Even the title of “In Search of Lost Time” evokes mystery and wonder.
Dozens of acclaimed authors have recognized the seven-volume novel as genius. But its author, Marcel Proust, obsessively revised the books – even after his death. Decades later, a translation changed the novel’s identity, from the well-known “Remembrance of Things Past.” A French village, too, was renamed because of the books. And a century after publication, the work still inspires devotees worldwide.
“Swann’s Way,” the first volume in Proust’s masterpiece, was published in 1913, and fans are marking the anniversary with “Proust Project Sarasota – Swann’s Way: A Hundredth Birthday Celebration.”
The month-long reading and film festival features talks by leading Proust experts from around the world, including scholars from Princeton, Brown and other universities. The March event is sponsored by New College of Florida, Selby Public Library and the Alliance Française of Sarasota County.
Elyane Dezon-Jones, a former Washington University professor now living in Sarasota, is the event’s organizer. She is a Proust scholar, winner of two academic medals in France, and understands fans’ obsession with the book – she wrote a satirical mystery novel about a murder in the circle of Proust scholars that was a best-seller in France.
Ask her why people still read Proust today, and she has a simple answer: “Why do we read Shakespeare today?” The reasons are much the same, she said.
“Through stylistic virtuosity, Proust makes us aware of who we are: how we , the readers, read, fall in and out of love, remember and forget, how we long to be included in a given milieu and how disappointed we are as soon as we succeed, how we change and live and die, how we waste our time and how he regained it.”
“Swann’s Way,” its first volume, is best known for its depiction of involuntary memory. In an early scene, the narrator dips a madeleine cookie in a cup of tea, triggering a memory of doing the same thing as a child. He discovers the subject of the book he has to write, his own remembrance of things past.
Writers as diverse as Graham Greene, W. Someset Maugham, Vladimir Nabokov, Virginia Woolf and Michael Chabon have praised “In Search of Lost Time” as one of the best works of the 20th century.
Jocelyn Van Tuyl, co-organizer and professor of French language and literature at New College, said that on a simple level, readers are drawn in by the “Downton Abbey effect,” the appeal of extravagant meals, lavish décor, elegant clothes and sophisticated society as depicted in the popular British program.
But Van Tuyl emphasizes the sense of loss and longing in the books. Proust wrote Swann’s Way books as the lifestyle he depicted was disappearing – “motor-cars” taking over his beloved Paris – and the devastation of World War I ended the era. “There’s an incredible nostalgia for that time,” she said. “It’s a portrayal of a world we would like to inhabit, but it’s already gone.”
Dezon-Jones and co-organizers Van Tuyl, Vera Neumann Wood (Selby Library) and Barbara Frey (Alliance Française) invite the public to return to that world, via the following series of events:
Tuesday, March 5: LECTURE (7 p.m., Mildred Sainer Pavilion – New College of Florida)
• Opening remarks by Donal O’Shea, President of New College of Florida
• Presentation, “Proust: A Centenary Tribute,” by William C. Carter, Ph.D, Univ. of Alabama -Birmingham
March 7 – FILM SCREENING (2 p.m., Geldbart Auditorium – Selby Public Library)
• Screening of documentary “Marcel Proust : A Writer’s Life.” (USA, 60m, 1992).
• Discussion, led by William C. Carter, Ph.D, co-producer of the film, will follow.
March 8 – BOOK DISCUSSION (10 a.m., Conference Room – Alliance Française de Sarasota)
• Alliance Française Book Club – Emile Langlois, Ph.D, Sweet Briar College, leads a discussion in French on “Combray” (section one of “Swann’s Way”). Limited seating.
March 9 – FILM SCREENING (2 p.m., Geldbart Auditorium – Selby Public Library)
• Screening of “Swann in Love,” film adaptation of Swann’s Way, starring Jeremy Irons and Ornella Muti. (France, 110m, 1984).
• Discussion, led by Martine Benjamin, Ph.D, Princeton University, will follow.
March 11 – BOOK DISCUSSION (10:30 a.m., Conference Room – Selby Public Library)
• Cirque D’Book – Librarian Charlotte Thompson leads discussion on Swann’s Way .
March 12 – LECTURE (7 p.m., Mildred Sainer Pavilion – New College of Florida)
• Lecture, “Madame Proust,” by Evelyne Bloch-Dano, Ph.D, Université Populaire de Caen. Lecture will be conducted in French.
March 19 – LECTURE (7 p.m., Mildred Sainer Pavilion – New College of Florida)
• Lecture, “Proust’s Reception in the Anglo-American World,” by David R. Ellison, Ph.D, University of Miami
March 26 – LECTURE (7 p.m., Mildred Sainer Pavilion – New College of Florida)
• Lecture, “Proust, the Arts, and Neuroscience,” Inge Wimmers, PhD, Brown University
• Closing remarks, “Reading Proust Tomorrow,” by Elyane Dezon-Jones, Ph.D, Washington University in St. Louis
Selby Public Library: 1331 First Street, Sarasota
Mildred Sainer Pavilion: 5313 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota (just south of Ringling Museum)
Alliance Française de Sarasota: 200 South Washington Blvd., Suite 2, Sarasota