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Swann's Way

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In his achievement as a novelist, Marcel Proust stands alone. Swann’s Way is one of seven books that comprise In Search of Lost Time (A la recherche du temps perdu, 1913-1927), unique in fiction for its sustained fullness of thought and richness of characterization. Though In Search of Lost Time is saturated with details of French bourgeois and aristocratic life at the turn of the century, it retains its freshness for readers today because Proust’s concerns—the meaning of love and time, as understood through an individual’s memories—are always relevant. The novel is encyclopedic: its chief themes include the genesis of erotic attachment and jealousy, the growth of wisdom, and the dawning of artistic consciousness. What sets Proust’s work apart, however, is not his subject matter but his way of treating it. The unnamed first-person narrator’s story is laced with digressive explorations of the feelings and thoughts underlying even the smallest actions.

In Swann’s Way, the great arc of In Search of Lost Time begins with the narrator’s efforts to recapture and understand his past, efforts set in motion by the taste of a madeleine soaked in tea. The narrator’s thoughts about his own life lead him ineluctably to the past of Charles Swann, a family friend the narrator knew as a child. By remembering and imaginatively inhabiting Swann’s love affair with the coquette Odette, the narrator gains insight into his life and the nature of love itself.

C. K. Scott Moncrieff's near contemporary translation is remarkable in its own right.

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