The Proust Reading Group will meet at the Athenaeum from 5:30 to 7 on the third Monday of each month, beginning on September 17, 2012. We will read approximately 150 pages per month (just under 40 pages a week), and will meet every month except July and August. We will finish the book sometime around June of 2015.
The Reading Group is meant not as a class but as an opportunity for people who have always wanted to read Proust, or have tried and only gotten part way through the early volumes, to have a slightly more structured reading schedule, as well as a cheering squad of others who share the goal of reading it through.
Facilitator: Christina Bevilacqua is the facilitator of the group. She considers herself a Proust enthusiast, not a Proust expert. She has read the work many times, enjoying it more with each reading, and says that one reason she started the reading group is because it is a work with an unfair reputation for difficulty and obscurity, and she wants to encourage more people to give it a try. Proust’s prose may take a little getting used to at first, but once you become immersed in the book and his sensibility she believes that you will find instead that his writing is characterized by an almost scientific clarity, as well as an entirely idiosyncratic and unforgettable sense of wit and humor.
Translations: Members of the group are free to read whatever translation they would like. For a little background on translations: there is one major translation of Proust, done by Scott Moncrieff in the 1920s. There are still copies of this original translation around. In 1981, Terrence Kilmartin did a revision/updating of the Moncrieff translation for Random House; it was published in three large volumes and is still readily available new and used. In 1992, J.D. Enright did a tweaking of the Moncrieff/Kilmartin text for Modern Library, in seven volumes, and this edition is also very readily available. Reading assignments will be given for both of these editions, since these are what most people choose to read. The reading assignments will include a bit of the beginning and ending text of each assignment so that anyone reading a different edition can more easily figure out the correct section.
The only other original translation was published in 2002 by Penguin; in this translation each volume was handled by a different translator (the first volume, Swann's Way, was translated by Lydia Davis, and was widely praised; the others received more mixed reactions). These volumes are also readily available new and used.
For a nuanced and learned opinion on the relative merits of the translations, we have at the Athenaeum two interesting essays that Proust scholar Andre Aciman published in which he compares the various versions of the Moncrieff translation and the Penguin volumes, and pretty much says that each has strengths and each has weaknesses. If anyone would like to read these, just email firstname.lastname@example.org and Christina will leave them for you at the Circulation Desk at the Athenaeum (they are not available online, alas, unless you want to pay for them).
Should you read anything in preparation for Proust? Since this is a book group and not a class, you are entirely free to read any - or no - ancillary material, it is completely up to you, though when asked, Christina does not recommend reading criticism until you have read the book. You may find as you go along in the book that you want to read up on subjects that Proust covers, including French culture and history of the period, especially material on the Dreyfus Affair. Some people also like to read biographical material about Proust himself. However, as someone who read the book over and over again for twenty years before she ever did any outside reading, Christina assures new readers that there are so many levels upon which to enjoy the work that you do not have to do any additional reading to have a profound experience with Proust. For some people Proust becomes a catalyst to other subjects, while other people focus solely on his text. You will figure out your own way of reading as you go along.
Since some readers want a little information ahead of time, here are two short books that are straightforward and can give you a bit of a sense of Proust:
Christina cautions here that while there are endless numbers of things to be read on Proust, some of them excellent, none is superior to the work itself – so jump in and start with that – there is plenty of time for criticism and explication later!
If you are interested in joining the Reading Group and have not already signed up, please contact her at email@example.com or by phone at 421-6970 x28.
There’s no time like the present to start a new adventure!
Click here for Proustian Recommendations and Links From Christina Bevilacqua.
Proust Year-One Meeting Schedule and Reading Group Assignments:
Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time
RH - Random House, three volume edition – ML - Modern Library, six-volume edition
9/17/12: first meeting, introductions, no assignment
10/15/12: RH 1-145 / ML 1-186, ends with "… really ought to have been – that we would never have dreamed of making use of it.”(French is “…expérience qu’il avait du caractère de ma grand’mere – que nous n’en aurions pas profité.”)
11/19/12: RH 146-295 / ML 186-384, ends with "... well-being which are the indispensable background to the impressions we derive from nature.” (“…être qui sont le fond indispensable aux impressions que peut donner la nature.”)
12/17/12: no assignment – catch up and review
01/28/13: RH 296-462 / ML 384-606, ends with “… the memory of a particular image is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years." (“…et les maisons, les routes, les avenues, sont fugitives, hélas, comme les années.”) (end of Swann's Way)
Within a Budding Grove
02/25/13: RH 465-619 / ML 1-205, ends with “… the name of the lady whom I ought to have taken in to luncheon.” (“…indiquait la dame à qui je devais offrir le bras pour aller à table.”)
03/18/13: RH 619-751 / ML 206-381, ends with "… there floated the shapes of a few rosy clouds.” (“…au mauve et que dans l’outre-mer des poires flottassent quelques formes de nuages roses.”)
04/15/13: RH 751-884 / ML 381-556, ends with ”…to convey this missive to the celebrity.” (“Un garçon se chargea de porter cette missive à l’homme célèbre.”)
05/20/13: RH 884-1,018/ ML 556-730“… linen wrappings before displaying it, embalmed in its vesture of gold. (“…tous ses linges, avant de la faire apparaître, embaumée dans sa robe d’or.”) (end of Within a Budding Grove)
06/17/13: no assignment – catch up and review