I never heard of Marcel Proust until reading a very well written article which broke down the satirical mastery of Cecily von Ziegesar.
The writer of the article (for which I can't seems to find) perfectly explained how Ziegesar slipped in a touch of allusion at the most opportune moments in Gossip Girl, to make a scene or situation more poignant and draw attention from a more literate crowd.
In one of those moments Ziegesar made a reference to Proust which I completely missed but was taught of its significance by the writer. Apparently all writers have read Proust at some time and thought his work a masterpiece so I decided that I had something to learn.
Of course I couldn't find copies of his other works at my local library but I did find a compete collection of all his short stories and I've been trying to digest them ever since I got them. The book itself is small, with exactly 200 pages, so I was expecting that it would be a quick and enjoyable read.
I'm reading the 2001 First Cooper Square Press edition with translations by Joachim Neugroschel.
Initially I was ready to draw a comparison between Wharton's writing and Proust's and I was ready to announce that Proust was indeed able to imbue colorful and tasteful imagery through his writing but so far, Proust can't touch Wharton.
Wharton's writing, which reminds me of a soft rock, jazzy feel, makes Proust's plain in comparison.
His stories often fall short, as if he had the opportunity to take it to the next step and decided not to. I went through a wave of emotion while reading his stories, first withdrawn, bored, then intrigued once he delved into a taboo subject, but then just as quickly, left unsatisfied after reading a story to its entirety.
I actually have doubts about the level of prestige that is ascribed his name but I'm holding fast to the hope that all the hype is well worth it.
I'm not sure if his writing falls into the category of outmoded prose, however I find it quite dreary. Take for example the short story titled Violante or High Society. Proust writes about Violante as a kind, quite child who incidentally, was quite impressionable because she was not able to conjure her own original thoughts or values. Further, he writes of her motivation to leave her little village but misses the mark in giving an in-depth look into her psych or even a description of who she was and her life as it was in transition. He couldn't quite denote the yearning in her for a thrilling and new experience and simply wrote about it superficially.
He gave a very removed perspective of her life, as if watching through the lens of a telescope, not quite in hearing distance of what is said, but making out very little here and there and just coming to his own conclusions about what is happening. It's no wonder that I felt so removed from Violante, from understanding her or feeling a connection of any kind.
Perhaps, what I feel is missing is sensationalism. I'm not exactly asking for dramatics but I was hoping more for opportunities to feel for Violante, but I never had any.
I realize that some could argue that it's a short story so he didn't have a lot of time or space to fill for sensationalism, but think about the last time you listened to a song. Most songs are between 3 to 4 minutes. That's a short window to grab a listeners attention, and evoke emotion and feeling. Essentially that little window, is all an artist has to dance with the emotion of listeners, their expectations and ultimately enliven a part of them that is likely dormant. That is what a short story should do as well. The reader should feel full, like they have been enlightened about a new way of thinking, freshly born and possibly, reflective of how to move forward with this new perspective, bad or good. Unfortunately, Proust failed to that most of the time.
Still, there were glimmers of light here and there. I was pleasantly surprised when reading the first short story titled The Death of Baldassare Silvande, Viscount of Sylvania. I didn't really try to give it much of a chance but it just flowed so effortlessly and smooth and imbued so many light and colorful emotions in me. It was an easy read and very moving.
The story is simply, delicate and so rich with vivid and striking sorrowful moments that promoted an introspective thought about death. But that striking story seems like one in a few ... his stories are hard to delve into.
The funny thing is I'm only on page 54 so how dare I right? I guess it's too early to discredit the hype-men out there huh? I just wish it wasn't so painfully hard to pick up the book and read another one of his short stories.
Comment below, have you read the complete short stories of Proust? What did you think of them? Don't be stingy with your thoughts.