Sunday, September 21, 2008

Proust in the news

From an article in the London Sunday paper The Observer, "Bread sells like hot cakes":

Psychologists are putting it down to nostalgia, while pragmatists say it's the credit crunch. But whatever the reason, sales of part-baked bread have doubled in the past year.

Tesco says its part-baked bread sales have risen 47 per cent, while Asda has seen a 60 per increase. Asda attributes the rise to the increased trend for staying in to save money. 'People are cooking for themselves more and cooking for friends. Part-baked is a cheat's way to serve piping hot, fresh bread,' said a spokesman.

Tesco believes there is a deeper reason and drafted in a scientist to explain it. During a time of insecurity and uncertainty, it's all apparently down to the 'Proust effect', named after the 19th-century French author who suggested that the rich, heady smell of baking bread created feelings of nostalgia for mum's kitchen and an instant sense of homeliness.

"[T]he 19th-century French author": Yes, Proust did write and publish in the late 19th century. But he's a 20th-century writer. The first volume of À la recherche du temps perdu appeared in 1913.

"[T]he rich, heady smell of baking bread": No, it's the taste of a madeleine, or more precisely, a madeleine dipped in lime-blossom tea, that brings back the narrator's past.

"[M]um's kitchen": No, the narrator's aunt Léonie would give him a bit of a madeleine in her room.

"[M]um's kitchen": No, the taste of the madeleine brings back "the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann's park, and the water lilies of the Vivonne, and the good people of the village and their little dwellings and the church and all of Combray and its surroundings": a world.

It's difficult to decide whether the mistakes here are the work of Tesco's scientist or the newspaper reporter. Did the scientist mention only the "Proust effect"? Did the reporter assume that it concerned bread? Was someone getting confused by a recollection of Anton Ego and Ratatouille?

[Passage from Swann's Way translated by Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002), 48.]

Related reading
All Proust posts (Pinboard)

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