French Novelist, Critic and Essayist
Marcel Proust, fully Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust
French Novelist, Critic and Essayist
The opinions which we hold of one another, our relations with friends and kinfolk are in no sense permanent, save in appearance, but are as eternally fluid as the sea itself.
The seaside life and the life of travel made me realize that the theatre of the world is stocked with fewer settings than actors, and with fewer actors than situations.
The truth, even more, is that life is perpetually weaving fresh threads which link one individual and one event to another, and that these threads are crossed and re-crossed, doubled and redoubled to thicken the web, so that between any slightest point of our past and all the others a rich network of memories gives us an almost infinite variety of communicating paths to choose from.
There are things in our souls which we know not how much they mean to us. Or rather, if we live without them, it is because, either through fear of failing or suffering, we daily postpone the moment of coming under their thrall.
They buried him, but all through the night of mourning, in the lighted windows, his books arranged three by three kept watch like angels with outspread wings and seemed for him who was no more; the symbol of his resurrection
Through art alone are we able to emerge from ourselves, to know what another person sees of a universe which is not the same as our own and of which, without art, the landscapes would remain as unknown to us as those that may exist on the moon. Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world only, our own, we see that world multiply itself and we have at our disposal as many worlds as there are original artists, worlds more different one from the other than those which revolve in infinite space, worlds which, centuries after the extinction of the fire from which their light first emanated, whether it is called Rembrandt or Vermeer, send us still each one its special radiance.
The heart changes, and it is our worst sorrow; but we know it only through reading, through our imagination: in reality its alteration, like that of certain natural phenomena, is so gradual that, even if we are able to distinguish, successively, each of its different states, we are still spared the actual sensation of change.
The heart changes...but we learn of it only from reading or by imagination; for in reality its alteration, like that of certain natural phenomena, is so gradual that, even if we are able to distinguish, successively, each of its different states, we are still spared the actual sensation of change.
The highest praise of God consists in the denial of him by the atheist who finds creation so perfect that it can dispense with a creator.
The idea that one will die is more painful than dying, but less painful than the idea that another person is dead, that, becoming once more a still, plane surface after having engulfed a person, a reality extends, without even a ripple at the point of disappearance from which that person is excluded, in which there no longer exists any will, any knowledge, and from which it is as difficult to re-ascend to the idea that that person has lived as, from the still recent memory of his life, it is to think that he is comparable with the insubstantial images, the memories, left us by the characters in a novel we have been reading.
The immediate possibility of a reconciliation had suppressed in me that faculty the immense importance of which we are apt to overlook: the faculty of resignation. Neurasthenics find it impossible to believe the friends who assure them that they will gradually recover their peace of mind if they will stay in bed and receive no letters, read no newspapers. They imagine that such a course will only exasperate their twitching nerves. And similarly lovers, who look upon it from their enclosure in a contrary state of mind, who have not begun yet to make trial of it, are unable to believe in the healing power of renunciation.
The ineffable utterance of one solitary man, absent, perhaps dead (Swann did not know whether Vinteuil were still alive), breathed out above the rites of those two hierophants, sufficed to arrest the attention of three hundred minds, and made of that stage on which a soul was thus called into being one of the noblest altars on which a supernatural ceremony could be performed.
The facts of life do not penetrate to the sphere in which our beliefs are cherished; they did not engender those beliefs, and they are powerless to destroy them; they can inflict on them continual blows of contradiction and disproof without weakening them; and an avalanche of miseries and maladies succeeding one another without interruption in the bosom of a family will not make it lose faith in either the clemency of its God or the capacity of its physician.
The inertia of the mind urges it to slide down the easy slope of imagination, rather than to climb the steep slope of introspection.
The faithful burst out laughing and they suggested a band of cannibals in whom the sight of a wound on a white man's skin has aroused the thirst for blood. For the instinct of imitation and absence of courage govern society and the mob alike. And we all of us laugh at a person whom we see being made fun of, which does not prevent us from venerating him ten years later in a circle where he is admired. It is in like manner that the populace banishes or acclaims its kings.
The intellectual distinction of a house and its smartness are generally in inverse rather than direct ratio.
The features of our face are hardly more than gestures which force of habit made permanent. Nature, like the destruction of Pompeii, like the metamorphosis of a nymph into a tree, has arrested us in an accustomed movement.
The laborious process of causation which sooner or later will bring about every possible effect, including, consequently, those which one believed to be least possible, naturally slow at times, is rendered slower still by our desire (which in seeking to accelerate only obstructs it), by our very existence, and comes to fruition only when we have ceased to desire, and sometimes ceased to live.
The features of our face are hardly more than gestures which have become permanent.
The main narrative of La PrisonniŠre and Albertine Disparue--the flight to Paris, the captivity, the escape, the death, the Narrator's posthumous jealousy and slow oblivion--indubitably retells the true story of Proust's love for Agostinelli. Yet it is as certain as it is strange that the earliest plot of A la Recherche [written before Agostinelli's captivity, escape and death] followed a similar course... It is as though Proust imposed upon his love for Agostinelli the pre-existing pattern not only of his total previous experience of love in his own life, but of the climax of his novel. Agostinelli was conducted along the road to his tragic end by the ineluctable mechanism of a work of art... A la Recherche is a work consecrated by two human sacrifices, the deaths of Mme. Proust and Agostinelli, for which Proust himself, in his own mind and in fact, was partly responsible... 'When I juxtaposed the deaths of my grandmother and Albertine I felt that my life was defiled by a double murder', says the Narrator.
The field open to the musician is not a miserable stave of seven notes, but an immeasurable keyboard (still almost entirely unknown) on which, here and there only, separated by the thick darkness of its unexplored tracts, some few among the millions of keys of tenderness, of passion, of courage, of serenity, which compose it, each one differing from all the rest as one universe differs from another, have been discovered by a few great artists who do us the service, when they awaken in us the emotion corresponding to the theme they have discovered, of showing us what richness, what variety lies hidden, unknown to us, in that vast, unfathomed and forbidding night of our soul which we take to be an impenetrable void.
The man of genius, to shelter himself from the ignorant contempt of the world, may say to himself that, since one's contemporaries are incapable of the necessary detachment, works written for posterity should be read by posterity alone, like certain pictures which one cannot appreciate when one stands too close to them. But, as it happens, any such cowardly precaution to avoid false judgments is doomed to failure; they are inevitable. The reason for which a work of genius is not easily admired from the first is that the man who has created it is extraordinary, that few other men resemble him.
The first theme [of Remembrance of Things Past], then, is Time the Destroyer; the second, Memory the Preserver. But not just any kind of memory... If, by chance, someday, we can give to our memories the support of a sensation in the present, it will come to life again... Other writers had had an inkling of it (Chateaubriand, Nerval, Musset), but no writer until Proust had thought of making the complex, sensation-memory into the essential material of his work.
The memory of a particular image is but regret for a particular moment.
The Freudian equation of money and love was particularly strong in Proust: all his life he had expected and taken love and money from his parents, to spend on his friends.