Half Way Through a Budding Grove

Half way through reading In Search of Lost Time, Vol. II, Within A Budding Grove, I’ve discovered a key to enjoying Proust. Just as it’s best to eat madeleines by dipping them in tea before putting the moistened petite cakes in your mouth, the most enjoyable way to read Proust is lying in bed with an unhindered mind. In this most relaxed state, I’m at ease to stroll leisurely through a budding grove, or the thickets of a genius’s mind.

Within A Budding Grove Modern Library

So far, I’ve gone passed the narrator Marcel’s painful struggles with adolescent, unrequited love for M. Swann’s daughter Gilberte. In contrast, his crush for Mme Swann has been appreciated and normalized. Unlike the cool and aloof Gilberte, Mme Swann welcomes Marcel into their home warmly, including him in their family outings, and their home gatherings with their friends, thus allowing him an opportunity to meet his literary hero, the writer Bergotte.

And here’s the passage I’m most impressed by, so far. The man Bergotte is very different from the writer Marcel has encountered in his ‘divine writing’. The man appears to be very common, inarticulate even, and devoid of eloquence, a man who spent his childhood in a ‘tasteless household’. Marcel is shocked by this discovery, and scrambles to come to terms with such dissonance. In a most ingenious analysis, the young Marcel comes to this conclusion:

But genius, and even great talent, springs less from seeds of intellect and social refinement superior to those of other people than from the faculty of transforming and transposing them… To mount the skies it is not necessary to have the most powerful of motors, one must have a motor which, instead of continuing to run along the earth’s surface… is capable of converting its speed into lifting power. (p. 175)

As I read these few pages, Jane Austen came to mind. A writer who had lived her short life mainly in a rural setting, her associations parochial and far from ‘high society’, and yet could transport herself and thus her readers to a different world from her mundane social environs. Her imagination soared as it took flight with her incisive observations of human nature.

… the men who produce works of genius are not those who live in the most delicate atmosphere, whose conversation is the most brilliant or their culture the most extensive, but those who have had the power, ceasing suddenly to live only for themselves, to transform their personality into a sort of mirror… genius consisting in reflecting power and not in the intrinsic quality of the scene reflected. (p. 175-176)

The adolescent Marcel’s disillusionment with the discrepancy between the man and writer Bergotte leads him to an uplifting insight:

The day on which the young Bergotte succeeded in showing to the world of his readers the tasteless household in which he had spent his childhood, and the not very amusing conversations between himself and his brothers, was the day on which he rose above the friends of his family, more intellectual and more distinguished than himself; they in their fine Rolls-Royces might return home expressing due contempt for the vulgarity of the Bergottes; but he, in his modest machine which had at last ‘taken off,’ soared above their heads. (p. 176)

Yes, more Proust’s words than mine on this post. Many other highlighted passages and surprising delights, but will have to wait till I’ve come out of the budding grove the end of November. If you’re interested, you’re welcome to join me in a read-along of In Search of Lost Time, Vol. II: Within A Budding Grove.

CLICK HERE to my wrap-up post: Out of the Budding Grove


Related Posts:

Proust Read-along Swann’s Way Part I: Combray (Featured in ‘Freshly Pressed’)

The Swann and Gatsby Foil

What Was Jane Austen Really Like? Reading Tomalin and Shields

In Praise of Austen: Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own


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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

22 thoughts on “Half Way Through a Budding Grove”

    1. linnetmoss,

      I think that’s how Proust wrote too… in bed, I learned somewhere. You never know, maybe he had some encounters with Morpheus too… 😉


  1. Well, as you know, I’m not reading along. But maybe I should be. The writing style is so eloquent and lovely! I’m not a good bed reader — except at the lake. Then I just love it. Go figure!


    1. Jeanie,

      I admit, there are other pages that I just skimmed over in order not to be bogged down. But these passages here I read a few times over. I think this is ingenious thinking… and, others have echoed too, like Virginia Woolf (A Room of One’s Own in her praise of Austen), and more recently, Claire Tomalin’s Jane Austen bio.


