Jacket Image

Enlarge Image

200 × 130 × 14 mm
208 pages
25 illustrations
01 Apr 2013
Critical Lives

Marcel Proust Adam Watt

Marcel Proust (1871–1922) spent fourteen years creating A la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time), his magnum opus. Only four of its seven volumes had been published by the time Proust died; he did not live to see it become one of the most important literary works of the twentieth century. Today it still attracts widespread critical attention and Proust’s habits, health and sexual preferences continue to absorb and fascinate his commentators and devotees. This book explores the life and work of a writer whose every experience was stored, dissected and redeployed within a vast work of fiction.

Adam Watt considers Proust’s early years of personal and aesthetic experiment and demonstrates how episodes from his childhood and his family life became material for his novel. An engaging account is provided of two central, intertwined processes taking place in Proust’s life against the vibrant backdrop of belle époque Paris and the First World War: the progress of In Search of Lost Time and the simultaneous decline of its author. Proust’s own periods of ill health and isolation nourished his narrator’s thoughts on desire, love and loss, as well as his contemplation of beauty, memory, ageing and the possibility of happiness.

Drawing on Proust’s vast correspondence, the accounts of his contemporaries and the insights of recent scholarship, Marcel Proust offers a rewarding new portrait of the novelist once described as ‘the most complicated man in Paris’.

‘[an] excellent short biography . . . Apart from a sense that Watt has deftly and with considerable economy tackled all aspects critical to the production of Prousts novel, a particular pleasure is to be had in his neat turn of phrase . . . Proust is judiciously illustrated and has a useful bibliography.’ — TLS

‘Here is an excellent brief life of Proust . . . Watt is succinct without being perfunctory, scholarly without pedantry, authoritative without being exhaustive. He acknowledges his debts to prior biographers, mainly Carter and Tadié, whose publishers afforded them much greater length. And he manages, within the tight constraints imposed by Reaktion Books, to cover all the ground . . . a readable and reliable account of one of the 20th centurys most telling writers.’ — The Age, Australia

‘Watts style is nimble, often witty, and never ponderous . . . Adam Watt, with lively style and vast erudition, makes us see his remarkable life with new eyes, and that much more than cork-lined rooms or madeleines is what Proust is all about. This is the finest short biography of Proust in print today.’ — H-France Review

‘Watts biography deftly covers, as one would expect, Prousts friendships, schooling, travels, and loves and losses . . . Particularly useful and impressive, subsequently, is Watts delineation of the whole of Prousts oeuvre, not merely A la recherche du temps perdu . . . In seeking to instruct as well as to entertain readers, this book spends more time on Prousts work (the product of hismoi profond) than on hismoi social . . . This book is valuable and enjoyable reading for students of Proust, but will no doubt grace the bookshelves of a much wider audience thanks to Watts succinct, elegant style and the unabated widespread cultural preoccupation with Proust.’ — French Studies

‘In Watts enjoyable and well-wrought style, the reader is introduced to the family and historical background, then led throughpetit Marcels childhood and school years with the first asthma attack at the age of nine, which was to radically change his life . . . Friendships and loves, major readings and influences, the turmoil of history, and the development of Prousts thought and writing are also elegantly exposed . . . well illustrated with quotes and iconic photographs and accompanied by helpful explanations of the contemporary French context, offering a highly readable and round introduction to the life of this great mind. Given also that all quotes are provided in English with reference to the original texts, a large audience can benefit from it who may be interested but felt discouraged by the size of the previous biographies in English.’ — Modern and Contemporary France

‘This is an amazing book, given its small size, standing on the backs of much weightier biographies of Proust, such as the recent door stopper by Jean Yves Tadié. It also makes excellent use of Prousts correspondence. It covers everything, but its economy provides a perspective that lets us see both the forest and the trees.’ — Gay and Lesbian Review

Show all

Adam Watt is Associate Professor of French at the University of Exeter. He is a member of the Equipe Proust at the Institut des Textes et Manuscrits Modernes, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris. His previous books include Reading in Proust’s ‘A la recherche’: ‘Le Délire de la lecture’ (2009) and The Cambridge Introduction to Marcel Proust (2011).

Texts and Abbreviations

1. Physician Heal thy Son
2. Asthmatic Absentee / Marcel Militaire
3. Undergraduate, Critic, Duellist
4. Intellectual, Translator, Mourner
5. Beginnings and Endings
6. Swann Published and Alfred Disparu
7. The Great War
8. Recognition and Decline

Select Bibliography
Photo Acknowledgements