Marcel Proust

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Happiness is beneficial for the body but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind.

Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust (10 July 187118 November 1922) was a French novelist, essayist and critic.


  • A sort of egotistical self-evaluation is unavoidable in those joys in which erudition and art mingle and in which aesthetic pleasure may become more acute, but not remain as pure.
    • Preface (1910) to The Bible of Amiens by John Ruskin, translated by Proust (1904); from Marcel Proust: On Reading Ruskin, trans. Jean Autret and Philip J. Wolfe (Yale University Press, 1987, ISBN 0-300-04503-4, p. 53
  • I shall not find a painting more beautiful because the artist has painted a hawthorn in the foreground, though I know of nothing more beautiful than the hawthorn, for I wish to remain sincere and because I know that the beauty of a painting does not depend on the things represented in it. I shall not collect images of hawthorn. I do not venerate hawthorn, I go to see and smell it.
    • Preface (1910) to The Bible of Amiens by John Ruskin, translated by Proust (1904); from Marcel Proust: On Reading Ruskin, trans. Jean Autret and Philip J. Wolfe (Yale University Press, 1987, ISBN 0-300-04503-4, p. 57
  • A man is not more entitled to be "received in good society," or at least to wish to be, because he is more intelligent and cultivated. This is one of those sophisms that the vanity of intelligent people picks up in the arsenal of their intelligence to justify their basest inclinations. In other words, having become more intelligent creates some rights to be less. Very simply, diverse personalities are to be found in the breast of each of us, and often the life of more than one superior man is nothing but the coexistence of a philosopher and a snob. Actually, there are very few philosophers and artists who are absolutely detached from ambition and respect for power, from "people of position." And among those who are more delicate or more sated, snobism replaces ambition and respect for power in the same way superstition arises on the ruins of religious beliefs. Morality gains nothing there. Between a worldly philosopher and a philosopher intimidated by a minister of state, the second is still the more innocent.
    • Notes to Sesame and Lilies by John Ruskin, translated by Proust (1906); from Marcel Proust: On Reading Ruskin, trans. Jean Autret and William Burford (Yale University Press, 1987, ISBN 0-300-04503-4, p. 152
  • [Music] a pederast might hum when raping a choirboy.
    • Of Fauré's Romances sans paroles Op. 17, as quoted in Orledge Gabriel Fauré (1979), p. 48

In Search of Lost Time (1913-1927)[edit]

À la recherche du temps perdu. Alternative translation of title: Remembrance of Things Past. The first six volumes were translated by C. K. Scott-Moncrieff from 1922 to 1930, with a revised translation by Terence Kilmartin in 1981 and a further revision by D.J Enright in 1992. The seventh and final volume was translated by Frederick Blossom and published in 1932.

Vol I: Swann's Way (1913)[edit]

Du côté de chez Swann

See also Swann's Way
  • Même au point de vue des plus insignifiantes choses de la vie, nous ne sommes pas un tout matériellement constitué, identique pour tout le monde et dont chacun n'a qu'à aller prendre connaissance comme d'un cahier des charges ou d'un testament; notre personnalité sociale est une création de la pensée des autres.
    • Even in the most insignificant details of our daily life, none of us can be said to constitute a material whole, which is identical for everyone, and need only be turned up like a page in an account-book or the record of a will; our social personality is created by the thoughts of other people.
    • "Overture"
  • Mais, quand d’un passé ancien rien ne subsiste, après la mort des êtres, après la destruction des choses, seules, plus frêles mais plus vivaces, plus immatérielles, plus persistantes, plus fidèles, l’odeur et la saveur restent encore longtemps, comme des âmes, à se rappeler, à attendre, à espérer, sur la ruine de tout le reste, à porter sans fléchir, sur leur gouttelette presque impalpable, l’édifice immense du souvenir.

    Et dès que j’eus reconnu le goût du morceau de madeleine trempé dans le tilleul que me donnait ma tante (quoique je ne susse pas encore et dusse remettre à bien plus tard de découvrir pourquoi ce souvenir me rendait si heureux), aussitôt la vieille maison grise sur la rue, où était sa chambre, vint comme un décor de théâtre.

