In 1909 at age 38, Marcel Proust began writing In Search of Lost Time, and he would continue writing his monumental work until his death a century ago in 1922. In total, In Search of Lost Time spanned seven volumes containing around 3,200 pages and more than 2,000 characters. Despite initial reticence from publishers, Proust’s masterpiece went on to become one of the defining works in modern literature. Critics and authors alike were quick to praise his style and substance. Virginia Woolf was a huge fan, writing in 1922, “Proust so titillates my own desire for expression that I can hardly set out the sentence. Oh if I could write like that!”
Like Woolf, Proust helped shape modernist literature. His work often rejected chronological and narrative continuity, and his themes of time, memory, and the nature of art were very much at the heart of modernism. Memory, perhaps more than any other theme, is central to In Search of Lost Time. In the famous madeleine scene in the first volume, Swann’s Way, Proust writes how the smell and taste of a little cake floods the mind of his narrator with involuntary memories of his aunt Léonie and associated recollections.
Proust left us with an incredible body of work, in which he comments and philosophizes quite beautifully on many topics. Here are 17 of his greatest quotes, covering everything from love and writing to time, memory, and the nature of reality itself.
Thanks to art, instead of seeing a single world, our own, we see it multiply until we have before us as many worlds as there are original artists.
If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less but to dream more, to dream all the time.
The only true voyage of discovery… would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes.
The places that we have known belong now only to the little world of space on which we map them for our own convenience.
When we come to examine the thoughts, the actions of a woman whom we love, we are as completely at a loss as must have been, face to face with the phenomena of nature, the world's first natural philosophers, before their science had been elaborated and had cast a ray of light over the unknown.
We are not provided with wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can take for us, an effort which no one can spare us.
What matters in life is not whom or what one loves, it is the fact of loving.
Nine-tenths of the ills from which intelligent people suffer spring from their intellect.
I realized that the essential book, the one true book, is one that the great writer does not need to invent, in the current sense of the word, since it already exists in every one of us — he has only to translate it. The task and the duty of a writer are those of a translator.
Sometimes in this life, under the stress of an exceptional emotion, people do say what they think.
There are perhaps no days of our childhood that we lived as fully as the days we think we left behind without living at all: the days we spent with a favorite book.
Love is space and time rendered perceptible by the heart.
The creation of the world did not occur at the beginning of time, it occurs every day.
The impression is for the writer what experiment is for the scientist, with the difference that in the scientist the work of intelligence precedes the experiment and in the writer it comes after the impression.
We feel in one world, we think and name in another. Between the two we can set up a system of references, but we cannot fill the gap.
An hour is not merely an hour, it is a vase full of scents and sounds and projects and climates.
Always try to keep a patch of sky above your life.
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