Marcel Proust (10 July 1871 – 18 November 1922) is maybe the most important writer of the first quarter of the 20th century and I will try to explain why. His famous episode with the biscuit represent the most important innovation in modern literature. Proust prolonged time in his novel Remembrance of Things Past (by the way, it’s not a very good translation into English) and this fictional use of time, this new treatment of the rules in traditional narrative will change the writing for the future.
This is not a matter of likes for more: the form that Proust uses the time it’s a crucial innovation and changed the way, the understanding and the relationship between the reader and the writer. Before, writers can use the landscape as a character or any other form which expresses feelings or situations. Proust uses a first mode of Impressionism to return in time to the psychological Remembrance of Things Past. And the way he uses is a feedback between the reader and the author, a conversation between his own literature and the forms to express the ideas. This narrative way is the most important thing in Proust books. I mean, the way he uses to express an idea it’s more important than the own idea and this simple fact is the idea that changed the literature in the 20th century. Joyce, Mann and many others takes this Proust’s way and delaye time again and again. Is it not Ulysses in this understanding? We can feel the Proust marks also in every word that T. Mann wrote.
Of course, Proust created a scandal in those French times. It is always the same and it is always talking about the same thing: sex. But sex is not important in Proust books, at least it is not the element that configures his narrative. The most important thing in Proust is the configuration of time that configures the own narrative. We are on a travel to past, we cannot forget this point, and in this travel we will smell
everything and we will feel everything. And this ‘everything’ is the real objective of Proust, the real configuration of his narrative. His project is constructing a cathedral of words and feelings. Yes, sex is a part of this human cathedral but it is not the most important part. When we arrive at this cathedral we can watch every little figure and we can observe every little detail but we can only feel the real potential of the works when we continue the travel and we arrive at the last book of À la recherche du temps perdu called Time Regained. Yes, the travel consists precisely in regain the time and only when we regain our common time we can watch at this masterpiece and we can understand the greatness we regained.
If you have not read Proust, I envy you because you will be able to feel for the first time the fascination, the greatness, the marvelous sensation of fall in love with literature for the first time.