    • When from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.

      And once again I had recognized the taste of the crumb of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-flowers which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy), immediately the old gray house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like the scenery of a theater.

    • "Overture"
  • À partir de cet instant, je n’avais plus un seul pas à faire, le sol marchait pour moi dans ce jardin où depuis si longtemps mes actes avaient cessé d’être accompagnés d’attention volontaire: l’Habitude venait de me prendre dans ses bras et me portait jusqu’à mon lit comme un petit enfant.
    • From that instant I had not to take another step; the ground moved forward under my feet in that garden where, for so long, my actions had ceased to require any control, or even attention, from my will. Custom came to take me in her arms, carried me all the way up to my bed, and laid me down there like a little child.
    • "Combray"
  • They would have preferred for me, instead of Bloch, companions who would have given me no more than it is proper to give according to the laws of middle-class morality, who would not unexpectedly send me a basket of fruit because they happened, that morning, to have thought of me with affection, but who, being incapable of inclining in my favour, by a simple impulse of imagination and sensibility, the exact balance of the duties and claims of friendship, would be equally incapable of loading the scales to my detriment. Even our faults will not easily divert from the path of their duty towards us those conventional natures of which the model was my great-aunt who, estranged for years from a niece to whom she never spoke, yet made no change in the will in which she left that niece the whole of her fortune, because she was her next-of-kin and it was the 'proper thing to do.'
    • "Combray"
  • Autrefois on rêvait de posséder le cœur de la femme dont on était amoureux; plus tard sentir qu’on possède le cœur d’une femme peut suffire à vous en rendre amoureux.
    • In his younger days a man dreams of possessing the heart of the woman whom he loves; later, the feeling that he possesses the heart of a woman may be enough to make him fall in love with her.
    • "Swann in Love"

Vol II: Within a Budding Grove (1919)[edit]

À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs

See also Within a Budding Grove
  • Our virtues themselves are not free and floating qualities over which we retain a permanent control and power of disposal; they come to be so closely linked in our minds with the actions in conjunction with which we make it our duty to practice them, that, if we are suddenly called upon to perform some action of a different order, it takes us by surprise, and without our supposing for a moment that it might involve the bringing of those very same virtues into play.
  • Fashions, being themselves begotten of the desire for change, are quick to change also.
  • Et non seulement on ne retient pas tout de suite les œuvres vraiment rares, mais même au sein de chacune de ces œuvres-là, et cela m'arriva pour la Sonate de Vinteuil, ce sont les parties les moins précieuses qu'on perçoit d'abord... Moins décevants que la vie, ces grands chefs-d'œuvre ne commencent pas par nous donner ce qu'ils ont de meilleur.
    • And not only does one not seize at once and retain an impression of works that are really great, but even in the content of any such work (as befell me in the case of Vinteuil’s sonata) it is the least valuable parts that one at first perceives... Less disappointing than life is, great works of art do not begin by giving us all their best.
    • Ch. I: "Madame Swann at Home"
  • Ce qu'on appelle la postérité, c'est la postérité de l'œuvre.
    • What artists call posterity is the posterity of the work of art.
    • Ch. I: "Madame Swann at Home"
  • Le temps dont nous disposons chaque jour est élastique; les passions que nous ressentons le dilatent, celles que nous inspirons le rétrécissent et l'habitude le remplit.
    • The time which we have at our disposal every day is elastic; the passions that we feel expand it, those that we inspire contract it; and habit fills up what remains.
    • Ch. I: "Madame Swann at Home"
  • Ce n'est jamais qu'à cause d'un état d'esprit qui n'est pas destiné à durer qu'on prend des résolutions définitives.[1]
    • It is always thus, impelled by a state of mind which is destined not to last, that we make our irrevocable decisions.[2]
    • Ch. I: "Madame Swann at Home"
  • Faced with the thoughts, the actions of a woman whom we love, we are as completely at a loss as the world's first natural philosophers must have been, face to face with the phenomena of nature, before their science had been elaborated and had cast a ray of light over the unknown.
  • Les traits de notre visage ne sont guère que des gestes devenus, par l'habitude, définitifs.[3]
    • The features of our face are hardly more than gestures become, by habit, permanent.
    • Ch. IV: "Seascape, with a Frieze of Girls"
  • On ne reçoit pas la sagesse, il faut la découvrir soi-même après un trajet que personne ne peut faire pour nous, ne peut nous épargner.
    • We are not provided with wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can take for us, an effort which no one can spare us.
    • Ch. IV: "Seascape, with a Frieze of Girls"
  • [Le bonheur] est, dans l'amour, un état anormal.
    • In love, happiness is an abnormal state.

