Marcel Proust’s Best Books 📚

Marcel Proust is widely considered to be the most influential novelist of the twentieth century. His voluminous book, ‘In Search of Lost Time’ has influenced dozens of prominent writers of the twentieth century.

Marcel Proust

French novelist, critic, and essayist

Proust’s bibliography includes themes of involuntary memory, alienation, and art. In addition to demonstrating how we detach ourselves from ourselves through distractions, Proust’s oeuvre also vividly depicts the disruption caused by the introduction of new technology in several volumes of ‘In Search of Lost Time.’ Similar to this, the author incorporated elements of World War I into his narrative, such as an aerial bombardment of Paris; the narrator’s boyhood haunts have been turned into a battlefield, with 600,000 German lives lost in the battle for Méséglise; and Combray itself has been split between the opposing armies.

Swann’s Way

Marcel Proust is unique among novelists in terms of his accomplishments. One of the seven books that make up ‘In Search of Lost Time’ (‘A la recherche du temps perdu’, 1913–1927), ‘Swann’s Way’ stands out above other works of literature for its consistent depth of thought and nuanced characterization. Proust’s concerns—the meaning of love and time, as seen through a person’s memories—are always pertinent, so even though ‘In Search of Lost Time’ is drenched in minutiae of French bourgeois and aristocratic life at the turn of the century, it still feels new to readers today. The encyclopedic book’s main themes are the emergence of sensual connection and jealousy, the development of wisdom, and the emergence of artistic consciousness. Proust’s subject matter is not what distinguishes his writing but rather how he approaches it. The narrative of the nameless first-person narrator frequently veers off course to explore the emotions and ideas that motivate even the tiniest actions.

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower

Proust’s masterful examination of male and female puberty in ‘In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower’ is infused with the narrator’s memories of Paris and the Normandy coast. His interactions with his grandmother and the Swann family are at the center of the narrative. ‘In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower’ is unmatched as a meditation on various types of love. Here, Proust introduces some of his funniest creations, from the enthralling Robert de Saint-Loup to the magnificently boring M. de Norpois. It is noteworthy for the first appearances of the Baron de Charlus and the enigmatic Albertine, two characters who, for better or worse, will come to dominate the narrator’s life.

We first encounter Marcel’s father’s diplomatic associate, the Marquis de Norpois, as ‘In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower’ opens. He persuades Marcel’s father that taking our hero to the theater to witness Berma perform in a play of Racine’s Phedre would be beneficial. The Marquis de Norpois spares young Marcel from the diplomatic destiny that his father had planned for him by assuring Marcel’s father that a career in letters would not be a bad thing for the young Marcel to pursue. The universe of young Marcel, which includes dukes, duchesses, barons, and—most importantly—little girls, is soon introduced to us. Marcel is now an adolescent, and he experiences his first taste of the obsessive love that will soon engulf him throughout his life.

The Guermantes Way

As the narrator enters the beautiful, shallow world of the literary and aristocratic salons, ‘The Guermantes Way’ opens up a huge, dazzling landscape of fashionable Parisian society in the late nineteenth century after the more intimate first two volumes of ‘In Search of Lost Time’. ‘The Guermantes Way’ establishes the great tradition of books that trace the initiation of a young man into the ways of the world by serving as both a tribute to and a withering satire of a period, place, and culture.

This third volume of ‘In Search of Lost Time’ travels to aristocratic Faubourg Saint-Germain. This well-known “side of Guermantes,” in which the narrator, despite all odds, enters the Duchess of Guermantes’ living room because of his literary and intellectual prowess.

Marcel balances his imagined vision of this world of the high nobility with what he sees, feels, and hears during dinners and trips that he regularly invited people to, much like how he appeared Balbec and his country in the previous volume with the images constructed and dreamed of from his simple name. It suffices to state that the disillusionment is total and that the change is just as radical as it was for Balbec. A vision that is always excessively idealized doesn’t reflect reality. The narrator realizes that, despite their aristocratic appearance, the people who live in the luxurious hotels in the Faubourg Saint-Germain are regular men and women.

Additionally, Proust has a special affinity for the theme of dreams, which he investigates for all the intellectuals of his time. He had the same worries as the Surrealists, notwithstanding their formal separation.

