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Proust's Mature Style

Posted 11/17/2014 4:40pm by Eugene Wyatt.

A distinctive aspect of Proust's mature style is its richness in presenting multiple perspectives or a string of analogies that dazzle by their aptness and their brilliance. The following humorous sketch of family life, from the preface, is an early example of this technique. In the family, someone who took the time to write a letter "was the object of a particular deference" and was told: "You have attended to your 'little correspondence,' with a smile in which there was respect, mystery, prurience, and discretion, as if this 'little correspondence' had been at the same time a state secret, a prerogative, a piece of good fortune, and an ailment." Proust's presentation of multiple views of the same object or action was to be one of several narrative strategies used in the novel to render life in its full richness. 

Marcel Proust, A Life; William C. Carter 2002-2013 p. 390.

The sketch Carter refers to is in On Reading, the preface to Sésame et des Lys 1904, translation by Marcel Proust which was originally delivered as Sesame and Lilies in 1864 as two lectures in Manchester by John Ruskin.

The sketch of family life,

The hour went by; often, long before lunch, those who were tired and had shortened their walk, had "gone by Méseglise," or those who had not gone out that morning, "having to write," began to arrive in the dining room. They would all say: "I don't want to disturb you," but began at once to come near the fire, to look at the time, to declare that lunch would not be unwelcome. He or she who had "stayed to write" was the object of a particular deference and was told: "You have attended to your little correspondence," with a smile in which there was respect, mystery, prurience, and discretion, as if this "little correspondence" had been at the same time a state secret, a prerogative, a piece of good fortune, and an ailment.

Marcel Proust On Reading Ruskin 1987; the preface, On Reading by Marcel Proust translated by Autret, Burford and Wolfe, p. 101.