Named a Times Literary Supplement Best Book of the Year
A Pulitzer Prize–winning historian revisits Marcel Proust’s masterpiece in this essay on literature and memory, exploring the question of identity—that of the novel’s narrator and Proust’s own.
This engaging reexamination of In Search of Lost Time considers how the narrator defines himself, how this compares to what we know of Proust himself, and what the significance is of these various points of commonality and divergence. We know, for example, that the author did not hide his homosexuality, but the narrator did. Why the difference? We know that the narrator tried to marginalize his part-Jewish background. Does this reflect the author’s position, and how does the narrator handle what he tries, but does not manage, to dismiss? These are major questions raised by the text and reflected in the text, to which the author’s life doesn’t give obvious answers. The narrator’s reflections on time, on death, on memory, and on love are as many paths leading to the image of self that he projects.
In Proustian Uncertainties, Saul Friedländer draws on his personal experience from a life spent investigating the ties between history and memory to offer a fresh perspective on the seminal work.
Pulitzer-winning Holocaust historian Friedl nder (The Years of Extermination) meditates on the "extraordinary pull" and hidden depths of Marcel Proust's la recherche du temps perdu in this intriguing extended essay. Making no claim to be a Proust specialist, Friedl nder is less interested in the novel as a piece of literature than as a personal document of Proust's secretive and complex personality. He explores how the "strange, contradictory statements" of the book's narrator reflect "the voice of the author's unconscious," especially regarding Jewish identity (to which Proust had a conflicted relationship), his sexuality as a gay man, and Proust's fascination with cruelty, which Friedl nder finds "all-pervasive and depicted from all possible angles" in Proust's work. Admiration for the complex "social tapestry" of the novel and Proust's "sumptuous" style permeate Friedl nder's musings on the novel's exploration of memory, death, the "invisible presence" of time, and unrequited love (the last theme inspired by, Friedl nder speculates, Proust's unfulfilled attraction to his driver, Alfred Agostinelli). Proust fans will enjoy these appreciative, personal peregrinations through "one of the most important novels ever written."