Life

The Extraordinary Life and Masterwork of Marcel Proust, Pioneer of Modern Literature

  Anyone who is interested in French literature will know the name Marcel Proust (187l-1922). There may not be many people who have read his works, but his seven-volume literary masterpiece with more than 2 million words – “In Search of Lost Time” is already known to many people. This work uses the technique of stream of consciousness to reproduce fragments of the past years. The whole work unfolds in people’s inner world, forming a unique and strange style. The writing skills of the work can be said to be perfect, simple yet exquisite, broad yet not stagnant, fully demonstrating the author’s skill in controlling language. The famous French literary critic and novelist Jean Raymond once called it “the pinnacle of modern literature”.
  1.
  The work is a strange book, and the author is also a strange person. Marcel Proust was born in Paris on July 10, 1871. When he was 9 years old, he suffered from asthma and could no longer play in the sunshine and air of nature like other children – the smell of wild woods and the fragrance of flowers would make him feel suffocated. He never got rid of this intermittent disease throughout his life.
  His father was a skilled doctor who worked part-time in several hospitals and also served as the French public health inspector. His mother was Jewish and had a great influence on him. He inherited many of his mother’s good qualities: a hatred of lies, meticulousness, a spirit of self-sacrifice, and a kind heart. When he was 14 years old, Proust filled out a questionnaire. In the “What do you think is misfortune?” column, he filled in: “Leaving mother.” In his later published works, we will often Read his description of his mother’s nostalgia.
  During middle school, the frail Proust often missed school due to illness, but with his outstanding intelligence, extraordinary memory, and tireless thirst for knowledge, he still achieved excellent results.
  In 1889, when Proust was 18 years old, he signed up to serve in an infantry regiment. When he retired from the army, he had fallen in love with literature. However, at that time, people did not think that literature and art was a profession. His father wanted him to enter the diplomatic world. Proust succumbed to his father’s request and entered the Faculty of Law of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of the University of Paris to study law. But those legal courses really gave him a headache, and philosophy was not to his liking. At the University of Paris he met Bergson. The thoughts of this great philosopher had a profound influence on Proust. It can even be said that Bergson’s thoughts formed the philosophical basis of “In Search of Lost Time”.
  Proust’s interest in literature grew. He and several young friends co-founded a magazine – “The Banquet”. He often wrote short stories and essays for this magazine and other publications, sketching the image of some women and courtesans in society, describing landscapes and ocean scenery, or making some comments on newly published books.
  2.
  Proust had close contacts with the social world. The salon was a place he frequented frequently, and social interaction became an extremely important part of his life. It was also an important part of “Reminiscences of Lost Time”.
  Proust’s relationship with society began in his youth. When he was 15 years old, he was a frequent visitor to the salon of Madame Strauss Bizet, one of the most prestigious salons in Paris at the time. Little Proust always sat next to Madame, and dignitaries of the Third Republic often noticed this little darling when they came to visit the mistress. Here he received the influence of the upper class and tasted the feeling of being in the limelight and being favored.
  The 20-year-old Proust has a pair of bright, big black eyes. Although he looks tired and sad, he is very flexible, as if he is constantly tracking the speaker’s inner thoughts. His voice was soft, a little drawl, and breathy; his face was ruddy, and although he had a slender black mustache, he still made people think that he was a lazy but overly sharp kid. He is very particular about the texture of his clothes, but he doesn’t pay attention to their appearance. Often his tie is tied improperly or a button of his coat is missing.
  Proust was a charismatic figure at social evenings. But when he attends a party, he often arrives after most of the guests have left. As soon as the remaining guests saw him coming, they gathered around him. For hours on end, he was entertaining. The words were polite and attentive, but also revealed a bit of sarcasm, and everyone was delighted to hear them. This went on till late at night, the candles being extinguished one after another, and the servants yawning profusely. Marcel Proust kept talking until the hostess herself felt sleepy. After the party, he sent his friends home. When he arrived at the door, he didn’t want to leave and asked his friend to come to his house to sit for a while. He has a morbid fear of loneliness. In his later works, he often spoke of the frustration and pain that followed the excitement of the party. It was at times like this that he deeply felt that these joys were limited and empty.
