Friday, April 11, 2008

The Proustian Sentence


I think I’ll truly be reading French at an adult level when I can breeze through Proust without difficulty. I read him in English, one summer during college, and I thought that In Search of Lost Time was the greatest novel I’d ever read. I still do think that. It’s amazing to me that I can turn to any page of this massive story and find some startling idea or evocative metaphor there; I’ve tried it several times and it always works. It’s a great story: a social critique, a meditation on human memory, a soap opera, and a study of selfhood and subjectivity.

When you read it, you fall into Proust’s languid rhythm after about 20 pages and so his sentences: huge cotton candy-like convoluted bundles of clauses and metaphors: just add to the overall effect. In English translations, the sentences tend to be chopped up a bit; this is normal with translations of French novels; French readers love the semicolon a bit more than English readers do. And Proust has a few sentences that extend longer than a page, and even in your native language it can be hard to follow a sentence with that many clauses grouped around a main idea.

It’s even harder in a language that you’re still learning. I recently realized that, rather ridiculously, I never finished the last volume of À la Recherche du Temps Perdu; probably because I had to return to university. Basically, I read a 3,000 page story, except for the last hundred or so pages. This occurred to me when I read an article talking about the main theme of the book and how it’s finally elaborated in the last page. Admittedly, after 2,900-some pages, I pretty much understood what the theme was; but I still never finished the thing. So, now I’m in search of lost Proust. But, wow, is he a challenge in French.

24 comments:

narrator said...

The wonder of reading in the original language. I could never tackle Proust, I'm probably stuck at about Astérix in French. I've always wanted to get to Peter Hoeg in Danish, but it will never happen.

Holly said...

I've always been interested and sort of afraid to read that. Now, more so. Thanks a lot....

Rufus said...

Narrator: I've always wanted to read Dante in Italian. Also probably not going to happen any time soon.

Holly: That was the point of comparing it to a soap opera though- I wanted to suggest that it's also really fun to read. But, definitely, read it in a good English translation. I think the American Library has a really good one.

Holly said...

For a split second, I thought about reading it in German translation. Then I started laughing.

(While Harry Potter is great in German, Gabriel Garcia Marquez is NOT going so well. I can only imagine what would happen with Proust!)

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