Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Marcel Proust A Life by William C. Carter (2000, with a new preface in the 2013 Edition, 1000 pages)

Marcel Proust A Life by William C. Carter is a wonderfully done amazingly edifying biography.  Marcel Proust (1871 to 1923, Paris) created one of the supreme artistic achievements of all time in his In Search of Lost Time, alternatively translated as Remembrances  of Things Past

Proust was a very complicated person with a multitude of sides.  The public image of Proust is that of an effete, almost effeminate snobbish homosexual obsessed with high society and his own health problems with serious mother issues. Carter lets us see that Proust was not effeminate, he enjoyed his time in the French Army and fought in more than one duel.  He satirized snobbish behavior in Parisian high society.  He did have lots of health issues made worse by self medication.  

After reading the biography you will have a very good feel for the life of wealthy gay men in Paris.  Proust had numerous infatuations with handsome younger men, ranging from social aristocrats to waiters.  Proust inherited significant wealth.  He was not a good money manager.  He was a lavish tipper and was, it seems to me, taken advantage of by numerous lovers.  His personal life was very complicated. You will find no deeper reflections on gay life than in Proust.  

A lot of the book is devoted to the difficulties Proust had in getting his huge novel published.  Proust's handwriting was very hard to read and their were many errors in the proofs.  

Proust was forty five when World War One began, the top age to be drafted into the French army, Proust already served during peace time.  Proust sought and obtained a medical waiver but he greatly felt the pain brought to Paris and his circles by the 1,250,000 French soldiers who died during the war. Carter does a wonderful job letting us see how the war impacted Proust.

Proust was the ultimate Parisian.  In the last decade or so of his life he took many of his meals at the ultra-fashionable Ritz Hotel.  I really enjoyed reading about the hotel.  

Carter lets us see, as much as one can, how Proust came to know as much about Paris life as he did, given he often stayed inside for weeks, living a schedule inverted from most.  We learn about the famous cork lined room. We meet lots of famous and infamous people.  We go along to expensive gay brothels.  Carter helps us understand what it meant to be gay in the Paris upper society as well as the demimonde. Proust had numerous infatuations, some seemed very foolish and ill advised.  

Anyone interested in Proust will love this book. It is not a casual read.  There is a tremendous amount to be learned about Parisian society, the business of publishing in France, Gay Paris, parental relationships, the war in Paris and above all the creation of one of the very greatest of all literary works.

I'm including this book as part of my participation in Paris in July, 2014

Mel u

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