A Sentence from Proust

I have just finished Days of Reading, a collection of essays by Marcel Proust. This is the first Proust I have read, so I will not yet judge him too harshly, but there was little in me that responded to the book. I could appreciate but not receive it. I found in Proust a perceptive and complex mind, but a mind that was too different from mine, not in its conclusions, with which I sometimes agree, but in its very movements, in its very processes. Of course, it did not leave me completely empty-handed. No book ever does. Much of his thinking on reading was quite interesting, for example, and he also left me with another of those sentences that I love so much, the ones that meander in digressions across whole pages and comprise a narrative in themselves. So, I will say nothing more about Proust, neither good nor bad, and offer instead this sentence, which I can praise without qualification:

“Then, at the risk of being punished if I was discovered, or of an insomnia which might last through the night once the book was finished, as soon as my parents were in bed I relit my candle to read; while in the street nearby, between the gunsmith’s shop and the post office, both steeped in silence, the dark yet blue sky was full of stars, and to the left, above the raised alleyway where one began the winding ascent to it, you could sense the monstrous black apse of the church to be watching, whose sculptures did not sleep at night, a village church yet a historic one, the magical dwelling place of the Good Lord, of the consecrated loaf, of the multicoloured saints, and of the ladies from the neighbouring chateaux who set the hens squawking and the gossips staring as they crossed the marketplace on feast days, when they came to mass in their turn-outs, and who, on their way home, just after they had emerged from the shadow of the porch where the faithful were scattering the vagrant rubies of the nave as they pushed open the door of the vestibule, did not fail to buy from the patisser in the square some of those cakes shaped like towers, which were protected from the sunlight by a blind – manques, saint-honores, and genoa cakes, whose indolent, sugary aroma has remained mingled for me with the bells for high mass and the gaiety of Sundays.”

Here, at least, Proust shows himself a master.

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10 comments
  1. Lauren said:

    I have nothing to add to this discussion other than to say that I saw Proust’s grave in Paris and it was surprisingly modest, especially when compared to the other Monuments to Artistic Greatness you see in the same cemetery.

  2. Lauren,

    Was this some modesty on his part do you think, or was he just poor? I am sure the internet would tell, but I am too lazy to ask it at the moment.

  3. Lauren said:

    You know, I’m not sure. I only really remember because it was in stark contrast to Oscar Wilde’s monument (which was a sight to behold) but that would probably support your theory, as I would imagine that Wilde’s commercial success far outweighed Proust’s.

  4. Lauren,

    Wilde actually died exiled and quite poor, though maybe his friends were rich enough to build him a monument.

  5. Lauren said:

    That’s interesting. Admittedly my knowledge of Wilde’s life and work probably wouldn’t fill a paragraph, let alone a page. Somehow I managed to complete my entire degree without studying anything at all of his.

  6. d said:

    I highly recommend his short stories.

  7. d said:

    From what I remember Proust’s parents had a bit of money and supported him.

  8. Curtis said:

    I think I have read this somewhere before, not sure where. Grom start to finish I cannot tell what he means, the thoughts are not bound together. I know it is ironic for me to speak such criticism.

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