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Monday, April 26, 2010

This Thing with Proust

This Thing with Proust

If My Dead Husband were here, wearing his red cashmere sweater and propped on an elbow reading Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples (for the third time), he would scoff at me and the thing with Proust.  Rather, he would pretend to scoff and be secretly proud of me.  He would laugh and say my quest for the works of Marcel stemmed from my need to find a genre in which I need not have a plot at all if I didn’t want one.  

I don’t think that’s right.  I don’t know why I am doing this.  Maybe it’s because of Elaine Hughes, a writer and teacher of writers who went to high school at the same time as Clint.  (They even had a few dates).  He attended a Brothers of the Sacred Heart school, while she attended the public school in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  I met this tiny and loving and talented woman in 1994, when she and Clint were united on one of our trips to that dreary town.  She had been living in Manhattan for years, teaching at Nassau Community College.  She died of breast cancer seven years later, but during the time we had, we formed a bond around our mutual love for Clint and of a love for words and writing. She was one of the best friends I ever had.

She begged me to restart my long abandoned journal and to read Madame Bovery and Proust.  I immediately restarted my journal and have continued to write in it to this day - except for the two months after Clint died when I couldn’t write a single word, the pain of reliving his death too much for me to bear.

“Which Proust?” I wanted to know.

“Why, A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, of course”

“All of it?.”

“All of it.”

So, 16 years later, I have finished Madame Bovary (I’ll make another post of that). and am reading only Proust and - on the side - NIN.  To be totally honest, I am not reading Proust.  He is being read to me by an outstanding narrator and routed through my iPod and into my ears via a hot pink set of ear buds.  I am really reading NIN for myself - A Spy in the House of Love - for the second time.  I love it.

Yesterday, I finished Swann’s Way, and today I will begin to listen to Within a Budding Grove, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower.  I’m saving it for dessert after I work on some poems and write this post.

I love the flowery prose, the descriptions of the caste system in France at the time.  (I believe all societies have caste systems, even today).  I love Proust’s use of the involuntary memory, perhaps because it so often happens to me.  It’s the source of many of my poems.  I find the descriptions of persons and their attire and of their habits fascinating.  The characters are drawn so skillfully as to seem real and plastic all the same.   Charles Swann is a friend of the narrator's family, and he is ostracized from much of high society for marrying "beneath" himself and for his political views.

The narrator, whose identity is carefully undisclosed in the book, is widely believed to have been Proust himself, is a whiney mama’s boy who fancies a desire to be a writer.  So far, he has only read dozens of books and wandered in the garden and taken long walks with his parents around their country home in Cambray.  His pathological attachment to his mother is  disturbing to a great degree, but I find his love for flowers and plants appealing.  I don’t know whether I have ever seen a Hawthorne bush, a plant of which he was particularly enamored, but I am now planning to put at least one in my own little garden.

I aready have a psychiatrist and a therapist, thank God. 

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