The Concealments of Marcel:
AMONG modem literary creations there are on my list three which I believe cannot impart anything approaching their full values without long and sustained intimacy. They are James Joyce’s Ulysses, Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers, and Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. In each case, one may in a single reading experience the kind of joy and wonder which once every few years are awakened in us by a new book; but if we let it go at that we have merely circumnavigated an island continent whose interior would repay years of exploration. Of the three works mentioned, Remembrance (for short) is the most rewarding. Gide, on reading part of it, exclaimed: “Dazzled!” So one is. A second, a third, a fiftieth reading, ten and twenty and thirty years of browsing in it gradually overlay the feeling of astonishment with one of mingled awe and gratitude.
Fellow Proustians will of course endorse this panegyric; but when I add that the great work is full of contradictions, confusions, and impossibilities they will undoubtedly raise their eyebrows as if to say: “And isn’t Shakespeare, too?” I go on, however, and remark, perhaps to their surprise, that quite otherwise than in Shakespeare the contradictions, confusions, and impossibilities in Remembrance are necessary qualities of its greatness. The structure and purpose demand them, the exacting and labyrinthine style fits them. This is not because we are in a half-hallucinatory world like Kafka’s; we are among real, very real people, incidents, and circumstances; we are in the historical Paris, France and the world of about 1879 to 1922. What we are confronted with, however, is a unique concept of the novelist’s mission.
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