My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Time Regained (In Search of Lost Time, Volume VI ~ 1927) by Marcel Proust continues the French Narrator’s journey in life (in the last of six volumes) as he looks back on a long life lived well and discovers insightful truths and a newfound inspiration in his writing which teaches him the techniques he needs to finally begin working on his book (À la recherche du temps perdu) in which he hopes to capture the grand illusion and form of the years and memories lost to him in Time: “This notion of Time embodied, of years past but not separated from us, it was now my intention to emphasise as strongly as possible in my work” (Time Regained, Vol. VI, p 529).
Proust (likely the unnamed Narrator of Time Regained) wanted nothing more than to be a novelist and he eventually went on to achieve world fame and immortal success with In Search of Lost Time (previously translated as Remembrance of Things Past from the French title À la recherche du temps perdu).
The editors, however, did eventually add Marcel’s name to solidify the Narrator as the author himself in the six volumes that establish In Search of Lost Time:
“Then she would find her tongue and say: ‘My—’ or ‘My darling—’ followed by my Christian name, which, if we give the narrator the same name as the author of this book, would be ‘My Marcel,’ or ‘My darling Marcel.’ After this I would never allow a member of my family, by calling me ‘darling,’ to rob of their precious uniqueness the delicious words that Albertine uttered to me” (The Captive, Vol. V, p 91).
“My gratitude was even greater when a cyclist brought me a note from her bidding me be patient, and full of the charming expressions that she was in the habit of using. ‘My darling dear Marcel, I return less quickly than this cyclist, whose bike I should like to borrow in order to be with you sooner. How could you imagine that I might be angry or that I could enjoy anything better than to be with you? It will be nice to go out, just the two of us together; it would be nicer still if we never went out except together. The ideas you get into your head! What a Marcel! What a Marcel! Always and ever your Albertine’” (The Captive, Vol. V, pgs 202-203).
In the “Introduction” of In Search of Lost Time, Richard Howard explains of Proust and his un-named protagonist:
“What is narrated is not the Narrator’s life, but his desire to write. Time thwarts this desire, tends it toward a conventional chronology (which must be continually subverted, for what is merely successive is surely lost: only the circle can be retrouvé, a word that means not only regained but rediscovered, recognized, repossessed)—and how many challenges, discouragements, and rivalries must be endured before the desire to write achieves an ultimate triumph” (Vol. I, p xiv).
Proust, himself, would agree with this “other self” who narrates his epic:
“A book is the product of a different self from the one we manifest in our habits, in society, in our vices. If we mean to try to understand this self it is only in our inmost depths, by endeavoring to reconstruct it there, that the quest can be achieved” (Vol. II, p vi).
Proust would also explain further about this concept of a “book” in relation to the “self” and “habit” in The Fugitive:
“At times the reading of a novel that was at all sad carried me suddenly back, for certain novels are like great but temporary bereavements, abolishing habit, bringing us back into contact with the reality of life, but for a few hours only, like a nightmare, since the force of habit, the oblivion it creates, the gaiety it restores through the powerlessness of the brain to fight against it and to re-create the truth, infinitely outweigh the almost hypnotic suggestion of a good book which, like all such influences, has very transient effects” (Vol. V, pgs 757-758).
