August Books 22) Finding Time Again

22) Finding Time Again, by Marcel Proust

Well, I’ve done it: finished the final volume of the Penguin set of À la recherche du temps perdu, a year and a half after starting them. Like the previous one, I found the last volume very lucid and involving; I wonder if this is really the case, or just reflects my increasing comfort level with Proust’s prose? It’s quite a break with the previous volumes in some ways, chronicling the effects of the 1914-18 war on France, on Paris, on the places the narrator loves and on his social circle; then an accidental encounter with a gay brothel; then a fifty-page reflection on memory while the narrator walks upstairs from the courtyard to the Guermantes’ party; then further meditations on age, on death, on what has happened in the previous volumes and on what drives the narrator to write it all down and turn it into a book. It is very satisfying, and now I want to go back and read it all again (though I may read the Alain de Botton book first).

Bechdel test: as hinted previously, I am inclined to give this volume (like others in the series) a passing grade. Even though it is told entirely from the male narrator’s point of view, there are numerous conversations between women characters reported, observed or imagined; and in this volume they talk about death and each other at least as much as about men. (He doesn’t know what the Duchess is discussing with Rachel when he sees them talking on page 300, but from the context it is probably poetry despite their mutual links with Robert de Saint-Loup.) Given the admitted influence of Proust on Alison Bechdel, it is just as well that he passes her test. I imagine she would be prepared to stretch a point for him if necessary.

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