story, and mingle with them as old acquaintances.
A man who can perform this feat and I cannot be alone in having received this impression has a power so phenomenal that it is natural to wish to know everything about him.
It is uncanny, moreover, to find that the impression his work makes is one he consciously set out to make. He achieved his aesthetic ideal. He says, "Thanks to art, instead of our being limited to one world our own worlds are multiplied for us and we have as many at our disposal as there are original artists in existence. These worlds differ from one another more than those that revolve in infinite space, and centuries after their source of light has been extinguished whether it was called Rembrandt or Ver Meer they still shed their peculiar radiance upon us."
Nor must we conceive of these other worlds in Proust's sense, as the worlds described by Balzac, or Dickens or by any of the more or less "realistic" delineators of their times and environments. Because that would be an adding merely of "petits faits" to our stocks by a sort of cinematograph record of other places and people. But Proust very rightly stigmatises this kind of realism as quite unrealistic, and he actually says such writers may be among the most unrealistic of all.
We get the impression of a real world added to our own only when all this cinematograph material has been transmuted by the artist into the terms of his own reactions to it, when it has "been interpreted as signs of general laws and ideas, and made to leave the penumbra of his sensations in regard to it, by being converted into its spiritual equivalent."
Thus there can be no such thing as deputising for an artist, or collaborating with him. You can deputise for a B.B.C. commentator depicting a scene or an event. You can collaborate only with such a commentator. But this is not art in Proust's sense. And yet, as he truly points out, the school of extreme so-called "realists" sails very near to this technique of the B.B.C. commentator.
For what an artist "does not need to decipher or elucidate by the intervention of his personality, that which, in fact, was or is clear without him, is not his; it is not the artist's own."
The B.B.C. commentator, however, never could add another world to your own. When Proust does this, he proceeds along entirely different lines. Hence the intensity of his image, and hence, too, the fact that it becomes for us that of another world equivalent in reality to the one we know.
At the British Museum, I met with but little success in trying to get at the heart of my author. I was never able to discover a satisfactory and complete picture of his manhood, his aims and ideas aye, even his weaknesses!
Then at last this book came along which and I say this without hesitation has fulfilled to the letter everything that I at least could have hoped for in a work purporting to tell me the whole truth about a man.
Obviously written with love, though without any trace of the blind hero-worship that cloys, "Introduction To Proust" does what every introduction to a great novelist should do it shows you the man complete down to the kind of button-hole he favoured; it describes the nature of the soil out of which his work sprang; it analyses his composite and fictitious characters and names the living elements from which they were formed, and finally and this is no small matter to the earnest student of Proust attempts to draw an outline of his aesthetic and philosophical ideas.
It may seem fulsome in a reviewer to say he is deeply grateful to the author of a book he is reviewing. I have no wish to exaggerate. I do not know Mr. Leon and have never read a book of his before; but I am sincerely grateful to him for this one.
There are many people, especially the men who have been bred on classical literature, who say that Proust wearies them, that having learnt to appreciate most those authors who say in a line what others say in a whole volume, they find Proust heavy, dull and prolix too Philoesque in fact.
To those whose intellectual horses have thus shied before Proust's thick deep hedges, I can only suggest that there is also a untrue quality in the massiveness of his genuine realism, and if they accept this possibility, I would further suggest that they should make one more attempt to read Proust after first whetting their appetite on Mr. Leon's book.
With a very good photograph of Proust for a frontispiece, the book is divided into two parts. The first, which covers 166 pages over half the volume consists of an excellent biography, giving all the essentials about the conditions which made Proust's work possible and necessary. In the second part Mr. Leon concentrates on the work alone and opens with a very good outline of the whole narrative.
Incidentally to turn away for a moment from Mr. Leon's book would not "On the Track of Days Gone-by," or "On the Tracks of Bygone Days" have been a happier rendering of "A la Recherche du Temps Perdu" that "Remembrance of Things Past?"
The seven remaining chapters deal with an analysis of the theme, the characters and the philosophic view point of the novel and its inspiration, and conclude with an admirably frank critical survey, in which no attempt is made to evade the charges commonly brought against Proust's work or to minimise them. And this reminds me that in Part I also, dealing with
* Introduction To Proust by DERRICK LEON. (Kegan, Paul, Trench Trübner and Co., Demy 8vo. pp. 309, price 12/- net).
Personally, I was a little astonished to find so little made of the important grandmother episode, especially that last heartbreaking incident of the photograph. I also missed an elaboration of the Bergotte theme and should have liked to know, if it can be known, why Proust said of Anatole France, "Il écrit bien, mais pense mal." Moreover, I seem to remember that in my inadequate researches at the British Museum, I lighted on one book at least in which Proust's style and grammar were severely attacked, and I should have liked a good deal more space say, half a chapter or so to have been devoted to this question alone.
But in a single volume of 309 pages, it is impossible to say everything, and when what we do get is of the high quality of Mr. Leon's book, we should be thankful for what we receive.