Vol III: The Guermantes Way (1920)[edit]

Le Côté de Guermantes

  • Tout ce que nous connaissons de grand nous vient des nerveux. Ce sont eux et non pas d'autres qui ont fondé les religions et composé les chefs-d'œuvre.[4]
    • Translation: Everything great in the world comes from neurotics. They alone have founded our religions and composed our masterpieces.
    • Volume I

Vol. IV: Cities of the Plain (1921-1922)[edit]

Sodome et Gomorrhe

  • Il n'y avait pas d'anormaux quand l'homosexualité était la norme.
    • There was nothing abnormal about it when homosexuality was the norm.
    • Pt. I
  • Comme tous les gens qui ne sont pas amoureux, il s'imaginait qu'on choisit la personne qu'on aime après mille délibérations et d'après des qualités et convenances diverses.
    • Like everybody who is not in love, he imagined that one chose the person whom one loved after endless deliberations and on the strength of various qualities and advantages.
    • Pt. II, Ch. 1
  • La maladie est le plus écouté des médecins: à la bonté, au savoir on ne fait que promettre; on obéit à la souffrance.[5]
    • Illness is the doctor to whom we pay most heed; to kindness, to knowledge, we make promises only; pain we obey.[6]
    • Pt. II, Ch. 1
  • Nous désirons passionnément qu'il y ait une autre vie où nous serions pareils à ce que nous sommes ici-bas. Mais nous ne réfléchissons pas que, même sans attendre cette autre vie, dans celle-ci, au bout de quelques années, nous sommes infidèles à ce que nous avons été, à ce que nous voulions rester immortellement.
    • We passionately long that there may be another life in which we shall be similar to what we are here below. But we do not pause to reflect that, even without waiting for that other life, in this life, after a few years we are unfaithful to what we have been, to what we wished to remain immortally.
    • Pt. II, Ch. 2

Vol. V: The Captive (1923)[edit]

La Prisonnière

  • Le seul véritable voyage, le seul bain de Jouvence, ce ne serait pas d'aller vers de nouveaux paysages, mais d'avoir d'autres yeux, de voir l'univers avec les yeux d'un autre, de cent autres, de voir les cent univers que chacun d'eux voit, que chacun d'eux est.
    • The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is.
    • Ch. II: "The Verdurins Quarrel with M. de Charlus"
  • L'amour, c'est l'espace et le temps rendus sensibles au coeur.
    • Love is space and time made tender to the heart.
    • Variant translations:
      • Love is space and time made sensitive to the heart.
      • Love is space and time measured by the heart.
  • L'adultère introduit l'esprit dans la lettre que bien souvent le mariage eût laissée morte.
    • Adultery breathes new life into marriages which have been left for dead.

