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

Who am I?

I first read Swann’s Way when I was seventeen. Throughout the following five decades, In Search of Lost Time has always remained within reach, a parallel universe more enriching than words can express. As a painter, I’m drawn to Proust’s subtle use of paintings to reveal and mystify the relationship between what we see and what we know. I’ve spoken on Proust at Berkeley, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and Houston, and was invited to give the annual Proust lecture at the Center for Fiction in New York as well as the Amon Carter Lecture on the Arts at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin.


I wrote...

Paintings in Proust: A Visual Companion to in Search of Lost Time

By Eric Karpeles,

Book cover of Paintings in Proust: A Visual Companion to in Search of Lost Time

What is my book about?

A lavishly illustrated and comprehensive guide, Paintings in Proust offers a feast for the eyes, celebrating the close relationship between the visual and literary arts in Proust’s masterwork. All of the paintings to which Proust makes exact reference are identified, and where only a painter’s name is mentioned, a representative work has been selected to illustrate the impression the novelist sought to evoke. Botticelli maidens, Mantegna warriors, and Manet courtesans stand amidst Whistler and Vermeer landscapes to flesh out the novel’s palpable and impalpable realities.

The book opens with an essay, includes contextual commentary, and closes with extensive notes and an index of all painters and paintings referenced. The NY Times announced the arrival of the book with "the literary equivalent of a hosanna.”

The books I picked & why

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

By Roger Shattuck,

Book cover of 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.

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

By Roger Shattuck,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Proust's Way as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For any reader who has been humbled by the language, the density, or the sheer weight of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time, Roger Shattuck is a godsend. Winner of the National Book Award for Marcel Proust, a sweeping examination of Proust's life and works, Shattuck now offers a useful and eminently readable guidebook to Proust's epic masterpiece, and a contemplation of memory and consciousness throughout great literature. Here, Shattuck laments Proust's defenselessness against zealous editors, praises some translations, and presents Proust as a novelist whose philosophical gifts were matched only by his irrepressible comic sense. Proust's Way, the…


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

By Howard Moss,

Book cover of 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.

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

By Howard Moss,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Magic Lantern of Marcel Proust as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"[The Magic Lantern of Marcel Proust] reduces the ungainly and intricately designed masterpiece to its shape, and with hardly a wasted word...The paragraphs on habit and memory are truly wonderful—wonderful as explication, as psychology, and as philosophy."—John Updike

"Almost everything Moss says seems to me right, illuminating, and new. This is the book of a mature and individual mind and sensibility, with a deep experience of moral, social, psychological, and aesthetic values which is rare among critics." —George D. Painter

"A moving and inspiring book. Moss clears away dark corners, clarifies motivations, and places the huge work within the reader's…


Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp

By Józef Czapski, Eric Karpeles (translator),

Book cover of 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.

Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp

By Józef Czapski, Eric Karpeles (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lost Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first translation of painter and writer Józef Czapski's inspiring lectures on Proust, first delivered in a prison camp in the Soviet Union during World War II.

During the Second World War, as a prisoner of war in a Soviet camp, and with nothing but memory to go on, the Polish artist and soldier Józef Czapski brought Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time to life for an audience of prison inmates. In a series of lectures, Czapski described the arc and import of Proust’s masterpiece, sketched major and minor characters in striking detail, and movingly evoked the work’s originality,…


Proust in the Power of Photography

By Brassaï, Richard Howard (translator),

Book cover of 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.”

Proust in the Power of Photography

By Brassaï, Richard Howard (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Proust in the Power of Photography as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the most original and memorable photographers of the 20th century, Brassai was also a journalist, sculptor and writer. He took great pride in his writing, and he loved literature and language - French most of all. When he arrived in Paris in 1924, Brassai began teaching himself French by reading Proust. Captured by the sensuality and visual strategies of Proust's writing, Brassai soon became convinced that he had discovered a kindred spirit. Brassai wrote: "In his battle against Time, that enemy of our precarious existence, ever on the offensive though never openly so, it was in photography, also…


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

By Michael Murphy,

Book cover of 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.

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

By Michael Murphy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Proust and America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An Open Access edition of this book is available on the Liverpool University Press website and the OAPEN library.

"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 English and American." In the spirit of Proust's admission, this engaging and critical volume offers the first comparative reading of the French novelist in the context of American art, literature, and culture. In addition to examining Proust's key American influences-Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allen Poe, and James McNeill Whistler-Proust…


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