Places: Remembrance of Things Past

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: À la recherche du temps perdu, 1913-1927 (English translation, 1922-1931, 1981): Du côté de chez Swann, 1913 (Swann’s Way, 1922); À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, 1919 (Within a Budding Grove, 1924); Le Côté de Guermantes, 1920-1921 (The Guermantes Way, 1925); Sodome et Gomorrhe, 1922 (Cities of the Plain, 1927); La Prisonnière, 1925 (The Captive, 1929); Albertine disparue, 1925 (The Sweet Cheat Gone, 1930); Le Temps retrouvé, 1927 (Time Regained, 1931)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Paris

*Paris. Remembrance of Things PastFrance’s capital city, in which Marcel is reared in an upper-middle-class family within the best part of central Paris. Much of the action of the novels takes place in the apartments, palaces, parks, hotels, and restaurants exclusive to the important members of Paris society. This society is ruled by the remnants of the former French aristocracy, still living with considerable splendor in their elegant apartments in the Faurboug Saint-Germain, an old, fashionable district on the left side of the River Seine in central Paris.

Verdurin salon

Verdurin salon (VEHR-duhr-ihn). Gathering place hosted by Madame Verdurin, a rich social climber of no consequence who accumulates a dubious group of people in her expensive home for regular soirées. The Verdurins represent the second-rate society world, on the edge of the smartest Paris hierarchy. Madame Verdurin’s guests are a mixed bag of the newly rich; young gentlemen looking for a good time, often slumming with people of lesser social position; professional men of some repute but socially unimportant; young artists, musicians, and the occasional fashionable prostitute. Marcel occasionally visits the Verdurins, associating below his station. A silly, vindictive, stupid woman, Madame Verdurin represents in her salon the vulgarity of the bourgeoisie. However, she manages in the long run of life to ascend, because of her wealth (after the death of her equally vulgar husband), and marry an aristocrat, with whom she enters the salons of the nobility.

*Champs-Elysees Garden

*Champs-Elysees Garden (shahn-zay-leh-ZAY). Park in the center of Paris where Marcel plays as a child and where he becomes a friend of Gilberte, the daughter of Swann and Odette. This relationship, innocent and natural in its beginning, establishes a pattern of conduct in Marcel which is to be repeated over and over in his involvement with women. The edenic surroundings and the unaffected attraction of the children to each other gradually sours as Marcel becomes obsessively possessive and jealous and finally refuses to have anything more to do with Odette. The park is also a common meeting place for the adult lovers in the novel.

Combray

Combray. Small French town, based on Illiers, a real town southwest of Paris, near the cathedral city of Chartres. (The real town is now known as Illiers-Combray because of the fame of Proust’s novel.) Swann’s Way, the first volume of Proust’s series of books, begins with Marcel remembering an incident of childish willfulness that occurred while he was still a young child staying with his parents at his great-aunt Leonie’s home in the country, and the ruminative course of the entire novel is set with that story. Combray is a place of childhood pleasure for Marcel, and there is an aura of simple, rural religious belief in the landscape over which the church towers of the town and surrounding villages rise. It is here that Marcel for the first time sees Gilberte, Swann’s daughter, who will later become the first love of his life.

The town also represents two of the major social groups in the novel; the paths in the village lead to two separate aspects of French society: the Guermantes Way passes the château of the Duke of Guermantes, Combray’s ancient aristocratic family, and Swann’s Way passes the great house and park of Swann, a popular Parisian playboy.

Balbec

Balbec. Fictional version of the summer resorts on France’s Normandy coast–such as Dieppe, Trouville, and Cabourg–where Proust spent his summer months during his teens. Here Marcel first responds to the mysteries of sexual desire and watches at close hand the ways in which high society and the remnants of the aristocracy come into sometimes intimate and sometimes improper contact with one another, and occasionally with members of the servant class–another thematic interest in the work.

Also at Balbec, Marcel begins his personal connections with the aristocracy through his grandmother, a familiar of some of the older nobility. Robert de Saint Loup, an aristocrat, becomes his closest friend and is ultimately to marry Swann’s daughter, an example of the theme of the crossing relations of high society (here at its most questionable, given that Gilberte’s mother was a prostitute and her father a Jew). Two further thematic lines are also developed: Marcel’s relations to women start here with a group of young girls whom he admires; one, Albertine, is to become his first adult love.

BibliographyDeleuze, Gilles. Proust and Signs. Translated by Richard Howard. New York: George Braziller, 1972. Deleuze’s landmark reading of Proust depicts the work as a search in which the disillusioned narrator learns to decode and discard the signs of worldliness and the signs of love, concluding that only the signs of art offer a kind of fulfillment that can withstand the corrosive force of time.De Man, Paul. Allegories of Reading. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979. Uses Proust to manifest the uncertainty of meaning by documenting the disjunction between grammar and rhetoric in the work.Genette, Gérard. “Proust Palimpsest” and “Proust and Indirect Language.” In Figures in Literary Discourse, translated by Alan Sheridan. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell, 1982. A classic analysis of Proust’s use of figurative devices in general and of metaphor in particular.Hill, Leslie. “Proust and the Art of Reading.” Comparative Criticism 2 (1980): 167-185. Uses Proust’s text to test the reader response theories of Roland Barthes, who posits a new kind of reader in the aftermath of the death of the author. Hill’s work is the definitive article on reader response theory and Proust.Kristeva, Julia. Proust and the Sense of Time. Translated by Stephen Bann. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993. Kristeva’s insightful reading is grounded in an investigation of the genesis of meaning. She traces the successive stages of subjectivity through which Proust’s narrator passes.
Categories: Places