Vol. VI: The Sweet Cheat Gone (1925)[edit]

Albertine disparue. Also known as La fugitive

  • Les liens entre un être et nous n'existent que dans notre pensée. La mémoire en s'affaiblissant les relâche, et, malgré l'illusion dont nous voudrions être dupes et dont, par amour, par amitié, par politesse, par respect humain, par devoir, nous dupons les autres, nous existons seuls. L'homme est l'être qui ne peut sortir de soi, qui ne connaît les autres qu'en soi, et, en disant le contraire, ment.
    • The bonds that unite another person to ourself exist only in our mind. Memory as it grows fainter relaxes them, and notwithstanding the illusion by which we would fain be cheated and with which, out of love, friendship, politeness, deference, duty, we cheat other people, we exist alone. Man is the creature that cannot emerge from himself, that knows his fellows only in himself; when he asserts the contrary, he is lying.
    • Ch. I: "Grief and Oblivion"
  • Nous n'arrivons pas à changer les choses selon notre désir, mais peu à peu notre désir change. La situation que nous espérions changer parce qu'elle nous était insupportable, nous devient indifférente. Nous n'avons pas pu surmonter l'obstacle, comme nous le voulions absolument, mais la vie nous l'a fait tourner, dépasser, et c'est à peine alors si en nous retournant vers le lointain du passé nous pouvons l'apercevoir, tant il est devenu imperceptible.
    • We do not succeed in changing things according to our desire, but gradually our desire changes. The situation that we hoped to change because it was intolerable becomes unimportant. We have not managed to surmount the obstacle, as we were absolutely determined to do, but life has taken us round it, led us past it, and then if we turn round to gaze at the remote past, we can barely catch sight of it, so imperceptible has it become.
    • Ch. I: "Grief and Oblivion"
  • Une femme est d'une plus grande utilité pour notre vie si elle y est, au lieu d'un élément de bonheur, un instrument de chagrin, et il n'y en a pas une seule dont la possession soit aussi précieuse que celle des vérités qu'elle nous découvre en nous faisant souffrir.
    • A woman is of greater service to our life if she is in it, instead of being an element of happiness, an instrument of sorrow, and there is not a woman in the world the possession of whom is as precious as that of the truths which she reveals to us by causing us to suffer.
    • Ch. I: "Grief and Oblivion"
  • On ne guérit d'une souffrance qu'à condition de l'éprouver pleinement.
    • We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full.
    • Ch. I: "Grief and Oblivion"
  • Il n'y a pas une idée qui ne porte en elle sa réfutation possible, un mot, le mot contraire.
    • There is no idea that does not carry in itself a possible refutation, no word that does not imply its opposite.
    • Ch. II: "Mademoiselle de Forcheville"
  • Aussi, les demeures disposées des deux côtés du chenal faisaient penser à des sites de la nature, mais d'une nature qui aurait créé ses œvres avec une imagination humaine.
    • In this way, the mansions arranged along either bank of the canal made one think of objects of nature, but of a nature which seemed to have created its works with a human imagination.
    • Ch. III: Venise

Vol. VII: The Past Recaptured (1927)[edit]

Le temps retrouvé

  • Par l’art seulement, nous pouvons sortir de nous, savoir ce que voit un autre de cet univers qui n’est pas le même que le nôtre et dont les paysages nous seraient restés aussi inconnus que ceux qu’il peut y avoir dans la lune. Grâce à l’art, au lieu de voir un seul monde, le nôtre, nous le voyons se multiplier, et autant qu’il y a d’artistes originaux, autant nous avons de mondes à notre disposition, plus différents les uns des autres que ceux qui roulent dans l’infini et qui, bien des siècles après qu’est éteint le foyer dont il émanait, qu’il s’appelât Rembrandt ou Vermeer, nous envoient encore leur rayon spécial.

    Ce travail de l’artiste, de chercher à apercevoir sous la matière, sous de l’expérience, sous des mots, quelque chose de différent, c’est exactement le travail inverse de celui que, à chaque minute, quand nous vivons détourné de nous-même, l’amour-propre, la passion, l’intelligence, et l’habitude aussi accomplissent en nous, quand elles amassent au-dessus de nos impressions vraies, pour nous les cacher entièrement, les nomenclatures, les buts pratiques que nous appelons faussement la vie.

