Reading Dangerously | Proust, Installment 1

As promised, I have begun my Dangerous Reading! I’ve started with Marcel Proust, primarily because it’s what I could find that the library. I’m about a hundred pages into Swann’s Way, and am beginning to comprehend the magnificence of Proust and his prose. Oddly enough, the thing that has stuck in my mind the most is an off-hand comment made by the grandmother, during our narrator’s rhapsody about the Combray church steeple:

“My dears, laugh at me if you like; it is not conventionally beautiful, but there is something in its quaint old face that pleases me. If it could play the piano, I’m sure it wouldn’t sound tinny.”

There are two things I love about this sentence. It’s not just that she’s granting person-hood to a piece of architecture; that happens all the time. People are always talking about the “character” of buildings, or the “face” that they present, as she does above. What I really love about it is that she’s not just anthropomorphizing it, she’s making statements about what it would DO if it were a person, specifically how it would play the piano. Which tells us lots about grandmother — it means that she is not just concerned with the impressions people give, but with their actions as well. And, apparently, the most important of those actions for her, at the moment, is how they play the piano.

The second thing that I love about it is the mistaken attribution. If a piano sounds tinny, as far as I know it’s the fault of the piano, or maybe the acoustics of the room itself. A person can play well, or poorly, but the quality of the sound has nothing to do with them personally. What a lovely mix-up! To pass muster, someone must not only play the piano, but play one that has good acoustics; Heaven help them otherwise.

It’s little jokes like these, more than the in-depth exploration on sense memory and its evocation, that will pull me through this seven volume work. I’m learning to love Proust for the same reason that I love Austen — the canny, tongue-in-cheek narration and observation that turn the most prosaic and mundane people, situations, and places into something worth writing about.

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One Response to Reading Dangerously | Proust, Installment 1

  1. elaine says:

    what a great write!!!!!

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