You won’t believe this. I know I’ve blogged about Proust before but it’s not something I do very often – maybe once a year or so – and on the very day I decide to start reading him and order a book, guess what happens? This happens:
I guess in France this is headline news but so disinclined are we to philosophise that over here it barely gets a footnote. Nevertheless, it’s potentially very exciting: seventy-five previously undiscovered pages of Proust have been found; pages which give the background and an early draft of parts of ‘Swann’s Way.’ They’re going to be published in March, so I’ll look out for that. Then again, it may prove to be as dull as the undiscovered Beatles single that was found some time in the 90’s. There was a huge fuss about this and in the end it turned out to be dull and pedestrian in the extreme. I can’t find a link to that one but I’ll keep looking. Meanwhile here’s some Synchronicity:
It’s surprisingly hard to get hold of Proust in the UK. I expect in France he’s everywhere; in station bookstalls and top of every Amazon search – but over here he’s seen as very – ahem! – recherche.
A little in-joke there for those of you who already know that Proust wrote ‘A la Recherche du Temps Perdu.’ This translates as In Search of Lost Time, though for some reason the first translator chose to go all Shakespeare on him and call it Remembrance of Things Past. I think that counts as cultural appropriation, quite frankly because it’s nowhere near accurate. Anyway, I first read Proust in the 1990’s and it took nearly all of that decade because Proust is not an easy read. His sentences are as long as most paragraphs and his thoughts complex and intertwining. It takes a long time to get into but once you’re there you can’t live without him and you come to realise that in fact Proust is God: there is nothing he doesn’t know.
So I have now successfully ordered Volume 1, ‘Swann’s Way’ (I’ve got all the books but they’re in storage and I can’t wait any longer.) I’ll go into this in greater depth when my book arrives.
I wonder what the Anglo-Saxon for shout-out might be? I guess I’ll find out as I plough through Sweet’s Anglo-Saxon Primer. I’m starting with the alphabet which is quite easy because most of it is like ours, although they have some different letters such as thorn and ‘eth’ (I think that’s what it’s called, though OH will correct me if not) both of which represent the voiced and unvoiced ‘th’ in English – ie ‘th’ in ‘thing’ and ‘th’ in ‘seethe’. Anglo-Saxon is a delight to listen to, such a mouthful of juicy consonants accompanied by goblets full of ringing vowels, you can practically taste the mead and feel the table under your hand. It’s interesting also to put this together with Sutton Hoo – though 500 years separate the dig from Beowulf – to create a picture in the imagination. Beowulf – I’ve read it now – is essentially a tale of shield-bashing men from the time when men were men, wrestling monsters from the deep (and their mothers) and fiery dragons. But what interests me is what it says about the society; the life of the barn where people sat in the mead-hall while wardens were placed outside; how status was dependent on prowess on the battle-field, and above all the importance of exchanging gifts. At the end of Beowulf the eponymous hero, having died destroying a dragon, is buried with much of the haul they recovered from the dragon’s den and placed inside a huge barrow on the cliff-top. Having finished the poem I have an enduring vision of ships crossing ‘whale-roads’, great halls, flowing mead and long speeches – one or two of which are given by women. Though undoubtedly second-class citizens and traded as freely as gold or silver, women are not as silent in Beowulf as I had expected and one, the wife of the lord, makes a lengthy speech of welcome to the Geats (people from southern Sweden) who have come to Denmark to free the people from the monster. It’s interesting to imagine the great mead-hall of Beowulf strewn with the found objects from Sutton Hoo; the shoulder-clasps of gold inlaid with garnet, the helmets laid aside while the heroes eat and the great cauldron hanging from the roof of the barn with perhaps a meaty stew inside. These were already sophisticated people with customs, trade, religion, seafaring routes and a social hierarchy. It’s just a pity that all they seemed to think about was war. Hey, ho – it’s tough studying Anglo-Saxon as a Quaker…