'Temps Perdu' - the Beta Edition

photo: maisons near parc monceau

Marcel probably lived in a house similar to ones like these.

Marcel Proust's 'Pleasures and Days'

Paris:- Tuesday, 12. June 2001:- I have just spent an hour reading Proust, sitting on a hard, green bench, in the park that is in front of the Place de la Mairie. I was doing this on my day off, because I had been inside for a long time and the weather was agreeable enough to be outside, and in all the years I have been here, this was the first trial I had given any park as a spot to read. I was not reading about Proust, but reading Marcel Proust's first book, 'Pleasures and Days.'

I do not normally read much on Tuesdays and I do not normally read anything by Marcel Proust in a park or anywhere else, or at least, I never intended to. Although intimately related to Paris I know nothing about him. As a writer, I have heard, he is even more remote than James Joyce and 'Ulysses,' which, like everyone else, I have tried to read and have never gotten further than page 36.

Earlier, in the time of year usually known as spring, which did not happen this year in Paris, I was given two books, one titled 'The Year of Reading Proust' - a prediction? - a threat? - and 'How Proust Can Change Your Life.' I have no idea why these books were given to me, but I did read them, and like the secondphoto: maison near monceau promised, my life has changed, just as my writing has changed here in order to let you know this is about Marcel Proust - even though it is sort of a warning too, in case you do not want your life changed.

He could have also lived here - put probably not with a 2CV in front.

Reading the books about Proust was like getting the pain-killer at the dentist's, without having the dentist present, without in fact having anything wrong with my teeth - sort of like 'Marcel Proust for Idiots,' which really means for readers who think life is short and Proust's 'A la Recherche du Temps Perdu' might be a bit overlong, if one can get past the early pages about trying to fall asleep.

The park was full of babysitters and mothers with their kids racing all over or quietly shovelling away in a sandbox and many other people of all ages were sitting on the hard benches, and hard they were, out in the air with a blue sky getting cloudier overhead, and with the noise of cars from the Avenue du Maine and the merry-go-round over by it, and from somewhere behind I thought I could hear the sound of a dance class in a gymnasium which must have its windows open.

Perhaps because reading in a park was unfamiliar to me, or the bench was hard, or because there were pigeons scooting around at the edges of my vision, I found it difficult at first to concentrate. I was expecting the text to be difficult, with endless 500-word paragraphs, and it had these too, but in fact it is quite simple. The first paragraph had only 17 words and I think this may have thrown me off.

Here I take a pause. I have forgotten that I still have to get some fruit and outside the clouds have moved aside to let the afternoon sun light up my sidewalk again. On the avenue, where people are coming from the métro exit and the shop near it, carrying bags of food or other articles, I can't help wondering how many of them are thinking about Marcel Proust right now. I don't know why I don't include all of Paris rather than just this avenue, and only the part of it between my street and the métro exit.

In the fruit shop, after I wonder how one goes about opening a pineapple, and touch a pointy part of one, it occurs to me that Proust is unlikely to have ever stood in line waiting to pay for oranges and bananas, and if he did, he probably did not wonder about pineapples. I might be wrong because a lady several customers in front of me, has absentmindedly startingphoto: entry gate, monceau marching out of the place with her orange plastic bags full of fruit, and has come up short, remembering that she hasn't paid. Was she thinking about Proust? Is everybody thinking about Proust more or less all the time?

The gates to Proust's paradise, are now the entry to the Parc Monceau.

Considering how Proust has changed my life after so much of it, in such a short time, so recently, I had better get on with this review so you can have yours changed too. You may have put this off as long or longer than I have, and for all I know neither of us has a lot of time to waste. On the other hand, you may be content with yours as it is, and if so, read no further.

Marcel Proust's collection of stories 'Pleasures and Days' was first published by Calmann-Lévy in 1896, with an preface by Anatole France, that Proust had cleverly arranged to have also appear on the front pages of two Paris dailies on the day of the book's publication. This was exceptionally good publicity for the 24 year-old writer, but the book was overpriced as a deluxe edition and sold hardly any copies, despite being illustrated by a society painter and containing musical settings for some of the poems in it.

Lack of commercial success did not deter this young writer, who calmly whiled away 13 years of time with writing, before seeing his second book published - the first installment of what would be 'A la Recherche du Temps Perdu,' or, as it is now generally known in English, 'In Search of Lost Time' - formerly called 'Remembrance of Things Past' - which would be completed - before his death in 1922, somewhat before the first publication in 1927, of the seventh and last volume.

'Pleasures and Days' is not a prologue to the later work - it is more like a sketch of what is yet to come in full. Characters and attitudes begun in the first book gain depth and amplification - such the 17 pages describing falling asleep in 'Swann's Way,' which puts less than fanatically determined readers peacefully to sleep around page 50.

