Marcel Proust

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Marcel Proust
Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust
BirthplaceAuteuil, France
Novelist, essayist, critic

Proust, Marcel

(märsĕl` pro͞ost), 1871–1922, French novelist, b. Paris. He is one of the great literary figures of the modern age. Born to wealthy bourgeois parents, he suffered delicate health as a child and was carefully ministered to by his mother. As a young man he ambitiously mingled in high Parisian society and wrote his rather unpromising first work, Les Plaisirs et les jours (1896; tr. Pleasures and Regrets, 1948; new tr. Pleasures and Days, 1957). Troubled by asthma and neuroses, as well as by the deaths of his parents, he increasingly withdrew from external life and after 1907 lived mainly in a cork-lined room, working at night on his monumental cyclic novel, À la recherche du temps perdu (16 vol., 1913–27; tr. Remembrance of Things Past, 1922–32, rev. tr. In Search of Lost Time, 1992; new tr. 2002).

The first of the novel cycle, Du côté de chez Swann (1913, tr. Swann's Way, 1928) went unnoticed, but the second, À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (1919, tr. Within a Budding Grove, 1919), was awarded the Goncourt Prize. Proust's semiautobiographical novel cycle is superficially concerned with its hero's development through childhood and through youthful love affairs to the point of commitment to literary endeavor. It is less a story than an interior monologue. Discursive, but alive with brilliant metaphor and sense imagery, the work is rich in psychological, philosophical, and sociological understanding. A vital theme is the link between external and internal reality found in time and memory, to which Proust sees humanity's strivings subjugated—time mocks the individual's intelligence and endeavors; memory synthesizes yet distorts past experience. Most experience causes inner pain, and the objects of human desires are the chief causes of their suffering.

In Proust's scheme the individual is isolated, society is false and ruled by snobbery, and artistic endeavor is raised to a religion and is superior to nature. Only through the vision gained in works of art can the individual see beyond his or her subjective experience. Proust's ability to interpret innermost experience in terms of such eternal forces as time and death created a profound and protean world view and his work has influenced generations of novelists and thinkers. His vision and technique have come to be seen as vital to the development of modernism. Most of his correspondence has been published (21 vol., P. Kolb, ed., 1970–93), as has his draft of an early novel, Jean Santeuil (1952, tr. 1955), and Contre Sainte-Beuve (1954, tr. On Art and Literature, 1896–1919, 1958).


See biographies by A. Maurois (1950, repr. 1984), R. H. Barker (1958), G. D. Painter (2 vol., 1959–65), L. Bersani (1965), G. Brée (1966), R. Hayman (1990), J.-Y. Tadié (1996, tr. 2000), E. White (1998), and W. C. Carter (2000); studies by W. S. Bell (1962), P. Quennell (1971), S. L. Wolitz (1971), G. Deleuze (1972), J. M. Cocking (1982), B. J. Bucknall, ed. (1987), A. Compagnon (1992), J. Kristeva (1996), R. Shattuck (2000), and A. Muhlstein (2012).

Proust, Marcel


Born July 10, 1871, in Paris; died there Nov. 18, 1922. French writer.

The son of a physician, Proust studied at the law faculty of the Sorbonne. In 1896 he published the collection of short stories Pleasures and Regrets. From 1900 to 1913 he was in charge of the society section of the newspaper Le Figaro.

Proust’s chief work is the cycle Remembrance of Things Past (vols. 1–16, 1913–27; last six volumes published posthumously), consisting of seven novels. The narrator of the cycle is the sickly and idle scion of a rich bourgeois family who from youth had been received in aristocratic circles. The worst ordeal he undergoes is his tormented love for Albertine, who arouses in him a jealous passion. The narrator is genuinely interested in literature and art, but his own prolonged creative efforts are fruitless. Only in the last novel of the cycle—Time Recaptured— does he begin writing a novel about his own life, for he is convinced that only creative work based on intuition can give meaning to human existence and to “lost time.” Many episodes in Proust’s novels concentrate on subjective perception of space and time and especially on involuntary memory; the narrator’s inner life is conveyed as a stream of consciousness.

Proust attempted to depict the unreliability and relativeness of a person’s concepts of himself, the world, and society and to reveal the instability of society itself. His creative method is that of impressionism, within whose boundaries he engages in social criticism and creates realistic and authentic human figures. Among such figures are remarkable aristocratic and bourgeois types: the Baron de Charlus, the Guermantes, Swann, and the Verdurins. Proust’s works have influenced many 20th-century Western European writers.


In Russian translation:
Sobr. soch.: V poiskakh za utrachennym vremenem. Foreword by A. V. Lunacharskii [vol. 1]. Introductory article by N. Rykova [vol. 3], vols. 1–4. Leningrad, 1934–38.
Po napravleniiu k Svanu. [Translated by N. Liubimov; foreword by B. Suchkov.] Moscow, 1973.


Reikh, B. “Marsel’ Prust.” Pechat’i revoliutsiia, 1927, no. 8.
Voronskii, A. “Marsel’ Prust.” In Pereval. Moscow-Leningrad, 1928, collection 6.
Tolmachev, M. V. “Marsel’ Prust: V poiskakh utrachennogo vremeni.” VIMK, 1961 [no.] 6 (30).
Andreev, L. G. M. Prust. Moscow, 1968.
Dneprov, V. “Iskusstvo M. Prusta.” Inostrannaia literatura, 1973, no. 4.
Bonnet, H. Le Progrès spirituel dans l’oeuvre de M. Proust [vols. 1–2]. Paris, 1946–49. (Contains bibliography.)
Picon, G. Lecture de Proust. [Paris, 1968.]
Kopp, R. L. Marcel Proust as a Social Critic. Rutherford, N. J. [1971].
Marcel Proust: 1871–1922. A Centennial Volume. Edited by P. Quennell. New York[1971].
Tadié, J.-Y. Proust et le roman. [Paris, 1971.]
Vial, A. Proust. Paris, 1971.
Borel, J. M. Proust. [Paris, 1972.] (Contains bibliography.)
Marcel Proust: A Critical Panorama. Urbana, III. [1973].


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