  Among his friends, Proust was famous for his generosity. For his friends, he is willing to give away even the most valuable things. He got a kind of spiritual enjoyment from the atmosphere of friends gathering and from his own generosity. His friend Paul Morand once told him that he was going to see a doctor. The next day, Morand received a thousand francs from Proust, which was ten times the cost of medical treatment. Morang wanted to return the money, but received several incomprehensible and threatening letters one after another. Proust declared sincerely that he would be angry if he did not keep the money. Later, Morang could only manage to return the money to him cleverly, and each banknote had to be sent back multiple times. This battle to repay debts continued until Proust’s death.
  He tipped amazingly. Every time he hailed a taxi, he always paid double or triple the fare. When he went to a restaurant to eat, he tipped without restraint, which made some friends complain. And he was sometimes very frugal with himself. One of his coats lasts three years, and his pajamas are always the same.
  Proust had a perverted pleasure in repaying the little things others did for him twice as much. His behavior seemed excessive and incomprehensible at first, but over time people stopped thinking it was strange.
  Proust indulged himself in the feasting and colorful social life. However, a kind of thinking about life has quietly invaded his brain. When he was 22 years old, two of his young friends died one after another. These were two lovely young men, and their deaths had a great impact on Proust. He wrote in a letter: “If death can relieve us from our obligations to life, it cannot relieve us from our obligations to ourselves, the first of which is that we should live a valuable life and be worthy of this life. ”
  After that, Proust gradually distanced himself from social life.
  After his father’s death in 1903
  , Proust inherited the property and his financial resources were guaranteed. The conditions were ripe for him to devote his whole body and soul to literary creation.
  In 1905, his dear mother passed away. Proust left the apartment where he was born and moved to a house on Boulevard Haussmann to live a secluded life.
  It is a seemingly uninhabited house. The large living room was littered with armchairs and couches. One of the rooms is entirely walled in cork to avoid outside noise. A single lamp cast a feeble light on the ceiling, and the windows were never opened, for Proust would feel unbearably suffocated at the mere smell of the chestnut trees on the Boulevard Haussmann.
  In this closed and depressing room, Proust walked into the hearts of all kinds of characters, who formed a unique world.
  Although Proust withdrew from social life, his heart was still closely connected with the social world. When friends come to visit, he will ask them in detail about the situation, and even occasionally visit the place to take a look. But all this is in the service of his work, to substantiate the materials he is going to use.
  He heard from his friends about a frivolous woman who hung out in high society, and the parties she held were wild and wild, like a Bacchanalia carnival. Proust thought this was a good opportunity to collect material, so he asked a friend to take him to see it. He spent a New Year’s Eve there. The mansion was filled with flowers, which would have suffocated him, but he seemed unaware, much to the surprise of his friends. However, after returning home, he stayed in bed for three weeks.
  Once, he invited a pair of young brothers to his home to learn more about the family coat of arms. He ably steered the conversation towards this subject. But the two brothers didn’t understand each other’s intentions and always changed the topic. In the end Proust had to stop the conversation and never wanted to see them again.
  Proust’s corroborative material came from two main sources: high society and servants, both of which interested him equally. He likes to learn about the situation from people at the lower levels of society, and feels that without their supplements, his view of the salon will not be comprehensive enough. He became well acquainted with the waiters at the Ritz, and often talked for hours.
  Proust’s brain was able to analyze extremely complex things and find out their underlying causes; but he was often at a loss for some simple things in life. He has a unique spiritual vision, which is like a telescope that brings objects closer. The field of vision is therefore limited, making him see things particularly complicated. On a face, he may only be able to see part of the cheek, but he can clearly see the pores and fine folds that others cannot see.
  Proust lived an ascetic life in that almost isolated room. He devoted all his energy to writing the book that had been brewing in his heart. He was accustomed to working at night, staying up all night immersed in manuscripts and sleeping during the day. Fortunately, his room was closed, and the day and night changes in the outside world had no effect on him.
  He felt the shortness of life and the urgency of time. He deeply regrets his past dissipation and calls his social activities a “wasted time.” He wants to make up for the lost time and work harder.
