Catherine Colomb’s Vision of Time: In Dialogue with Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf

by Tamar Barbakadze (Author)
©2022 Thesis 288 Pages
Open Access


This monograph is the first substantial contribution to the study of the Swiss novelist Catherine Colomb’s dialogue with Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf as well as to time and memory studies. The framework and approach devised to examine Colomb’s oeuvre contribute to unravelling some of its complexities, not only in its curving style, ephemeral, and sequence-defying narrative, but also in its literary engagement with the science and philosophy that shaped modernity and proposed new ways of thinking time, knowledge, and the human experience. This thesis ultimately allows us to gain insight into the originality of Colombian time experience, memory, and point-of-view representations, transcending the alleged influence of her iconic predecessors.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • I. Time and Narrative in Châteaux En Enfance
  • 1.1 Introduction
  • 1.2 Review of studies on narrative and time in Colomb
  • 1.3 Colomb’s experimentations with the temporal and narrative modes
  • The use of verbal tense
  • The ‘crisis’ of Colomb’s novel
  • 1.3.1 The mechanism of ‘liaison’
  • 1.3.2 Characters
  • 1.3.3 Point of view
  • 1.3.4 Repetition and time
  • 1.4 The old and new narrative formulas: Colomb’s two modes of writing
  • II. The Aesthetics of Time & the Poetics of Memory in Colomb: in Dialogue With Proust
  • 2.1 Introduction
  • 2.2 Review of studies on time and memory in Proust
  • 2.3 Colomb and Proust: The novelists of memory
  • 2.4 Associationism vs. reminiscences
  • 2.5 Definition of terms
  • 2.5.1 Association
  • 2.5.2 Reminiscence
  • 2.6 Colomb’s associationism
  • 2.7 Colomb’s associations vs. Proust’s reminiscences
  • III. The Aesthetics of time & The Poetics of perception in Colomb: in dialogue with Woolf
  • 3.1 Introduction
  • 3.2 Current state of research
  • 3.3 ‘Stream of consciousness’ – definition of concept
  • 3.4 Interrupted consciousness vs. consciousness as a stream
  • 3.5 The aesthetics of enunciation
  • 3.5.1 Style indirect libre – definition of concept
  • 3.5.2 The aesthetics of enunciation in Colomb and Woolf
  • 3.6 The ‘roman poétique’ by Catherine Colomb
  • 3.7 Simultaneity of multiple time frames
  • 3.8 A story within Colomb’s leitmotif & Woolf’s ‘moment’
  • 3.8.1 Colomb’s leitmotif
  • 3.8.2 Woolf’s ‘moment’
  • IV. Time in Colomb, Proust & Woolf: In Dialogue with the Air Du Temps
  • 4.1 Introduction: modernist time
  • 4.2 Proust and Bergson
  • 4.3 Proust and Einstein
  • 4.4 Woolf’s negotiations with Russell, Fry & Einstein
  • 4.5 Colomb’s negotiations with Bergson & Einstein
  • 4.6 Colomb’s and Proust’s search of the original contact with the world. Darwinism? Bersonism?
  • 4.6.1 The Merovingians: Legendary times
  • 4.6.2 The body as an actualization of the durée
  • 4.6.3 The Durée of Experience
  • 4.7 Modern physics and Colomb’s and Woolf’s weaving a ‘web of time’ in the perceived and unperceived worlds
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography

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My heartfelt thanks to Professor Gilles Philippe for his invaluable and unparalleled supervision; he has kindly agreed to follow the development of my doctoral thesis in its middle phase. His exceptional guidance and encouragement were precious for seeing this project through to the end. I am grateful to Professor Peter Schnyder, who first introduced me to the work of Catherine Colomb during my master’s years at the Université de Haute-Alsace. I would also like to thank Professor Valérie Cossy for her supervision and helpful comments on the manuscript at an early stage of my doctoral studies. I have been writing this thesis in the memory of my grandmother, the poet Tamar Makhatadze and my teachers Maro Dzneladze, Lamara Amirgulova and Prof. Ramaz Tchilaia who have inspired my passion for art and literature since my early years as a student.

