Packing, Packing, Packing, and Peter’s Advice

My post this week will be an abbreviated, slightly different version of the usual musings, as I am now fully in the process of packing and getting ready to move to New York on Thursday (!!!). As a result, between runs to Marshall’s to get sheets and renting a U-Haul both my mother and I are terrified to drive into Manhattan, I am admittedly behind on my Proust. So, instead of trying to make some profound connection to my life this week (stay tuned for that once I move!), I’ve decided to take this opportunity to publish a list Nora and I have been meaning to share for several weeks now.

Peter, our beloved Comp. Lit. advisor at Hamilton, and the professor who teaches the Proust class every other year, called me at the start of this project to impart some words of wisdom, encouragement, and warning. He was very excited about our blog, but wanted to make sure we could get through the book together, without missing too much, or falling too far behind. It is his belief, as well as that of many Proust aficionados, that this is a novel one can only really read in a book group or classroom setting, as different sections appeal to different people, a great deal of nuance is implicit in the writing itself, and the sheer length is enough to deter any lone reader.

He is not entirely sure a book group of two will remedy this issue but, knowing how determined (or maybe just stubborn!) we both are, accepted our project, and gave us the following advice:

  • The books are long, parts can be very dull (especially certain party scenes). In a classroom setting, this is not an issue, as there always tends to be at least one student in the group who finds something of interest in a particular scene which everyone else disliked, but may be more slow-going as an individual effort.
  • Proust doesn’t really like anyone, and spends tons of time discussing what people wear, tak about, etc. Get ready for a great deal of description without a lot of action in certain parts.
  • We are allowed to skim sections (especially the party/description scenes), in order to get through the denser areas.
  • Most importantly, we should read the first pages several times, as they are super important, and some critics even think the entire novel is previewed/summed up in these first five or so pages
  • For that same reason, we should read them again when we have finished (so far off it hardly seems possible right now!)
  • Whenever something might seem funny, assume that it is (Proust has very dry humor)
  • Characters keep coming back over the course of the novel—never expect anyone to vanish entirely
  • The summaries at the end of each volume are helpful, but only once you’re done (don’t read them to preview, as they give things away)
  • The character index ( at the back is not helpful at all. it spoils the trajectories of the characters—don’t read!

So with these in mind, we continue to truck along (and, in my case, to truck up to Manhattan, all six volumes in hand!). More updates will come once life is less chaotic! Until then, enjoy the weekend.