    • By art alone we are able to get outside ourselves, to know what another sees of this universe which for him is not ours, the landscapes of which would remain as unknown to us as those of the moon. Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world, our own, we see it multiplied and as many original artists as there are, so many worlds are at our disposal, differing more widely from each other than those which roll round the infinite and which, whether their name be Rembrandt or Vermeer, send us their unique rays many centuries after the hearth from which they emanate is extinguished.

      This labour of the artist to discover a means of apprehending beneath matter and experience, beneath words, something different from their appearance, is of an exactly contrary nature to the operation in which pride, passion, intelligence and habit are constantly engaged within us when we spend our lives without self-communion, accumulating as though to hide our true impressions, the terminology for practical ends which we falsely call life.

    • Ch. III: "An Afternoon Party at the House of the Princesse de Guermantes"
  • Le bonheur est salutaire pour le corps, mais c'est le chagrin qui développe les forces de l'esprit.
    • Happiness is beneficial for the body but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind.
    • Ch. III: "An Afternoon Party at the House of the Princesse de Guermantes"

Quotes about Proust[edit]

  • The son of well-to-do parents who … engages in a so-called intellectual profession, as an artist or a scholar, will have a particularly difficult time with those bearing the distasteful title of colleagues. It is not merely that his independence is envied, the seriousness of his intentions mistrusted, that he is suspected of being a secret envoy of the established powers. … The real resistance lies elsewhere. The occupation with things of the mind has by now itself become “practical,” a business with strict division of labor, departments and restricted entry. The man of independent means who chooses it out of repugnance for the ignominy of earning money will not be disposed to acknowledge the fact. For this he is punished. He … is ranked in the competitive hierarchy as a dilettante no matter how well he knows his subject, and must, if he wants to make a career, show himself even more resolutely blinkered than the most inveterate specialist. The urge to suspend the division of labor which, within certain limits, his economic situation enables him to satisfy, is thought particularly disreputable: it betrays a disinclination to sanction the operations imposed by society, and domineering competence permits no such idiosyncrasies. The departmentalization of mind is a means of abolishing mind where it is not exercised ex officio, under contract. It performs this task all the more reliably since anyone who repudiates this division of labor—if only by taking pleasure in his work—makes himself vulnerable by its standards, in ways inseparable from elements of his superiority. Thus is order ensured: some have to play the game because they cannot otherwise live, and those who could live otherwise are kept out because they do not want to play the game.
    • Theodor Adorno, "Für Marcel Proust," Minima Moralia, E. Jephcott, trans. (1974)
  • Proust's scansions often cross vast distances, and move with an assured step between microcosm and macrocosm. They show him to have been a metaphysical wit possessed of a strong liking for physics, and an 'interdisciplinarist' beyond the dreams of the modern university.
  • Proust was the greatest novelist of the twentieth century, just as Tolstoy was in the nineteenth.
    • Graham Greene, as quoted in Sollars, Jennings, The Facts on File Companion to the World Novel: 1900 to the Present (2008), p. v
  • Life is too short, and Proust is too long.
    • Attributed to Anatole France, who notoriously was featured in Proust's work (as Bergotte) but did not read it, but this appears to be an invention due to Maurice Sachs. Earliest appearance is in English, in The Decade of Illusion: Paris 1918–1928, Maurice Sachs (1933), p. 69:
      • ...something to read on the voyage. France said, "Here, my friend. Life is short; Proust is long. Take this." And Wasserman carried off the rare treasure.
    • In French it is considered an English phrase (dicton anglais),[1] and in the French edition of The Decade of Illusion Sachs gives France completely different words, La Décade de l'illusion (1950), p. 96:
      • «Tenez, mon bon, prenez celui-ci, je ne tiens pas à le lire, mais on en parle beaucoup dans ce moment.» Wasserman emporta ce rare trésor.
      • "Here, my friend, take this one, I don't plan to read it, but it is much talked about at present." Wasserman carried off the rare treasure.

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  • Le livre illustré sous l'ancien régime: Sainte-Beuve ; Les études françaises au Royaume-Uni et en Irlande ; Littératures du Maghreb, Mai 20075, No. 57, "proust+is+too+long" p. 324