The best books to expand your grasp of Marcel Proust

Eric Karpeles Author Of Paintings in Proust: A Visual Companion to in Search of Lost Time
By Eric Karpeles

The Books I Picked & Why

Proust's Way: A Field Guide to in Search of Lost Time

By Roger Shattuck

Proust's Way: A Field Guide to in Search of Lost Time

Why this book?

"Like the Bible, In Search of Lost Time embodies its own sources, myths, and criticism. Like an archaeological site, the novel has come to stand for a state of civilization.” Roger Shattuck is masterful in reach and insight; his “field guide” is aptly named. The reader journeys alongside him to traverse the vast and incomparable terrain of a seven-volume novel. Full of wit and provocation, he leads us through thick and thin, and best of all, he allows our own reading of the great work to revive within us, illuminating the very experience of reading that Proust so brilliantly mined.


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The Magic Lantern of Marcel Proust: A Critical Study of Remembrance of Things Past

By Howard Moss

The Magic Lantern of Marcel Proust: A Critical Study of Remembrance of Things Past

Why this book?

Howard Moss brings a poet’s grasp of the ineffable to this enchanting study of Proust. His commentaries on the novelist’s use of psychology and philosophy, on habit and memory, are remarkable contributions to our understanding. He writes about In Search of Lost Time as “a total vision, not relying on any system outside itself for support. It is as if Dante had set out to write The Divine Comedy using only the facts of his own existence, without any reference to Christianity.” Moss was poetry editor at The New Yorker for almost forty years. A small gem.


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Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp

By Józef Czapski, Eric Karpeles

Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp

Why this book?

It was because of Proust that I came to learn of the existence of the Polish painter and writer Józef Czapski. While a prisoner of war in the dark heart of Soviet Russia during the Second World War, this singular, cosmopolitan spirit devised a series of lectures on Proust and In Search of Lost Time as a vital counterpoint to the grim surroundings he and his fellow prisoners were forced to endure, offering them a context for addressing their lives and their bleak fates. Freezing, nearly starving, lice-ridden, Czapski mapped out Proust’s cosmology in several pages of his journal that served to fuel his talks. Scheherazade-like, night after night, he slowly revealed the already-legendary French novelist’s complex world of ideas and characters, giving voice to the life-enhancing magic great art bestows.


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Proust in the Power of Photography

By Brassaï, Richard Howard

Proust in the Power of Photography

Why this book?

When the Hungarian-French photographer Brassai arrived in Paris in 1924, he taught himself French by reading Proust. As a photographer, he was fascinated by a similarity between his own impulse to make pictures and how the novelist used the photographic process as a metaphor for establishing or obscuring his character’s inner and outer worlds, as if both he and Proust were developing images in their respective darkrooms. Proust, Brassai saw, “used his own body as an ultra-sensitive plate, managing to capture and register thousands of impressions.” He was like a reporter with a camera—sometimes a portraitist, a landscapist, and, “sometimes Proust rivals the paparazzi.”


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Proust and America: The Influence of American Art, Culture, and Literature on À la Recherché Du Temps Perdu

By Michael Murphy

Proust and America: The Influence of American Art, Culture, and Literature on À la Recherché Du Temps Perdu

Why this book?

Proust’s passion for the English writers George Eliot and John Ruskin is well known, as is his scrutiny of the Anglophilia of Parisians at the turn of the twentieth century, but his connection with American thinkers and painters has been less carefully scrutinized. ”It is strange," Proust wrote in 1909, "that, in the most widely different departments . . . there should be no other literature which exercises over me so powerful an influence as the English and American.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allen Poe, and James McNeill Whistler are examined as Proust's key American influences. Critic Michael Murphy also investigates the previously overlooked influence of the American neurologist George Beard, whose writings on neurasthenia and "American nervousness” helped contribute to the essential modernity of In Search of Lost Time.


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