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Meeting Marcel

Marcel Proust

Marcel Proust

It is always interesting to read one great writer’s judgment on another. Such was François Mauriac about his meeting in February 1918 with Marcel Proust:

He seemed rather small to me, stoopshouldered in his tight-fitting jacket, his thick black hair shadowing his pupils, dilated, it appears, by drugs. Stuffed into a very high collar, his starched shirtfront bulging like a breastbone, he cast on me a nocturnal eye whose intensity intimidated me.

At the end of the great first chapter in his book Proust’s Way, Mauriac pays homage to the brilliance of his colleague:

The integral history of a young life, of its loves, its friendships, its weaknesses, its intellectual or religious crises, offers the vast proportions of the history of the ideas and customs at a certain epoch as they are reflected in a single spirit. And a long old age would not be enough to complete the account or to exhaust its drama.

As I slowly wend my way through A la recherche du temps perdu—for the third time—I can vouch for that. I will never be finished with his intense vision of the life of one particular individual and his milieu some century and a quarter ago in a distant European country.