Rembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust is one of the supreme artistic achievements of the European Tradition. I think the primary reason it is more admired from afar than read is the daughting length of the seven volumes. This serves to limit the work's audience largely to those with a generous amount of time for serious reading.
Here are some of the many things I really liked in Within a Budding Grove, Vol II of the novel.
The sensibility of the narrator becomes more and more refined as he gets older. Beauty in many forms deeply moves him. As the volume opens thanks to a family friend the narrator makes a visit to the theater to see a famous actress preform. In one very erotically charged scene the narrator wrestles with the daughter of the Swanns and has his first orgasm on this occasion. The narrator begins to explore his sexual feelings as the story progresses. He develops a fixation on a group of girls. He begins to spend a good bit of time at the house of the Swann's and may fall in love with the daughter Gilberte. The Swann's, Odette Swann was at one time part of demimonde Paris. He begins to closely observe minute markers of social class. I loved the narrator's description of varieties of intelligence. The novel is totally worth reading just for the psychological insights of the narrator. I admit I was not expecting a visit to a brothel but one of the friends of the Swann's take him along on a visit.
As time goes by he seemingly loses interest in Gilberte. He goes on a trip with his beloved Grandmother to a hotel the family often has frequented. He meets yet another mentor, from a very aristocratic family, who impacts him greatly. I sensed the first stirrings of homo-erotic fascination with the narrator's reaction to Robert de Saint-Loup. He is the grand nephew of an old friend of his grandmother.
Proust seemingly sees through everything. The narrator develops greater and greater self awareness as he ages. There is just so much in this novel to love. I am so glad I decided to reread In Search of Lost Time (Proust preferred this English name for the novel). To those pondering reading it, I know for many it will take up much of their precious reading time for perhaps months, I say do so as soon as you can so you will be able to reread it several times.
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