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Monsieur Proust's Libraryby Anka Muhlstein
Synopses & Reviews
Reading was so important to Marcel Proust that it sometimes seems he was unable to create a fictional personage without a book in hand. Two hundred of his creatures inhabit his fictional world, and sixty writers hover over them. These writers--among them various classical authors of the seventeenth century such as Mme de Sévigné the letter-writer, Racine the playwright, Saint-Simon the memoirist, and novelists and poets of the nineteenth century, including Balzac, Baudelaire and Dostoevsky--are not there for show; their works play an active role in the construction of In Search of Lost Time.
A life without books was inconceivable for Proust. Not surprisingly, he made literary taste and reading habits a primary means of defining his characters. Everybody in the novel reads: servants and masters, children, parents and grandparents, artists and physicians, and even generals. Conversations at dinner tables and among friends are mostly literary. The more sophisticated characters find it natural to speak in quotations, and quoting from memory is much appreciated in the narrator's family--his grandmother, grandfather, and mother all excel at this pastime.
Literature is omnipresent in Proust's work but takes many different forms. It may be straightforward when it comes to the books read by the narrator and other characters; it may be a tool used to define the personality of a personage, a clue to hidden traits of character, or a comical ploy when quotations are taken out of context or when turns of speech are directly inspired by classical writers.
In this wonderfully entertaining book, scholar and biographer Anka Muhlstein, the author of Balzac's Omelette, draws out these themes in Proust's work and life, thus providing an indispensable introduction to his long and intricate novel.
More Praise for Balzac's Omelette:
"Original, delectable, and entirely readable." --Washington Post
"Scholarly yet escapist . . . irresistible." --Daily Beast
"Balzac's Omelette . . . is a charming and modest little book." --New York Review of Books
"What was Proust reading? In this set of essays about the library of the author of In Search of Lost Time, Muhlstein (Balzac's Omelette: A Delicious Tour of French Food and Culture with Honoré de Balzac) wonders why 'Proust seemed incapable of creating a character without putting a book in his hands,' and how investigating some of the writer's literary touchstones might help us to better understand his oeuvre. Ferreting out all the textual sources and influences of the man who had 'read everything and forgot nothing' would be a Herculean task; Muhlstein recognizes this. Her study limits itself to what she sees as the formative texts of Proust's childhood: Saint-Simon, Racine, Balzac, Thierry, Chateaubriand, de Nerval, Baudelaire, the Goncourts. She also makes the case that the work of John Ruskin is a significant and underappreciated presence in Proust's fiction. Muhlstein offers some deft intertextual readings (The chapter entitled 'A homosexual reader: Baron de Charlus' offers a marvelous insight about how Proust takes up the Balzac-ian theme of 'cruelty of children towards their parents.') but sometimes the breadth of the subject makes Muhlstein's slim volume seem more like a frenetic catalogue of proper names than a thematically coherent exegesis. (Nov.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Reading was so important to Marcel Proust that it sometimes seems he was unable to create a personage without a book in hand. Everybody in his work reads: servants and masters, children and parents, artists and physicians. The more sophisticated characters find it natural to speak in quotations. Proust made literary taste a means of defining personalities and gave literature an actual role to play in his novels.
In this wonderfully entertaining book, scholar and biographer Anka Muhlstein, the author of Balzac’s Omelette, draws out these themes in Proust's work and life, thus providing not only a friendly introduction to the momentous In Search of Lost Time, but also exciting highlights of some of the finest work in French literature.
About the Author
Anka Muhlstein was born in Paris in 1935. Muhlstein has published biographies of Queen Victoria, James de Rothschild, Cavelier de La Salle, and Astolphe de Custine; studies on Catherine de Médicis, Marie de Médicis, and Anne of Austria; a double biography, Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart; and most recently, Balzac’s Omelette (Other Press). She has won two prizes from the Académie française and the Goncourt Prize for Biography. She and her husband, Louis Begley, have written a book on Venice, Venice for Lovers. They live in New York City.
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