Monday, May 3, 2021

Adam Gopnik on Proust

Adam Gopnik, in a cranky essay on Proust in The New Yorker:

Proust front-loads his novel with his philosophy of time. One of the oddities is that its most famous incident happens within the first dozen pages, and is, nonetheless, isolated from the rest: the narrator (Proustians haughtily resist identifying him with Proust himself, or referring to him as Marcel, though he obviously is) eats the crumbs of a madeleine dipped in lime-blossom tea and is suddenly thrust back to his childhood at Combray.
Well, no. And no.

In the Penguin edition of the novel, the madeleine episode begins on page forty-five. And “Proustians,” whoever they are, often refer to the narrator as Marcel. See, for instance, the brief commentaries by translators in the Penguin edition. Or see, for instance, the novel itself. In The Prisoner, we are told that when Albertine speaks to the narrator,
her first words were “darling” or “my darling,” followed by my Christian name, which, if we give the narrator the same name as the author of this book, would produce “darling Marcel” or “my darling Marcel.”
Granted, that’s a bit coy. But in the same volume, Albertine writes a letter that begins “Dear darling Marcel” and ends “Oh Marcel, Marcel!” These are the only references to “Marcel” in the novel, but they’re enough to confer that name upon the narrator.

So much strangeness in this essay. Gopnik seems disgruntled that all sorts of minor Proustian efforts are seeing publication. He declares that there is “nothing humanly unconvincing” about the cipher Albertine. He casts Proust as a “Belle Époque Tolkien” and suggests that he is an unusual figure in inspiring debate among non-specialists about preferred translations. Homer? Cervantes? Kafka? Enough.

Related reading
Adam Gopnik on Duke Ellington : All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

[Quotations from Carol Clark’s translation of The Prisoner (London: Penguin, 2003). Thanks to the reader who pointed out an egregious typo in my final paragraph.]

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