I am deeply grateful to the Jury members: Dr. Sara Sullam, Professor Jérôme David, and Dr. Ilaria Vidotto, for reading my manuscript in its final stage; their valuable expertise and suggestions stimulated me to better my research work.

My thanks to Professor Ekaterina Velmezova for dealing with the range of issues that arose throughout my thesis work and for acting as the chairperson of the public thesis defense. I am equally grateful to Professor Christine Le Quellec and Dr. Cyrille François for generously accepting to act as the Faculty experts.

I gratefully acknowledge the Federal Commission for Scholarships, Erna Hamburger Foundation, and the Société Académique Vaudoise, which offered research funding for this project. My thanks to the Centre for Research in French-Swiss Literature for authorizing me to read the unpublished work on and by Catherine Colomb.

Finally, my thanks to Aline Pedrazzini, Camille Schaer, and Sämi Ludwig for their helpful comments on the manuscript and Suzanne Jakimovski, Armel Kemajou, Teona Kurtsikashvili, Natela Avtandilova, Jana Konstantinova, Bobana Zuvic, Steffen Frank, and Younès Mouhib for advice and encouragement throughout. My special thanks to my mother Dali, my father Otari, and my brother Beka for their support and childcare, and my son Sergio for not minding the many days spent without him to work on this thesis.

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A Room of One’s Own (1929) by Virginia Woolf. (London: Penguin Books, 2004.)


Châteaux en enfance (1945) by Catherine Colomb, in TCC (2019: 723–909.)


The Diary of Virginia Woolf (1915–1941), (ed.) Anne Olivier Bell. 5 vols. (London: The Hogarth Press, 1977–1984.) Vol. 1, 2 & 3.


Les Esprits de la Terre (1953) by Catherine Colomb, in TCC (2019: 949–1108.)


Suzanne Pérusset’s interview with Catherine Colomb for the radio program ‘Semaine littéraire’ (1962), ‘Catherine Colomb, Personnages comme sortis du brouillard’. Broadcasted on RTS (3 April 2018).


The Letters of Marion Reymond Colomb to Lady Ottoline Morrell. A manuscript from Ottoline Morrell Collection 1882–1946. Colomb, Marion Reymond, (in French) 1913–1927. Held by Harry Ransom Center, the University of Texas at Austin.

La Recherche

References to À la recherche du temps perdu are to the Pléiade edition in four volumes, edited by Jean-Yves Tadié (Paris: Gallimard, 1987–1989). In the text, a roman numeral indicates the volume.


Mrs Dalloway (1925) by Virginia Woolf. (London, Paris: Albatros, 1947.)


English translations are taken from: I. Remembrance of Things Past, tr. C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin. Vol. 1. (New York: Vintage books – Random House, 1982.); II. The Guermantes Way. Translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff. New York: The Modern Library, 1925; III. Sodom and Gomorrah. Translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin. Revised by D. J. Enright. New York: The Modern Library, 1993; IV. Time Regained, tr. Stephen Hudson. London: Chatto & Windus, 1931.

The Spirits

Les Esprits de la Terre | The Spirits of the Earth, tr. John Taylor. (London, New York, Calcutta: Seagull Books, 2016.)


The complete works by Catherine Colomb: Tout Catherine Colomb, (ed.) Daniel Maggetti. (Genève: Zoé, 2019.)


Le Temps des Anges (1962). By Catherine Colomb, in TCC (2019: 1137–1317.)


To the Lighthouse (1927) by Virginia Woolf. (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1992).

