“My greatest adventure was undoubtedly Proust. What is there left to write after that?” This is what Virginia Woolf said, full of admiration -- and envy, too. Delve into Marcel Proust in this conversation with Caroline Weber, author of Proust's Duchess: How Three Celebrated Women Captured the Imagination of Fin-de-Siecle Paris
(Knopf, 2019), who has not only read the masterpiece In Search of Lost Time
, all 3000 pages and 1.25 million gorgeous, supple and utterly brilliantly composed words (several times), but who has also done the painstaking research to find out who were the real-life people on whom Proust modeled some of the most memorable characters in his sprawling book. The Duchess of Guermantes, a figure of enormous intrigue in the novel, was one of the first manifestations of celebrity culture in the modern age, presaging today's influencers who are known for being known.
Don't read Proust, the wonderfully wise Alain de Botton's counsel notwithstanding, to change your life (be wary of such temptation and be careful what you wish for). For life cannot be changed but must be lived. But read Proust to live your life now deepened by his startling insights into the human condition.
Uli Baer is a professor at New York University. He is also the host of the excellent podcast "Think About It"