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Marcel Proust: À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time; Remembrance of Things Past)

What can you say about this work? E M Forster, in his Aspects of the Novel said The book is chaotic, ill constructed, it has and will have no external shape; and yet it hangs together because it is stitched internally, because it contains rhythm. As most people know, it is a series of memories, triggered by the narrator, Marcel, dipping madeleines in herbal tea. He goes on to write around 3000 pages prompted by this memory. To put it succinctly, for Proust, we are our memories. This is not, of course, all that the book is about. Marcel wants to become a writer and, by the end of the series, is about to become a writer, writing down what we have just read. Proust is very much concerned with artistic development and the formation of the artist and, indeed, two key characters in the book are respectively a painter and a musician. Technological change and how it was changing the world was also a key theme.

Proust was a key influence on many later writers and not just French. Joyce certainly read him, though when the two met, it was not a success and it seems that they had little if anything to say to one another. Most French writers, whether they were prepared to admit it or not, have been influenced, if only negatively, by him. Le nouveau roman, for example, would never have happened without him. As, for example, Alain de Botton has shown, he is still very much relevant today. Contrary to what Monty Python may suggest, you cannot summarise him, only read him.

Publishing history

Du côté de chez Swann (Swann’s Way; The Way by Swann’s)
First published in 1913 by Grasset
First English translation 1922 by Chatto and Windus

À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleur (Within a Budding Grove; In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower)
First published in 1918 by Gallimard
First English translation 1924 by Chatto and Windus

Le côté de Guermantes (The Guermantes Way)
First published in 1920 (I) and 1921 (II) by Gallimard
First English translation 1925 by Chatto and Windus

Sodome et Gomorrhe (Cities of the Plain; Sodom and Gomorrah)
First published in 1921 (I) and 1922 (II) by Gallimard
First English translation 1927 by Chatto and Windus

La prisonnière (The Captive; The Prisoner)
First published in 1923 by Gallimard
First English translation 1929 by Chatto and Windus

Albertine disparue (The Sweet Cheat Gone; The Fugitive)
First published in 1925 by Gallimard
First English translation 1930 by Chatto and Windus

Le temps retrouvé (Time Regained; Finding Time Again; The Past Recaptured)
First published in 1927 by Gallimard
First English translation 1931 by Chatto and Windus