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In Search of Lost Time

In Search of Lost Time, also translated as Remembrance of Past Things, is a seven-part novel by Marcel Proust, published in French as À la recherche du temps perdu from 1913 to 1927. The novel is the story of Proust’s own life , counted as an allegorical search for the truth. It is the main French work of fiction from the beginning of the 20th century.

Summary and Synopsis


Recalling his childhood, Proust maintains a tenuous relationship with his past, while idealizing it and longing to remember it better. He always struggled to fall asleep at night as a child, often relying on his mother’s tender love to calm him down when sleeping. Although the family even tried to give Proust a magic lamp, nothing could help him sleep better.

She spent many summers in Combray with her grandparents and great-aunt Leonie, who also visited her family often. One summer Proust’s childhood friend Bergotte introduced him to author Bloch, who aroused Proust’s dream of becoming an author.

At Combray, Proust became interested in the socialite scene. A neighbor, Charles Swann, used to come, since he had been a friend of Proust’s grandfather. He told her many interesting stories, but ultimately he was offsetting his own feeling of being a stranger among the social elite.

After meeting Swann’s wife and daughter, he falls in love with his daughter, Gilberte. He rarely sees her. Meanwhile, Proust awakens his sexuality after witnessing the adult daughter of another neighbor, Mademoiselle Vinteuil, engaging in a bustling affair with his lesbian lover after his father’s death.


Proust later learns that Swann had married his wife, Odette, because of her social status, before learning of her reputation as a single woman and had always regretted her refusal to remain true to himself. Comparing these two neighboring families, Proust concludes that people everywhere have the potential to be selfish and cannot be trusted very well, especially social climbers.

When he is of age, Proust begins to make his presence felt in social functions, under the presentation of the elderly Madame Guermantes. From the outside, Proust expected a more sincere and pure version of what high society was supposed to represent: intellect, honor, taste, etc., but he was very disappointed to find even more attention-seekers within Madame’s social circle.

After his grandmother’s death, Proust agrees to take advantage of his youth and risk his romantic interest, Albertine, despite his previous disinterest. Although she likes it, Proust quickly locks Albertine in a proverbial prison of suspicion because he fears that she is conducting secret lesbian affairs. Her mother gets sick.

Swann dies, freeing his wife and daughter from association with a Dreyfus supporter, the Dreyfus affair has reached the pinnacle of interest among the elite class. After Albertine flees from Proust in Paris and dies in an incident on horseback, he reunites with Gilberte, Swann’s daughter.

Immediately after their courtship, the two lovers separate, Proust travels to Venice with his recently recovered mother. While abroad, Proust is informed that Gilberte has married a man named Robert. Unfortunately for her, Robert remains gay after his marriage and simply used her to establish his respectability as a front for his affairs.

World War I breaks out, marking the decline of Paris’ social supremacy. Robert dies in war. And Madame Verduring becomes the Princess of Guermantes, ending the freedom of conversation in the drawing room. She now rules the social scene with supremacy. Meanwhile, Proust becomes bored with social life and decides to lock himself up to write about his beautiful past.

Genre: realistic novel

The novel made a decisive break with the realistic novel of the 19th century, especially in the plot, populated by people of action and people who represent social and cultural groups or morals. Although parts of the novel could be read as an exploration of snobbery, deception, jealousy, and suffering, and while it contains a multitude of realistic details, the focus is not on developing a tight plot or coherent evolution, but on a multiplicity of perspectives on the formation of experience.

Characters

  • Marcel: The narrator and protagonist. As a child, he suffers from sleep problems but eagerly awaits his mother’s good night kiss. He is very attached to her and her maternal grandmother. Marcel aspires to become a writer and is an avid reader.
  • Marcel’s Mother (Mamma) – forms a close bond with him and one night even stays awake with him all night when unable to sleep.
  • Marcel’s father: he refuses to pamper his son, but urges his wife to go with him one night when he realizes that the boy is clearly upset about his sleeping problems.
  • Bathilde Amédée: the narrator’s maternal grandmother. She is a loving, caring, and morally upright woman who buys books for Marcel.
  • Aunt Léonie: Marcel’s great aunt, a widow. After his death, he leaves his money and furniture to Marcel, who gives the furniture to the ladies in a brothel.
  • Charles Swann: wealthy stockbroker and friend of Marcel’s family.
  • Gilberte: Daughter of Swann and Odette de Crécy. Marcel falls in love with her.
  • Robert de Saint-Loup – French army officer and good friend of Marcel, uses his reputation as a woman charmer to hide his homosexuality.
  • Albertine Simonet: Beautiful young woman with whom Marcel falls in love after Gilberte marries Robert de Saint-Loup.
  • Oriane de Guermantes: Duchess (Duchess) at the pinnacle of Parisian society.
  • Sidonie Verdurin: Nasty social climber who tries to rule her circle of friends with an iron hand.
  • Gustave Verdurin: Husband of Sidonie Verdurin.
  • Earl of Forcheville: known to the Verdurins.
  • Monsieur Vinteuil: extremely courteous and discreet widower. He is a musician and composer who lives near Combray. Vinteuil adores his daughter but dies of a broken heart after she has a lesbian relationship.
  • Mademoiselle Vinteuil: Daughter of Vinteuil. She has a lesbian relationship with a friend who invites her home.
  • Adolphe: Marcel’s uncle. He is a womanizer and, even in his old age, he keeps company with courtesans.
  • Berma: well-known actress.
  • Elstir: painter who lives in Balbec and knows the narrator.
  • Rachel: A mistress of Robert de Saint-Loup.
  • Andrée: Friend of Albertine.

Analysis

Adopting the ideas of the philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941), Proust presents the opinion that the conscious mind tends to inhibit the ability to remember past events. This is a problem for the narrator, Marcel, as he plans to become a writer who brings the past to life. The past is there, of course, waiting to be tapped.

Like a knight of yore, the narrator of Proust’s book sets out on a quest. But he rides into an inner world, the labyrinth of the mind, to find what he seeks: buried memories. They are not easy to resuscitate. But when he manages to bring them to life with the help of sensory stimuli associated with them, such as the cupcake flavor, he comes out with vivid mental images of his past and the people and places that occupy it. He uses these images to put together a portrait of himself and of society.