Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Proust, Joyce and the modernists

Marcel Proust has a lot to answer for in inflicting  À la recherche du temps perdu upon us. It may well be a great novel, but I have come across so many books recently in which the author learnedly refers to À la recherche du temps perdu in a familiar fashion that I have started to grind my teeth.

I find the Modernists interesting, life in Paris seen through their eyes is certainly interesting, but really. It's a bit like the Bloomsbury Set; after a certain exposure, the sheer unlikeability of the characters begins to wear.

Clive Bell, one of the better of the bunch, attended a famous dinner party in Paris held on 18 May 1922 at the Hotel Majestic. Hosted by Violet and Sydney Schiff, the party was held to celebrate the first public performance of Stravinsky's burlesque ballet Le Renard, performed by Diaghilev's company, the Ballets Russes.

James Joyce arrived late drunk, allegedly because he did not have the right gear to wear, and sat nursing a drink, his head on his hands. Proust arrived later still, sweeping in. Joyce seems to have had something of a complex about Proust because he considered, probably correctly enough, that Proust had already won the fight as to who would be considered the greatest modernist writer. Joyce had a following among expats in Paris, Proust a following among Parisians including expats; it wasn't an even contest, The discussion (if we can call it that when Joyce mainly answered in monosyllables) between the two was not a social success.

For some obscure reason, my present train reading has taken me deep into this strange world. Who knows, I may even be forced to read À la recherche du temps perdu despite my best judgments!

Postscript

Neil Whitfield reminded me of his earlier discovery of Proust. Six months later, Neil reported: "Yes, the Proust project continues in fits and starts. I find I can travel over to Proustland and stay for several hours with enormous pleasure, then go elsewhere for a day or a month and return where I had left off to take on that special world once more. I am now into The Captive – so I have made progress since July.". I totally understand the point.

In reference to train reading, kvd asked if I always finished the book picked up for train reading. The answer is yes. It's part of the discipline. kvd also pointed me to this short New York Times piece by Verlyn Klinkenborg, Books to Have and to hold. It has absolutely nothing to do with Proust and Pari, but is worth a read.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Speaking of literary pretensions, I was reading about the pushback that Gay Talese is suffering after his comment that he was unable to name a female writer who had influenced his writing.

This happened at a press conference, and one of the female journalists suggested Joan Didion as an example, and others have weighed in with other luminous names. Fair enough so far?

But the thing which appealed to my futilitarian outlook was a commenter on one of the press stories nominating Evelyn Waugh :)

kvd

Anonymous said...

And now I've poked my nose in, something I've been meaning to ask you nearly every time you do a 'train reading' post is: have you ever just given up on your selected book - i.e. not finished it?

kvd

Jim Belshaw said...

Good morning, kvd. Laughed at the Talese comment. Evelyn! His first name was actually Arthur! Evelyn pen name.

One of my train reading rules is that I must finish the book. That forces me to complete things I don't like!

Neil Whitfield said...

On Proust, Jim, and quoting myself: "But I have to confess getting into my seventieth year now while remaining to this point a Proust Virgin! Thanks to eBooks (Adelaide University) I now have the whole thing – free — on computer and Kobo. Yesterday I took the plunge." -- July 2012 (https://neil2decade.wordpress.com/2012/07/25/proust-visiting-a-demented-relative/) And "Yes, the Proust project continues in fits and starts. I find I can travel over to Proustland and stay for several hours with enormous pleasure, then go elsewhere for a day or a month and return where I had left off to take on that special world once more. I am now into The Captive – so I have made progress since July." -- January 2013. (https://neil2decade.wordpress.com/2013/01/20/currently-reading/)

marcellous said...

Evelyn Waugh's father was also Arthur Waugh. It appears he was known as Evelyn not simply as a pen-name (despite Wikipedia) but generally: it is not unusual for people to use a given name other than their first. As you probably know, his first wife was also called Evelyn and they were known to their friends/acquaintances as He-Evelyn and She-Evelyn.

No reason why you should not read Proust, presumably in translation.

Given A la R's length, though, perhaps you shouldn't embark on it as part of your train reading.

Jim Belshaw said...

I had read that first post of your, Neil, but had forgotten it. I smiled on reading it again and especially G's comment. I also smiled because on reading that excerpt it reminded me of Brideshead Revisited and then, further on, you quote Waugh. I will bring your post up as postscript

Marcellous, I did not know about the two Evelyns! Laughed at the train reading comment. Perhaps not given my requirement to actually finish whatever I start!

2 tanners said...

"..and if you are insulting the author of 'À la recherche du temps perdu' I shall have to ask you to step outside!!"

No citations. I have faith in you all.

Anonymous said...

tanners, you're obviously off your chump :)

kvd

Anonymous said...

Dunno if this link is more appropriate here, or on your earlier 'poetry' post. But I thought it worth recording, as some sort of muse:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/11/opinion/sunday/books-to-have-and-to-hold.html

kvd

John Stitch said...

Jim a small point but one I consider relevant given that I am a functioning (some would say not) alcoholic. I refer to "James Joyce arrived late drunk, allegedly because he did not have the right gear to wear, and sat nursing a drink, his head on his hands". Hows does one nurse a drink with ones head on his hands?

Anonymous said...

JS, 'nursing' a drink - or most other uses of 'nursing a something' for that matter - implies slowly savouring, or wringing, the last drop of pleasure from the experience, whilst avoiding the need (and cost) to replenish same. 'Nursing a grudge' comes to mind.

Students with no spare funds will 'nurse' a drink - meaning they won't have to (because they can't afford to) buy another.

Alternatively, maybe just more practice? If so, head down, and keep it up :)

kvd

Jim Belshaw said...

Good morning, all. If we were to step outside, 2t, I might risk having smelly fish thrown at me. The mind boggles.

That's a nice short piece, kvd. It could have gone either place. The physical presence of a book does have value beyond the immediate read. I hadn't really thought of the point, I generally don't read e-books since I'm addicted to the physical book. The thought of reading a book and then have it vanish into the ether makes me very uncomfortable! Unless, of course, its a trashy novel. Them I have been throwing out.

Welcome back, JS. It was, of course, on the table in front of him most of the time. But the thought of nursing a drink with head on hands does raise some funny visions.