In Search of Lost Time

This winter I shall be rereading A la recherche du temps perdu. It is not, I concede, everyone's idea of evening relaxation by the fire-side. But those who have come to love this sinuous masterpiece will know well the kind of delights I anticipate.

One does not, of course, have to be a historian in order to enjoy Proust's great cycle. Yet there are important senses in which my own concern with the past does enhance the pleasure that I get from the work. Let me touch simply on three.

Firstly, Proust offers us a host of insights into French life during the Belle Epoque of the late nineteenth century. Granted, imaginative literature is an especially tricky source to use, and if we have to be sceptical about much of the historicity of Zola's 'realism' then we need to be even more cautious about relying on an author who actually disclaimed that kind of positivistic intent. We have, nevertheless, enough coordinates deriving from other evidence to reassure us that Proust is indeed an outstandingly perceptive social chronicler.

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