The Great French Novel (a single novel originally published as separate books), In Search of Lost Time (Volumes I-VI re-published with an updated translation by The Modern Library in 1992) is a major work (and piece of art) in World Literature and without question one of the longest books (excluding Addenda, Notes, Synopsis, etc.) at a total page count of 4,347 pages:
Volume I ~ Swann’s Way (1913) = 606 pages
Volume II ~ Within a Budding Grove (1919) = 730 pages
Volume III ~ The Guermantes Way, Books I & II (1920 & 1921) = 819 pages
Volume IV ~ Sodom and Gomorrah, Books I & II (1921 & 1922) = 724 pages
Volume VI* ~ Time Regained (1927) = 532 pages
*Note* ~ Proust died on November 22, 1922 before the last two volumes (or the last three books) were originally published
Major Characters in Time Regained
Narrator ~ officially un-named but interpreted (and later edited) as the author Marcel
Gilberte Swann, daughter to Charles Swann & Odette Swann, and later adopted by Monsieur Forcheville when he marries Odette after Charles Swann’s death, and Gilberte eventually marries Robert de Saint-Loup (first introduced in Swann’s Way, Vol. I)
Odette de Crécy (Mme Swann), Gilberte’s mother and wife of Charles Swann, but remarries Monsieur Forcheville after Charles Swann’s death, and later becomes the lover to Duc de Guermantes in their old age (first introduced in Swann’s Way, Vol. I)
Mlle de Saint-Loup, sixteen-year-old daughter to Gilberte Swann and Robert de Saint-Loup, and also granddaughter to Charles Swann and Odette de Crécy
Baron de Charlus (also Baron Palamède de Charlus, and informally as Mémé), who is the younger brother of Duc de Guermantes, and the nephew of Mme de Villeparisis, and Robert de Saint-Loup’s uncle known as Uncle Palamède, and who is a member of the Guermantes family (first introduced as Charles Swann’s confidant in Swann’s Way, Vol. I)
Plot Outline in Time Regained
Time Regained (pgs 1-532)
- Gilberte and the Méséglise Way (p 9)
- The Steeple of Combray Church (p 10)
- The Faubourg Saint-Germain or the Zoological Gardens (p 19)
- On Artistic Truths (p 41)
- The Sanatorium (p 47)
- New Names (p 51)
- Jusqu’au–boutiste (p 55)
- Paris during War (p 64)
- Saint-Loup’s Resolve (p 68)
- Mental Shackles (p 73)
- Saint-Loup’s Love for France and his Courage (p 74)
- A Letter from Gilberte and the Germans (p 88)
- War and the State of Perpetual Becoming (p 90)
- A Second Letter from Gilberte (p 94)
- The Fear of the Zeppelins (p 100)
- The Deadest of Dead Pasts (p 108)
- “Frau von den Bosch” (p 112)
- The Allied and Enemy Bodies (p 118)
- The Sinking of the Lusitania and Mme Verdurin’s Croissant’s (p 120)
- Habent sua fata libelli (p 149)
- “So turns the wheel of the world” (p 158)
- The Aeroplanes (p 161)
- A Letter from the Baron (p 167)
- Herculaneum (p 170)
- Maurice and M. de Charlus in Jupien’s Establishment: The Temple of Shamelessness (p 182)
- A Veritable Pandemonium (p 206)
- Pompeiian Paintings (p 210)
- Consenting Prometheus nailed to the rock of Pure Matter (p 215)
- The Millionaire Cousins (p 225)
- News of Robert de Saint-Loup (p 226)
- Arrests are made (p 235)
- An Invitation to a Party (p 240)
- The Old Fallen Prince (p 245)
- Outside Time (p 262)
- “Fragments of Existence withdrawn from Time” (p 268)
- Lost Time (p 270)
- The Inner Book of Unknown Symbols (p 274)
- The Choice of Theme (p 278)
- The Library (p 288)
- The Essence of Description (p 289)
- Aberrations of Criticism (p 295)
- The Greatness of True Art (p 298)
- Style for the Writer and the Work of the Artist (p 299)
- The Only Living Art (p 300)
- Two Reasons for Suffering as a Writer (p 301)
- A Vocation (p 304)
- Imagination & Sensibility (p 307)
- Law of Change (p 311)
- Grief & Ideas (p 315)
- Readers (p 322)
- On Dreams (p 327)
- The Timeless Man (p 332)
- Old Age (p 354)
- Time, the artist (p 360)
- Felix Culpa (p 445)
- The Memory and Effects of Lost Time (p 447)
- The Nymph cradling the Infant Time (p 496)
- Entelechy (p 512)
- The Sound of a Bell (p 528)
A Guide to Proust (pgs 543-749)
- Foreword (pgs 543-544)
- Index of Characters (pgs 545-628)
- Index of Persons (pgs 629-684)
- Index of Places (pgs 685-704)
- Index of Themes (pgs 705-749)
Thoughts on Themes Found in Time Regained
Alas, for the Narrator, from his boyhood days in Combray, France his two “Ways” (being “Swann’s Way” in Vol. I & the “Guermantes Way” in Vol. III) reappear in his old age and merge together in the physical form of Mlle de Saint-Loup (sixteen-year-old daughter to Gilberte Swann and granddaughter to Charles Swann), who helps the Narrator regain a sense of his lost youth; by merely being present, the young girl also helps the Narrator to better understand the reasons behind his long train of memories from his past and to further inspire him to finally leave his idle ways so he can begin to write his great book for future generations to enjoy as a déjeuner sur l’herbe.
