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Au seuil de la modernité: Proust, Literature and the Arts

Essays in Memory of Richard Bales

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Edited By Nigel Harkness and Marion Schmid

This volume of essays, which is dedicated to the late Richard Bales, one of the doyens of Proust studies, considers Proust’s pivotal role at the threshold of modernity, between nineteenth- and twentieth-century forms of writing and thinking, between the Belle Epoque and the First World War, between tradition and innovation. More than just a temporal concept, this threshold is theorized in the volume as a liminal space where borders (geographical, artistic, personal) dissolve, where greater possibilities for artistic dialogue emerge, and where unexpected encounters (between artists, genres and disciplines) take place.
Working both backwards and forwards from the publication dates of A la recherche du temps perdu (1913-27), the seventeen essays written specially for this volume take as their focus Proust’s manifold engagements with the world of modernity, as well as intermedial relations among the generations of artists before and immediately after him. Looking back to the nineteenth century, the undisputed starting point for nascent forms of modernity in Western art and literature, and a period that was uniquely formative for the young Proust, they also offer insights into inter-artistic dialogue in Surrealist and post-Surrealist painting and poetry.

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Nigel Harkness and Marion Schmid - Introduction -1

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Nigel Harkness and Marion Schmid Introduction The publication of the last volume of A la recherche du temps perdu, Le Temps retrouvé, in 1927 marks a watershed in the history of French literature. With Proust’s seven-volume novel, the project of modernity, announced from the second-half of the nineteenth century in such groundbreaking works as Baudelaire’s Fleurs du mal and Flaubert’s L’Éducation sentimen- tale, finds both its natural achievement and its greatest accomplishment. The French literary tradition is of fered its first modernist masterpiece, a work soon to be cited in the same breath as Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Thomas Mann, Hermann Broch or Robert Musil. Proust’s epic novel of remembrance, whose genesis extends over some fourteen years from the Contre Sainte-Beuve of 1908/1909 to the author’s premature death in 1922, but whose intellectual and artistic roots extend into the previous century and beyond, crystallizes the fundamental changes French art and litera- ture underwent between the last decades of the nineteenth century – the period of Proust’s literary formation – and the first decades of the twentieth century. The rapid technical and social change that occurs during the fin de siècle, not only in France, but throughout the Western hemisphere, is ref lected in the changed sensibilities and preoccupations of the modern novel, which, as Virginia Woolf wrote, becomes permeable to ‘the myriad of impressions – trivial, fantastic, evanescent’ that shower modern man at any given moment.1 Not only do concepts of the self and the other, no longer bound up in...

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