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In her 1962 radio interview for the ‘Sémaine littéraire’, the Swiss-French writer Catherine Colomb (1892–1965) highlighted her fascination with the question of time which influenced her thought and aesthetic choices throughout her writing career: ‘It’s very important to me, time, the problem of time, which I have never been able to solve, of course, but it haunts me, it’s kind of a mystery to me’.1 [‘C’est très important chez moi, le temps, le problème du temps, sans que je n’arrive jamais à le résoudre, bien entendu, mais il me hante, c’est pour moi une sorte de mystère’.] (I.) She believed that space was the ‘abode of the living’ and ‘time—the kingdom of the dead’.2 [‘L’espace, séjour des vivants, le temps, empire des morts’.] (Colomb (2019 (1962): 1380)) The concern with the cosmic issue is explicit in her œuvre. Time is one of the dominant themes of her novels, at its best mirrored as an obstacle to understanding life and the world as well as non-linear and fugitive that no order can approximate. Only by diving into the rich world of memory may the problem of time be addressed. This ontological vertigo coinciding with the renewed perception of time by science and philosophy at the turn of the 20th century commands Colomb’s aesthetics. Her novels of memory take us to the heights and depths of what the human mind can conceive and represent time as a deep and complex reality. With their fragmented narratives unfolding on a vertical axis as in a poem, they open in the vertical world of imagination and metaphor and encourage self-reflection.

Colomb is best known for three novels, namely Châteaux en Enfance [Eng. Castles in Childhood] (1945), Les Esprits de la Terre [Eng. The Spirits of the Earth] (1953), and Le Temps des Anges [Eng. The Time of Angels] (1962). The manuscript of CE was submitted to a writing competition of Guilde du Livre. Colomb was awarded the ‘Prix du livre vaudois’ for her 1953 novel in 1956, and the ‘Prix Rambert’ for her 1962 novel which was originally published by ←13 | 14→Gallimard. She also wrote Des Noix sur un bâton in the 1930s (first published in TCC in 2019). Her first published novel Pile ou Face [Eng. Heads or Tails], originally entitled Trop de Mémoire [Eng. Too much Memory], appeared under the pen name Catherine Tissot at the Editions Victor Attinger in 1934. (TCC: 15) Her most recent novels Les Royaumes Combattants [Eng. The Fighting Realms] (entitled Les Malfilâtre in TCC) and La Valise [Eng. The Suitcase] were not quite finished when Colomb died in 1965.

Born in 1882, in Saint-Prex on the shore of Lake Geneva, Marie-Louise Colomb (her real name) spent most of her life in the canton of Vaud. In her youth, she stayed in Weimar, Potsdam, Paris, and England. Colomb studied literature at the University of Lausanne. Between 1911 and 1920 she published several articles, reviews, and fairy-tales in local journals including La Tribune de Lausanne and La Revue Romande. In 1918–1920, she worked on an unfinished doctoral thesis entitled ‘Béat-Louis de Muralt. Voyageur et fanatique’ at the University of Lausanne.

Colomb has never been a widely reviewed and studied author; however, there has been a growing interest in her life and work recently. Many have read her as ‘avant-gardist’ in the collection ‘Catherine Colomb: une avant-garde inaperçue’ (2017) or located her œuvre in the ‘real world’ by relating Colomb’s three major novels to the pre-war, the war, and the post-war experiences. (Geinoz 2019) Contemporary criticism has further focused on the elements of the ‘English novel’ in the novelistic prose of Colomb and few other Swiss Francophone female writers. (Schläpfer 2019) But none of these works compare Colomb’s vision of time to other authors’. Nor do they study her representations of memory—what early critics (such as Gustave Roud (1945, 1953, 1956), Philippe Jaccottet (1953), Georges Anex (1962), André Corboz (1962), Jean-Luc Seylaz (1972, 1973), and Pierre-André Rieben (1973)) tended to emphasize in Colomb’s writing. A more recent substantial study of Colomb’s 1945 novel CE by Lise Favre (1993) focuses on the mechanisms of memory. Yet, Favre pays little attention to the question of time and does not compare Colomb to other authors. How then might we grasp the significance of Colomb’s thought and style otherwise than by placing them in the literary context? Does not Colomb’s representation of time gain more meaning when discovered along with other novelists’ conception of time? The recent edition of her Complete Works (TCC) suggests that it does. This volume includes many of Colomb’s unpublished texts which hold the evidence of her literary engagement with the culture of her time.3