Even though it can be time-consuming and tiresome to paint the salons, especially at Madame de Villeparisis, Proust’s extraordinary attention to detail is astounding. To draw out new flavors and impressions, he works, hollows, and smashes them.

Sodom and Gomorrah

Proust has been building up to this point since the first volume, putting down his themes layer by layer until he reached this twin chimney stack of ‘Sodome and Gomorrhe’ (in French), which is the middle volume and essential in many respects. In the seventh book, ‘Le Temps Retrouvé’ (‘Time Regained’), he started the process of removing the layers of the palimpsest he had so meticulously written over to uncover the original message, polished by time.

While it continues with a deep immersion in the opulent salons of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, Marcel Proust’s ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’, the fourth chapter of his masterwork ‘In Search of Lost Time’/‘Remembrance of Things Past’, is renowned for its explicit focus on homosexual love as well as its somewhat lengthy 958-word sentence. Although Marcel, the narrator, still has an ironic romantic relationship with Albertine, heterosexual love no longer seems to be the accepted standard in high-class Parisian society. All the hallmarks of love affairs discussed in preceding chapters are present in Proust’s portrayal of sexual jealousy in these homosexual relationships. In this instance, the narrator focuses on Baron de Charlus, who was introduced in earlier volumes.

The Captive

The Captive is the pinnacle of Proust’s brilliance. The reader is left feeling mentally tormented by the depth of the narrator’s descriptions of her complicated feelings for Albertine, her jealousy, her worries, her lies, her early wishes, and the necessity for reconciliation. Parallel to this, the reader is exposed to Charlus’ terrible demise at the hands of Verdurins and Morel’s stupidity and conceited arrogance. Despite this, Proust can describe the septet Vinteuil to absolute perfection. Where the author’s seemingly infinite phrase powerfully fuses music and life, making it seem as though nothing will ever come to an end.

The Fugitive

The narrator’s fixation with Albertine and desire to own and control her in ‘The Fugitive,’ the sixth volume of Marcel Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time,’ changes when Albertine unexpectedly passes away. She is no longer his prisoner; instead, she has become a runaway from his control. Grief for Proust, of course, offers a chance to reflect and fixate on the past. As the people from this epic grow older and war breaks out in Europe, Proust also acknowledges that time is passing and that it may be too late for him to leave his creative legacy.

Time Regained

In ‘Time Regained,’ the concluding chapter of Marcel Proust’s epic ‘In Search of Lost Time,’ Proust progressively considers his creative goals as well as the reality that was left behind at the close of World War I (and how it contrasts with his memories of that world).

There is a sense of urgency here, even though Proust depicts time as if it were a series of paintings or a slowly flowing river. Marcel is attempting to finish his masterwork before he dies. ‘The Guermantes Way’ and ‘Swann’s Way’ complete a circle. His childhood servant Francoise, who helped him pin up his manuscript pages, is still present despite being nearly blind and serving as one of the novel’s major characters.

FAQs

What is the publication history behind Marcel Proust’s ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’?

‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ (sometimes translated as ‘Cities of the Plain’) (1921/1922) was originally published in two volumes. The first forty pages of ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ initially appeared at the end of The side of Guermantes II, the remainder appearing as ‘Sodom and Gomorrah I’ (1921) and ‘Sodom and Gomorrah II’ (1922). It was the last volume over which Proust supervised publication before his death in November 1922. The publication of the remaining volumes was carried out by his brother, Robert Proust, and Jacques Rivière.

What is Marcel Proust’s best book?

Readers and critics alike both agree that the first installment of ‘In Search of Lost Time’‘Swann’s Way’ — remains the best of the seven-volume series. It has been described as sensual, modernist, riveting, and influential for modern writers. Its style has been compared to James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ for its long soliloquies and stream-of-consciousness narrative. It also remains Proust’s most commercially successful book of the seven-part series.

What characterizes Marcel Proust’s style of writing?

Proust, who was primarily interested in the study of memory, invented the “stream of consciousness” style of language, which used accidental, frequently unimportant recollections as a window into the workings of consciousness and identity. Despite being exceptionally difficult, Proust’s syntax directly reflects his literary objectives.

Charles Asoluka
About Charles Asoluka
Charles is an experienced content creator, writer, and literary critic. He has written professionally for multiple reputable media organizations. He loves reading Western classics and reviewing them.
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