  More than four
  years of hard work have finally come to fruition, and the first novel “Over at Swan’s House” has been completed. However, how to publish has become a big problem. Friends recommended Proust’s book to André Gide, who was in charge of the New France Magazine, but Gide asked: “Proust? Did you write an article in Le Figaro?” Who? An amateur writer? A person who often hangs out on the boulevards of Paris?” In the eyes of famous writers, Proust was just a dandy who was a little smart and was just trying to gain fame.
  Proust remembered that he had translated the works of the British writer Ruskin for the “French Mercury” magazine, and the magazine manager left a good impression on him. He sent the manuscript. As a result, the manuscript was quickly returned, maybe the other party didn’t even read it.
  A friend introduced him to Hollandorff Publishing House. Proust anxiously waited for the news, and finally received this letter from the publishing manager: “Dear friend, maybe I am too stupid. I don’t understand how a person can spend 30 pages describing how he is.” I was tossing and turning in bed, unable to fall asleep. I scratched my scalp and still couldn’t figure it out…”
  In the end, Glasser Publishing House was very discerning and accepted the manuscript. Proust’s first novel was published in 1913.
  However, the situation is not good, and the entire critical circle remains silent about the writer. This is scarier than a rejection from a publisher. Proust believed that the indifference to such a novel and unique work of his reflected a lack of literacy and a lack of appreciation on the part of most critics.
  Seven years later, Proust wrote the first part of “In Search of Lost Time” in the silence of his home. The masterpiece he was about to write was comparable to Balzac’s “The Comedy Humane”. The difference was that Proust portrayed the inner world of the characters, while Balzac described the external world.
  By the time the second volume of the book, “In the Shadow of the Girl with a Hairpin”, was published, Proust had already enjoyed a high reputation and won the Prix Goncourt.
  He was intoxicated with his success, and he never thought that such a day would come.
  Proust’s reputation spread across national borders. The United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy and other countries are talking about his works.
  An American couple came to France to pay their respects to him. Throughout the winter, they visited Proust’s house almost every day, but without exception they were told that Mr. Proust was seriously ill and could not see guests. The couple did not give up and kept sending him large bouquets of roses. When Proust learned that there were flowers in his house, he ordered them to be thrown out because the scent would kill him.
  This American couple is going back to China. They came specifically to visit the writer, but they didn’t have a chance to see him. Late at night before their departure, Proust came to the hotel where they were staying, wrapped in a thick and large black leather jacket. He claimed that he could only stay for a while, but he didn’t leave until dawn, making the couple as happy as children.
  5.
  Ever since he achieved fame, Proust set about refining everything he wrote. The last few years of his life were spent fleshing out the novels “In Search of Lost Time.” Whenever he got the proofs, he would do the same large-scale expansion work as he did on the manuscript, and he would even add to it on the second proof. Eventually the publisher had to take the proofs away from him.
  Already feeling the imminence of his death, he very much wished to see all his works published. So he always complained that the publishing house was dragging its feet.
  In 1920, “The Guermantes Side” in this group of novels was published.
  In 1922, “Sodom and Gomorrah” came out.
  Proust’s illness became more and more serious, but he still did not pay attention to his body and lived an irregular life. Due to insomnia, he took various sleeping pills and slept for three days in a row. In order to compensate for the losses caused by excessive sleep, he did not sleep for three consecutive days and relied on stimulants to support his work.
  In the summer of 1922, he suffered from a severe cold and a high fever that never went away. But he didn’t want treatment at all. He did not allow servants to tidy the rooms or wipe dust. The room smelled musty and the air was stale. The abuse of sleeping pills and stimulants had thrown his body out of balance, hastening his condition and leading to pneumonia. He stubbornly refused to receive medical treatment. Only in the last few days did the doctor come to his door, but it was too late.
  He remained fully conscious in the agony of his final moments. He dictated the feeling of approaching death to his friends and asked them to record it in detail, saying that it could be used to supplement the relevant descriptions in his works.
  On November 18, 1922, Marcel Proust passed away suddenly. He did not live to see all of his works come out. The publication of various volumes of his work continued until 1927.

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