Sunday, 15 December 2013

Comments on Marcel

 A few months ago, Julia, my editor suggested I get a copy of the new Marcel Proust biography.
I was puzzled at the time-and I still am to some extent-as to her purpose, but as she is an educated lady and wiser than me, I did as was asked. The book is an entertaining read as it covers an important time in the history of France.
I must admit the strongly homo-erotic content is a little off putting, but I am not judging M. Proust, it must have been hard to maintain his romances and keep them from the press-others went the other way and were very clear about their tendencies.
I can see some likenesses between us, we both put our lives in our stories and people we know are disguised as characters, but there are far more differences-other than sexuality.
For a start, I am neither wealthy nor have any college training and my parents were not overly protective of me, as his mother was. Nor do I feel the urge to write to my mother on even a semi-regular basis, whereas Marcel and his mother were in constant touch even over tiny things such as should he buy a flannel as the maid forgot to pack one for a trip. Marcel ran a paper for a few months until he and one of the editors had a dispute, and in later years his tutor was attacked in print by Jean-Paul Sartre'.
 I like the way he describes the various trips he takes, especially as the trip to Vollendam in Holland, reminds me of one  took during my RAF tour of Germany. The scene hasn't changed much in the fishing village, the folks still dress to please the tourists.
 What I find most enjoyable about the book is the socio-historic aspect of his life and the array of famous people he met like Sarah Bernhardt, Gustave Faure and Alexander Dumas fils to mention a few. The events unfolding in history are well recorded-the Dreyfuss Affair and the separation of church and state, but it is enlightening to read the ins and outs from a person who lived through the times and recalls how long lasting friendships were broken and how people who would never (!) be seen in public together before joined causes and don't forget J'Accuse by Emile' Zola.
One of things I find hard to adjust to is that this man who went through the Army and wrote one of the masterpieces of French literature and yet until his mother died and for months after her death, he appears incapable of making a decision without permission or her consent.
Before Julia asked me to buy the book, I had toyed with the idea of trying to read the series of novels. I had no idea of the sexuality of the writer, not that it matters-I am reading George Eliot too-it was the volume of the books which put me off, until this book most of my reading had been under 400 pages long.
I first got curious about M. Proust's work because for some reason the words to a Monty Python song came to mind and from there I checked the philosopher's biog's and almost bought a book by Sartre' as I was going through a session of reading books from the 1960's and enjoying them.

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