(Roughly) Daily

Remembrance of Paintings Past…

Giotto’s frescoes Charity, Envy, and Justice (1304-6)

Throughout his seven-volume A la recherche du temps perdu– in his attempts to describe scenes and emotions, to help elucidate a point, to sharpen an image, or simply as a subject in itself – Proust would time and again turn to the visual arts.

As Proust says in Volume One, Du côté de chez Swann (Swann’s Way), “it is only through art that we can escape from ourselves and know how another person sees a universe which is not the same as our own and whose landscapes would otherwise have remained as unknown as any there may be on the moon.” He mentions more than a hundred painters from the 14th through the 20th century– making his novel, as artist Eric Karpeles points out, “one of the most profoundly visual works in Western literature.”

As a celebration of the centennial of its publication, Public Domain Review has put together a few highlights of Proust’s many mentions of artworks to be found in the first volume, Swann’s Way, in which the narrator uses the art to “illustrate” his experiences growing up, participating in society, falling in love– and indeed, learning about art.

(The translations are from C.K. Scott Moncrieff’s English translation, available here on project Gutenberg, in the public domain. PDR acknowledges its debt to Karpeles’ exquisite Paintings in Proust, a book for which readers should reach.)


As we manipulate our madeleines, we might send dark, but heartfelt birthday greetings to Proust’s literary contemporary Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, or as he’s better known to English readers, Joesph Conrad; he was born on this date in 1857.  An early modernist who spoke and wrote in three languages (his native Polish, French, and English), he imported a non-English diction and tragic sense to his work, which included Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, Nostromo, 17 other novels, and dozens of short stories.  A success in his own time, Conrad’s influence grew; he’s been cited as a formative influence on writers including D. H. Lawrence, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, Graham Greene, Malcolm Lowry, William Golding, William S. Burroughs, Joseph Heller, Italo Calvino, Gabriel García Márquez, J. G. Ballard, John le Carré, V.S. Naipaul, Philip Roth, Hunter S. Thompson, J.M. Coetzee, and Salman Rushdie.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 3, 2013 at 1:01 am

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