Jul. 10, 2010
Once I Pass'd through a Populous City
Once I pass'd through a populous city imprinting my brain for future
use with its shows, architecture, customs, traditions,
Yet now of all that city I remember only a woman I casually met there
who detain'd me for love of me,
Day by day and night by night we were together—all else has long
been forgotten by me,
I remember I say only that woman who passionately clung to me,
Again we wander, we love, we separate again,
Again she holds me by the hand, I must not go,
I see her close beside me with silent lips sad and tremulous.
It's the birthday of writer Marcel Proust, (books by this author) born in Auteuil, France in 1871. He's the author of the enormous novel In Search of Lost Time. It's about 3,200 pages long in the original French version and more than 4,000 pages in the Modern Library’s English translation. Proust published his big book in seven parts between the years 1913 and 1927. The novel used to be called Remembrance of Things Past in English, but it's now translated as In Search of Lost Time, which is a more apt translation of the French title, À la recherche du temps perdu.
Proust began work on the novel in 1909, after taking a nibble of a French cookie —technically a small sponge cake, the now famous madeleine. Early in the first volume, Proust wrote what would become one of the most famous scenes in the entire novel:
“She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called 'petites madeleines,' which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim's shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory — this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I was conscious that it was connected with the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could not, indeed, be of the same nature as theirs. Whence did it come? What did it signify? How could I seize upon and define it?”
He finished the seventh and final volume of his masterpiece in 1922, the same year that his friend James Joyce published Ulysses. And that same year, the two writers met up for dinner after attending a premiere by their friend Igor Stravinsky. It was a big, exciting, star-studded event — Picasso and Stravinsky himself were at the dinner too — but James Joyce, exhausted, fell asleep at the table. Later that year, Proust died of pneumonia, at age 51, while reworking a death scene he’d previously written.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®