“Numerous for me were the roads which led to Mlle de Saint-Loup and which radiated around her. Firstly the two great “ways” themselves, where on my many walks I had dreamed so many dreams, both led to her: through her father Robert de Saint-Loup the Guermantes way; through Gilberte, her mother, the Méséglise way which was also ‘Swann’s way.’ One of them took me, by way of this girl’s mother and the Champs-Elysées, to Swann, to my evenings at Combray, to Méséglise itself; the other, by way of her father, to those afternoons at Balbec where even now I saw him again near the sun-bright sea…
“And indeed my whole social life, both in the drawing-rooms of the Swanns and the Guermantes in Paris and also that very different life which I had led with the Verdurins in the country, was in some sense a prolongation of the two ways of Combray, a prolongation which brought into line with one way or the other places as far apart as the Champs-Elysées and the beautiful terrace of La Raspelière…
“Certainly, if he was thinking purely of the human heart, the poet was right when he spoke of the ‘mysterious threads’ which are broken by life. 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…
“And surely the awareness of all these different planes within which, since in this last hour, at this party, I had recaptured it, Time seemed to dispose the different elements of my life, had, by making me reflect that in a book which tried to tell the story of a life it would be necessary to use not the two-dimensional psychology which we normally use but a quite different sort of three-dimensional psychology, added a new beauty to those resurrections of the past which my memory had effected while I was following my thoughts alone in the library, since memory by itself, when it introduces the past, unmodified, into the present—the past just as it was at the moment when it was itself the present—suppresses the mighty dimension of Time which is the dimension in which life is lived.
“I saw Gilberte coming across the room towards me. For me the marriage of Saint-Loup and the thoughts which filled my mind at that date—and which were still there, unchanged, this very morning—might have belonged to yesterday, so that I was astonished to see at her side a girl of about sixteen, whose tall figure was a measure of that distance which I had been reluctant to see. Time, colourless and inapprehensible Time, so that I was almost able to see it and touch it, had materialised itself in this girl, moulding her into a masterpiece, while correspondingly, on me, alas! it had merely done its work. And now Mlle de Saint-Loup was standing in front of me…
“I thought her very beautiful: still rich in hopes, full of laughter, formed from those very years which I myself had lost, she was like my own youth…
“How much more worth living did it appear to me now, now that I seemed to see that this life that we live in half-darkness can be illumined, this life that at every moment we distort can be restored to its true pristine shape, that a life, in short, can be realised within the confines of a book! How happy would he be, I thought, the man who had the power to write such a book! What a task awaited him! To give some idea of this task one would have to borrow comparisons from the loftiest and the most varied arts; for this writer—who, moreover, must bring out the opposed facets of each of his characters in order to show its volume—would have to prepare his book with meticulous care, perpetually regrouping his forces like a general conducting an offensive, and he would also to endure his book like a form of fatigue, to accept it like a discipline, build it up like a church, follow it like a medical regime, vanquish it like an obstacle, win it like a friendship, cosset it like a little child, create it like a new world without neglecting those mysteries whose explanation is to be found probably only in worlds other than our own and the presentiment of which is the thing that moves us most deeply in life and in art” (pgs 502-508).
The Narrator has found his source of inspiration in the physical form of Mlle de Saint-Loup, and he starts to reshape his lived reality by using the new tools, of insight and technique, which he needs to fully form his new universe populated with new worlds of characters.
One method for writing such a book the Narrator concludes to be in the realm of Impressionism, which causes no surprise because in painting the Impressionist Movement began around 1860 and includes French notables such as Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso who spent much of his adulthood in France, and the American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler, while in all six volumes the Zen-like artist Elstir, from near Balbec, is one character which exemplifies this technique as well.
In a literary sense, “impressionism” can be defined as seeking “to capture a feeling or experience rather than to achieve accurate depiction.” By the 1920s—very likely thanks to Proust’s early successes with Swann’s Way, Vol. I, published in 1913, and Within a Budding Grove, Vol. II, published in 1919 and winning the Goncourt Prize—“impressionist literature” can be seen in multiple works, a few of which are greatly illustrated by the Irish novelist James Joyce in Ulysses (1922) and Finnegans Wake (1939); others include the German novelist Thomas Mann in The Magic Mountain (published in 1924), the British novelist Joseph Rudyard Kipling in Kim (published in 1901), and the American novelist Stephen Crane in The Red Badge of Courage (published in 1895).
