For more years than any of us can strictly tally, my husband and I and two friends have been engaged in an extremely close reading of In Search of Lost Time. This is actually the second time we’ve read Proust’s seven-volume novel together. But the first time, in the 1980s, we read at a comparative gallop (100 pages a month), and we were part of a larger group.
We four decided to give it another go because Penguin Classics was publishing a new translation, which we heard about when Lydia Davis–the translator of Volume 1, Swann’s Way–visited the Chicago Humanities Festival. That was around 2004, and I believe we started four or five years later.
When 2019 began, we were about 60 pages into Volume 5, The Prisoner, and at our final meeting of 2019, we’ll have read through page 323. A whole year and only 263 pages!!??!! Yes! Due to the intricacy of our discussions, we’ve found we can cover only about 30 pages per session.
We meet around 4:00 on a Saturday, approximately once a month, after having read the section twice. We take turns hosting, and offering up an array of cheeses, breads, wines, and other delicacies as we, together, enter the text, usually for three or more hours. We sometimes go line-by-line, reading aloud as we unravel Proust’s famously complex sentences, taking side trips into his musical and painting references. And we marvel at his grasp of myriad subjects—not only the arts, but also genetics, medicine, history, technology, fashion, social class, human consciousness, gender fluidity, and most important, the multidimensional human heart.
You could say that reading Proust in this way has been the best despair-chaser for me during all the years we four have met. But during this year in particular, with so many assaults to the spirit,
reassurance comes from turning to my heavily annotated Proust volumes and the small world of wonder our little clan* has created around them.
*Vol.1, p. 195