“Taylor’s endeavor is not to explain the life by the novel or the novel by the life but to show how different events, different emotional upheavals, fired Proust’s imagination and, albeit sometimes completely transformed, appeared in his work. The result is a very subtle, thought-provoking book.”—Anka Muhlstein, author of Balzac’s Omelette and Monsieur Proust’s Library
Marcel Proust came into his own as a novelist comparatively late in life, yet only Shakespeare, Balzac, Dickens, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky were his equals when it came to creating characters as memorably human. As biographer Benjamin Taylor suggests, Proust was a literary lightweight before writing his multivolume masterwork In Search of Lost Time, but following a series of momentous historical and personal events, he became—against all expectations—one of the greatest writers of his, and indeed any, era.
This insightful, beautifully written biography examines Proust’s artistic struggles—the “search” of the subtitle—and stunning metamorphosis in the context of his times. Taylor provides an in-depth study of the author’s life while exploring how Proust’s personal correspondence and published works were greatly informed by his mother’s Judaism, his homosexuality, and such dramatic events as the Dreyfus Affair and, above all, World War I. As Taylor writes in his prologue, “Proust’s Search is the most encyclopedic of novels, encompassing the essentials of human nature. . . . His account, running from the early years of the Third Republic to the aftermath of World War I, becomes the inclusive story of all lives, a colossal mimesis. To read the entire Search is to find oneself transfigured and victorious at journey’s end, at home in time and in eternity too.”
This brief but thorough biography of Marcel Proust (1871 1922) from esteemed author and editor Taylor (Naples Declared) isn't intended to be the definitive biography of the French novelist who wrote In Search of Lost Time. Instead, Taylor touches on the influences of Proust's Jewish heritage, homosexuality, and debilitating asthma, as well as the pivotal event of the Dreyfus Affair, on his art and life. Among Taylor's conclusions are that Proust did not see himself as a Jew but rather as "the non-Jewish son of a Jewish mother," and that he protested the conviction of Alfred Dreyfus on espionage charges because he believed the French-Jewish artillery officer was innocent, rather than out of ethnic solidarity. Starting in childhood and proceeding briskly through the major events of Proust's life, Taylor quotes liberally and wisely from Proust's massive correspondence, early writings, essays, and interviews. In the process, he traces the complexities of Proust's personality and painstaking artistic development from mere talent to genius, only achieved "after long years of application to his native language, and nine of servitude to Ruskin's." Taylor writes that "time, the only divinity Proust acknowledged, which makes dust of us, also makes us giants," evocatively capturing the lasting importance of Proust's masterpiece and its theme.