The Narrator further explains his take on Impressionism by the end of Time Regained:
“And what I found myself enjoying was not merely these colours but a whole instant of my life on whose summit they rested, an instant which had been no doubt an inspiration towards them and which some feeling of fatigue or sadness had perhaps prevented me from enjoying at Balbec but which now, freed from what is necessarily imperfect in external perception, pure and disembodied caused me to swell with happiness…
“The thought that there is a vast difference between the real impression which we have had of a thing and the artificial impression of it which we form for ourselves when we attempt by an act of will to imagine it did not long detain me… and I understood that the reason why life may be judged to be trivial although at certain moments it seems to us so beautiful is that we form our judgment, ordinarily, on the evidence not of life itself but of those quite different images which preserve nothing of life—and therefore we judge it disparagingly. At most I noticed cursorily that the differences which exist between every one of our real impressions—differences which explain why a uniform depiction of life cannot bear much resemblance to the reality—derive probably from the following cause: the slightest word that we have said, the most insignificant action that we have performed at any one epoch of our life was surrounded by, and coloured by the reflexion of, things which logically had no connexion with it and which later have been separated from it by our intellect which could make nothing of them for its own rational purposes, things however, in the midst of which—here the pink reflexion of the evening upon the flower-covered wall of a country restaurant, a feeling of hunger, the desire for women, the pleasure of luxury; there the blue volutes of the morning sea and, enveloped in them, phrases of music half emerging like the shoulders of water-nymphs—the simplest act of gesture remains immured as within a thousand sealed vessels, each one of them filled with things of a colour, a scent, a temperature that are absolutely different one from another, vessels, moreover, which being disposed over the whole range of our years, during which we have never ceased to change if only in our dreams and our thoughts, are situated at the most various moral altitudes and give us the sensation of extraordinarily diverse atmospheres. It is true that we have accomplished these changes imperceptibly; but between the memory which brusquely returns to us and our present state, and no less between two memories of different years, places, hours, the distance is such that it alone, even without any specific originality, would make it impossible to compare one with the other. Yes: if, owing to the work of oblivion, the returning memory can throw no bridge, form no connecting link between itself and the present minute, if it remains in the context of its own place and date, if it keeps its distance, its isolation in the hollow of a valley or upon the highest peak of a mountain summit, for this very reason it causes us suddenly to breathe a new air, an air which is new precisely because we have breathed it in the past, that purer air which the poets have vainly tried to situate in paradise and which could induce so profound a sensation of renewal only if it had been breathed before, since the true paradises are the paradises that we have lost” (pgs 259-261).
Regardless of these unanswerable, ever-moving questions of various styles depicting the past, the present, the future and how events within these spaces of Time and Place all shape and reshape reality, the reader has to ask: How much of Volume VI, Time Regained (1927), is real? Imagined? Legend? Dreamed?
And one more thing: Does the reality of life unfold and take shape in the memory, the soul, alone?
Proust, by this last volume, does help the reader attempt to answer some of these complex questions:
“Human nature still betrays its need for belief by its insistent demands for truth…
“In the people whom we love, there is, immanent, a certain dream which we cannot always clearly discern but which we pursue. It was my belief in Bergotte and in Swann which had made me love Gilberte, my belief in Gilbert the Bad which had made me love Mme de Guermantes. And what a vast expanse of sea had been hidden away in my love—the most full of suffering, the most jealous, seemingly the most individual of all my loves—for Albertine! In any case, just because we are furiously pursuing a dream in a succession of individuals, our loves for people cannot fail to be more or less of an aberration… Who can say to what long-lived and unconscious dream is linked the desire that never fails to re-awaken at the sight of a woman on horseback, an unconscious dream…
“And I thought that in the same way dreams would bring sometimes within my grasp truths or impressions which my efforts alone and even the contingencies of nature failed to present to me; that they would re-awaken in me something of the desire, the regret for certain non-existent things which is the necessary condition for working, for freeing oneself from the dominion of habit, for detaching oneself from the concrete. And therefore I would not disdain this second muse, this nocturnal muse who might sometimes do duty for the other” (pgs 215-217, 327).
Perhaps Marcel Proust dreamed it all. A long, beautiful dream mixed with illusions, legends, fantasies, and a little bit of reality to fool even the most conscious of dreamers.
Now you may review all six volumes of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time at your personal leisure:
Volume I ~ Swann’s Way (1913)
Volume II ~ Within a Budding Grove (1919)
Volume III ~ The Guermantes Way, Books I & II (1920 & 1921)
Volume IV ~ Sodom and Gomorrah, Books I & II (1921 & 1922)
Volume VI ~ Time Regained (1927)
The American novelist CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, & he’s a member of the Hemingway Society, Club Med, and the Royal Society of Literature. He’s also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) based in London.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), The Mystic’s Smile ~ A Play in 3 Acts (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), Little Hometown, America: A Look Back (2020); and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; A Time to Forget in East Berlin; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
You can follow the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 440,000+ followers