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Proust, he thought, was a snob, a society writer who dealt in trivia, a nostalgist who evoked the lost days of belle époque France, and whose obsession with memory didn’t just avoid the present but actually denied it.Proust, born in Paris in 1871 to an upper-class family and Jewish on his mother’s side, wrote the obituary of 19th-century France.
Proust wrote obsessively, turning all he had internalised in culture, social observation and vicarious living – through art, music, books – into a moving architecture of words.
Even his narrator, a dilettante in search of a vocation, writes the book we are reading in order to find out whether he can write the book we are reading.
No other novel includes and enacts so much, and yet, for all its profligate length, we feel as we read that we are dealing in essence and distillation.
In autumn 1912, a writer best known for pastiches and society columns took a manuscript to the Nouvelle Revue Française, recently founded by Gaston Gallimard.
It was passed to a reader who opened it randomly at page 62 and found what he decided was a boring and overwritten description of a cup of herbal tea. The novelist was Marcel Proust, the novel was Swann’s Way, the first volume of A la recherche du temps perdu, and the reader was André Gide.