←14 | 15→A few critics point out affinities between the works of Colomb and Proust, Colomb and Woolf. Gustave Roud makes an interesting observation about the differences between Proust’s and Colomb’s views of time, suggesting that time is ‘the only winner’ in La Recherche and ‘entirely contained’ in ET. (1997 (1956): 59) Thereby, he holds that ‘a victory over time’ is achieved in Colomb. In their recent articles, Beryl Schlossman (2002) and Christophe Pradeau (2020) also relate Colomb’s and Proust’s uses of the lamp (or lantern) to the novelist’s art and the recollection of reading, respectively. Colomb and Woolf are brought close in the frameworks of gender (Cossy 2008) and formal innovations. (Tappy 1979; Kuratli 2007) José-Flore Tappy thinks the absence of a ‘linear and properly temporal perspective’ is the common point of Colomb’s and Woolf’s fiction, whereas the main difference lies in the representation of the characters’ thoughts. (1979: 66) Theres Kuratli suggests that the readers can tell who speaks or thinks in Woolf’s novels, but they cannot in Colomb’s. (2007: 39) These comparisons have been made only in passing. Yet, they are useful for this study and lead us to suggest that Colomb dialogues with both Proust and Woolf by her vision of time.

In this thesis, we want to study time by reading Catherine Colomb’s novels in dialogue with the writings of Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf, as the title suggests. This study incidentally aims, on the one hand, to point out the significance of Colomb’s œuvre in 20th-century literature next to Proust’s and Woolf’s fiction; on the other hand, to add to our knowledge of the questions of time, memory, and perception in the novelistic prose. Catherine Colomb read La Recherche many years before writing her novels, as we learn from the letters (now held by the University of Texas at Austin) that she wrote in 1913–1938 to her friend Lady Ottoline Morrell—a patron of the arts and an associate of the Bloomsbury Group. She expressed her admiration towards Proust’s talent in 1925. By that time, Colomb had read the first two volumes of La Recherche. She applauded Proust’s skills to describe the most unusual images and objects with high precision and could not think of any other writer with such lexical breadth and depth of thought:

Cette semaine, enfin, j’ai pu lire les deux premiers Proust que jusqu’ici je n’avais eu que fugitivement entre les mains. Je savais que je l’aimerais tant que je ne voulais le lire que lorsqu’il serait à moi. Il est encore plus admirable que mon rêve ! Quelle profondeur, et surtout quelle précision dans les termes pour décrire les choses les plus obscures ! Quelles images, non pas lyriques ou colorées seulement, mais exactement adaptées à l’objet qu’il leur compare ! Tous les autres écrivains, —par exemple et surtout Anatole France— sont superficiels à côté de lui, de pauvres mares à moitié desséchées à côté de l’océan.4 (L., 12 December 1925)

←15 | 16→Colomb’s letters mention Proust again two years later. She seems to have been deeply touched by the way Proust described the Narrator’s reaction to his grandmother’s death and pays tribute to his analysis of the nature of love and jealousy. But she shows less interest towards ‘these unnatural loves’:


ISBN (Softcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2022 (December)
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 288 pp.

Biographical notes

Tamar Barbakadze (Author)

Tamar Barbakadze has obtained her PhD in Arts at the University of Lausanne. She has published on the writings of Catherine Colomb, Virginia Woolf, and Marcel Proust. Her scholarly credentials in French and English draw on a range of questions including novelistic time, memory and perception, cultural trans


Title: Catherine Colomb’s Vision of Time: In Dialogue with Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf
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