Why is Proust often called the greatest French writer, comparable to England’s Shakespeare, Spain’s Cervantes or Argentina’s Borges? How can Proust’s seven-tome novel, which, in places, explores the seamy undersides of human existence, have the reputation of being a witty, enchanting, and philosophical book that lends readers a distinctive “Proustian lens” through which to see life in fundamentally new and innovative ways? In this discussion, we will look together at Proust’s work by examining passages where sensory descriptions illustrate and animate major themes in the novel and spark exemplary Proustian experiences of the beauty, depth, and complexity of everyday life. While unable to capture the entire range of this magnum opus, this short introduction will enable readers to understand the essential modernity of this 100-year- old book, the fundamental elements of the human condition that it showcases, and the pertinence that the work still has today.
Hollie Harder is Professor of French and Francophone Studies at Brandeis University, where she teaches all levels of French literature, language and culture. She has published on Émile Zola in Nineteenth-Century French Studies (“The Woman Beneath: The femme de marbre in Zola’s La Faute de l’abbé Mouret”) and on Marcel Proust in Modern Language Studies (“Proust’s Novel Confections: Françoise’s Cooking and Marcel’s Book”), in The Cambridge Companion to Proust (“Proust’s Human Comedy”)and in French Forum (“On the Beach and in the Boudoir: Albertine as an Amazon Figure in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time). She leads the Proust Reading Group and the Proust Selected Studies Group at the Boston Athenaeum and she teaches courses on Proust at the Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (BOLLI).