This Day In Writing History
On November 16th, 1913, Swann's Way, the first volume of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, (In Search of Lost Time, aka Remembrance of Things Past) the famous epic novel by legendary French writer Marcel Proust, was published. Clocking in at nearly 1.5 million words, A la Recherche du Temps Perdu is one of the longest novels ever written.
When Proust began work on A la Recherche du Temps Perdu in 1909, he planned to publish it as a series of seven volumes. It took him over ten years to complete the series. He died while editing his finished drafts of the last three volumes, so his brother Robert finished the revisions (working from Marcel's notes) and published them posthumously.
After completing the first volume of his epic novel, Swann's Way, Proust submitted the manuscript to several publishers, all of whom rejected it. One editor complained about some minor syntax errors, while another told the author, "My dear fellow, I may be dead from the neck up, but rack my brains as I may I can't see why a chap should need 30 pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep."
Proust's writing style was experimental in nature - dense and lyrical prose rich in symbolism and philosophy, eschewing plot in favor of a non-linear narrative. In his novel, he was obsessed with the nature of memories, which are recalled in incredibly rich detail. Its style was in complete contrast with the plot-driven novels of the time. This may have contributed to its initial rejection.
Some believe it had more to do with the fact that Proust, who was gay, wrote openly and honestly about homosexuality at a time when it was not only despised by society but also illegal - a crime punishable by imprisonment. His narrator in A la Recherche du Temps Perdu is not gay, but other characters are and homosexuality is a recurring theme.
Unfazed by the rejection of Swann's Way by publishers, Proust raised the money to publish the novel himself. It made him famous. Scholars have proclaimed A la Recherche du Temps Perdu to be one of the greatest modern novels ever written.
The legendary Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov named it as one of the greatest prose works of the 20th century, along with James Joyce's Ulysses and Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis. W. Somerset Maugham called it "the greatest fiction to date."
In 2002, Penguin Books published a new English translation of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. Edited by Christopher Prendergast, it's a collaboration of seven different translators.
Quote Of The Day
"Reading is at the threshold of the spiritual life; it can introduce us to it. It does not constitute it ... There are certain cases of spiritual depression in which reading can become a sort of curative discipline ... reintroducing a lazy mind into the life of the Spirit." - Marcel Proust
Today's video features a reading of Marcel Proust's classic novel, Swann's Way. Enjoy!