Still, 'Musical Tastes' is a sample of time to come from 'Pleasures and Days.' "Already disgusted with bicycles and paintings, Bouvard and Pécuchet now seriously took up music. But, although the everlasting champion of tradition and order, Pécuchet let himself be hailed as the utmost enthusiast of off-color songs and 'Le Domino noir;' on the other hand, Bouvard, a revolutionary if ever there was one, turned out to be - it mustphoto: romantique monceau be admitted - a resolute Wagnerian. Truth to tell, he had never laid eyes on a score by the 'Berlin brawler' (as he was cruelly nicknamed by Pécuchet, always patriotic and uninformed); after all, one cannot hear Wagner's scores in France, where the Conservatory is dying of its own routine, between Colonne, who babbles, and Lamoureux, who spells out everything; nor were those scores played in Munich, which did not maintain tradition, or in Bayreuth, which had been unendurably contaminated by snobs. It was nonsense to play a Wagnerian score on the piano; the theatrical illusion was necessary, as were the lowering of the orchestra and the darkness of the auditorium. Nevertheless, the prelude to 'Parisifal,' ready to dumbfound visitors, was perpetually open on the music stand of Bouvard's piano, between the photographs of César Franck's penholder and Botticelli's 'Primavera.'"

How lucky for us then, to have this new edition of 'Pleasures and Days!' Not only is it the first in 50 years, is also contains all of Proust's short stories - some with long paragraphs - including six additional ones that were not in the original volume. Including the original preface, this new version of 'Pleasures and Days' totals a mere 200 pages.

Joachim Neugroschel is responsible for the new and supple translation, and writes a bit about the relationship between Proust and the 'Mythology of Paris.' Proust never bothered much with describing physical Paris during the Belle Epoque, but he certainly included visual details of dress, the notion of sounds, tastes and scents and the sensations of decadence, sexual confusion, amorous adventures and follies. Beyond Proust's attention to the 'aristocratic cosmos' of Paris at the time, there was indifference.

The book also contains a forward by Roger Shattuck, who wrote 'Proust's Way: A Field Guide to 'In Search of Lost Time.' His 'Marcel Proust' won the National Book Award in 1974.

As a co-incidence - which are certainly alive and well in Paris - would have it, what I have begun on Tuesday has turned intophoto: willow, pond, monceau 'Bloomsday' on Saturday. Thus, without resorting to some devious literary slight-of-hand, but the help of Richard Ellman's biography of Joyce, I can tell you about the sole meeting between the French language's premier 20th century novelist and the equivalent for the English language, James Joyce.

Still in the 'romantic' Parc Monceau - did Marcel carefully observe his fellows here?

On Thursday, 18. May 1922 James Joyce was invited by Sydney Schiff to a supper party for Stravinsky and Diaghilev after a premier performance of one of their ballets. Joyce arrived late and had a few drinks to cover his embarrassment at not having evening clothes. Marcel Proust arrived at the affair wearing a fur coat, on a rare outing, and was seated next to Joyce.

William Carlos Williams is supposed to have noted the conversation between the two authors. Joyce said, "I've headaches every day. My eyes are terrible."

"My poor stomach," Proust said, "What am I going to do? It's killing me. In fact, I must leave at once."

Joyce replied, "I'm in the same situation. If I can find someone to take me by the arm. Goodbye."

"'Charmé,'" Proust said, adding, "Oh, my stomach!"

Joyce later told Arthur Power that Proust asked him if he liked truffles and Joyce had said he did. He also told Jacques Mercanton, "Proust would only talk of duchesses, while I was more concerned with their chambermaids."

There seem to be a lot of versions to this meeting. Joyce told someone else, "Our talk consisted solely of the word 'No.' Proust asked me if I knew the Duc do So-and-so. I said, 'No.' Mrs Schiff asked Proust if he had read such and such piece of 'Ulysses.'

Proust said, "No."

At the end of October, Joyce wrote to Sylvia Beach about corrections to 'Ulysses' and added that he had read, on Mrs Schiff's recommendation, the first two volumes of 'A la Recherche des Ombrellescover: complete short storis of marcel proust Perdues par Plusieurs Jeunes Filles en Fleurs de Côté de chez Swann et Gomorrhée et Co. par Marcelle Proyce et James Joust.'

Marcel Proust died on Saturday, 18. November 1922 and James Joyce attended his funeral.

'The Complete Short Stories of Marcel Proust,' complied and translated by Joachim Neugroschel, with a foreword by Roger Shattuck. Published in 2001 by Cooper Square Press, New York City. ISBN 0-8154-1136-7. Available at bookstores and online book sellers.

Au Temps de Marcel Proust - is the title of a coming exhibition, featuring the collection of F.G. Seligmann, scheduled from 17. October to 20. January 2002, to be held at the Musée Carnavalet / Histoire de Paris.

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