“You were put on this earth to achieve your greatest self, to live out your purpose, and to do it courageously.”
I’m often asked who my favorite authors are and why they inspire me. Today, allow me to introduce you to Marcel Proust. Proust is many things, but chief among them, he is a comic novelist. He was alert to the absurdity of human nature and behavior, keenly aware of the deceptions we practice on ourselves as well as on others, and alive to the discrepancies between appearance and reality. There is comedy in most great novelists – in Scott and Stendhal, Austen, Dickens, and Dostoevsky. All had a sense of the absurd. All were capable of taking delight, sometimes-scornful delight, in the comedy of hypocrisy.
Swann’s Way, the first volume of Remembrance of Things Past, is considered one of the greatest novels even if for many, it is one unread. Proust had great difficulty getting it published. It was even returned to him unread from a publishing house. Eventually, he self-published and the rest, as they say, is history.
Yet even devoted Proustians recognize, or should recognize, why others have a problem. The book goes on and on. Many of the sentences are labyrinthine. There are long introspective passages, long passages of analysis, and equally long passages of description. Exquisite no doubt, but calling to mind Robert Louis Stevenson’s remark that nobody speaks about a beautiful view for five minutes; so why write about such things at length? Yet Alain de Botton once declared that the best bits of Proust are the descriptions and passages of analysis – just what I now tend to skip. This merely shows that different people discover different riches in the book.
Even with his accomplishments and the limitations of his physical health (he eventually passed of pneumonia), he still managed to be an active fighter for change. Despite the possibility of social ostracization, Proust actively assisted in the effort to release Alfred Dreyfus, who had been wrongfully imprisoned as a spy.