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Proust’s «In Search of Lost Time»: The History of a Vocation

Meindert Evers

Marcel Proust (1871-1922) grew up in the fin de siècle, a period associated with melancholy and decadence. He knew the temptations of decadence, but freed himself by developing a new conception of art: Perspectivism becomes the aesthetic and philosophical principle of In Search of Lost Time. The novel traces out the path to becoming an artist. It is the history of a «vocation». The main figure is initiated into the hidden beauty of the universe by various artists and by «signs» from his own life, like involuntary memory. A variety of dangers however, lie along the path of the artist. Besides aestheticism, there is the siren call of worldly life which has to be resisted. In the end, art triumphs. For Proust art is not a refuge from life, but the only way to do justice to the modern world. The fascinating and equally disturbing consequence of Proust’s radical conception of art is the complete absence of cultural criticism. An advertisement for soap may contain as much poetry as the Pensées of Pascal.

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CHAPTER I: Proust and the Fin de Siècle. Influences and affinities

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CHAPTER I Proust and the Fin de Siècle. Influences and affinities Short biography of the writer. Description of the atmosphere of the fin de siècle Marcel Proust was born on the 10 July 1871, the son of Adrien Proust and Jeanne Weil, in Anteuil, a suburb of Paris. He grows up in a bourgeois milieu in Paris. At the age of nine he suffers his first attack of asthma, an ailment which will dog him his whole life long, and finally contribute to his early death. From 1882 to 1889 he attends the Lycée Condorcet. In this period he contributes to the pupils’ paper Revue Lilas. Towards the end of this period he begins attending the salons of Paris; thus starting the “fashionable” stage of his life. From 1889- 1890 he voluntarily performs his military service, after which he attends lectures irregularly at the Sorbonne. In 1892 he starts his career as a writer with contribu- tions to the Revue Blanche. 1896 marks the appearance of his first substantial publication, Les Plaisirs et les Jours (Pleasures and Days), with a foreword by Anatole France. In the years from 1896 to 1899 he works, without telling any- one, on a novel which won’t be published till long after his death, under the title Jean Santeuil. In the year 1899 he discovers the work of Ruskin: in 1904 and 1906 his translations of two books by Ruskin appear: La Bible d’Amiens and Sésame et les Lys. 26 September...

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