  2. Well, I must say, the image of tea and madeleines and tranquil spirit whilst lying in bed is most appealing to me now! I could not get through the murky waters with the autumn I’ve had at school, and even reading the passages which struck you remain thick in my mind. But, you are an inspiration, Arti, and I have just now downloaded the audio of Within A Budding Grove on my iPod from Naxos books. One would think that I could attain a level of peace driving to school and listening to Proust since I can’t find it lying and reading him. Wish me luck, and I do admire your perseverance!!!


    1. Bellezza,

      There’s no pressure here, but the audio may work for you while driving. I’ve enjoyed many audio books that way too. As for me, I’m far from totally understanding everything Proust wrote in this book and devouring every page. However, while there are those I just skim over in order not to be bogged down, there are countless incidents where I find Proust insightful to the dot… and his descriptions so detailed and perceptive. Let’s say it’s ‘enjoyable perseverance’… quite an oxymoron. So I think even if you can’t finish the whole book, you may still like to have a taste of some of the passages. I’m curious what it’s like listening to Proust’s words spoken rather than reading them on a page.


      1. Fell asleep last night after listening to the first twenty minutes. It was delightful! The narrator read a bit more quickly than is possible for me to grab all the images, but the ones I have are clear and memorable. It’s interesting how Proust is able to describe he minutiae of life.


        1. Bellezza,

          I’m glad to hear you’ve started listening already… and LOL, what a wonderful way to fall asleep. 😉 I’m eager to hear your thoughts on listening to Proust read out. Don’t feel pressured to finish all, but do share with us come Nov. 30


  3. I like the idea of reading Proust in the relaxed state of mind you describe. It’s no good getting anxious and uptight about understanding what’s going on and following the long sentences. It’s best just to let it wash over you and to revel in the words rather than worrying about getting it perfectly.


    1. Rebecca,

      Yes, I’m learning to read loosely, like flowing in water… letting some passages just flow by. And… have you a chance to see the exhibit at the Morgan Library, this year being the 100th anniversary of the pub. of Swann’s Way. Proust hand-wrote in bed. And he even drew his own illustrations beside his scribbling. Here’s a link to one of those notebooks and a good write-up article on the New Yorker.


  4. Oh yes I read in bed all the time. Even if I go to bed late, like midnight or later, I still have to read for a little while. I did not find other volumes of Proust in French and will have to wait until I get back home to Paris.
    We traveled this last month but I got to do some reading. While in New Orleans I purchased the paperback copy of the original 1855 “Twelve Years a Slave” and quickly read that. Then I read “The bondwoman narrative” by an escape slave from North Carolina in the 1850s. I also read a book on cultural differences between France and America and that was enlightening. Then I read one of the Agatha Christie’s I bought at the fair. Since I was on a ship I took my Kindle and read two books by Elizabeth Von Armin and now am reading a third called “Elizabeth and her Garden” I think it is called, but this is a 1907 edition. I am also reading novellas in French in Irene Nemirovsky’s “Dimanche” which are wonderful and am also reading a book by Jean Cocteau. I did finish “Suburban Nation” which was an eye opener – finding the reason for suburban sprawl in the US – it was started by changing zoning laws after WW2 for people to get away from the poor and African Americans in inner cities – it is quite an amazing book. So this was my reading for the last 3 or 4 weeks. I have not been to the movies in a while though.


    1. VB,

      The next time you’re in Paris, do go to see Proust’s bedroom in the Musée Carnavalet. I read this New Yorker article that shows Proust’s notebook… an informative article that I’m sure you’d be most interested in reading. Can you imagine Proust wrote In Search of Lost Time all the volumes in bed, due to his ill health? All handwritten, with his own illustrations beside his scribblings. This in itself (look at the notebook) is so inspiring. Makes me think of how we used to handwrite in journals, maybe draw, or color… yes, journaling, I used to be really into that just a few years ago. But no more, now I’m typing away on my laptop, no more drawings, or handwriting. The loss of an art form… visual journaling. I can’t imagine someone handwriting a novel today. We’re amazed that someone may still be using a typewriter instead of a computer. But handwriting a novel? But that’s exactly what writers in the past did!

      I admire your vast reading interests. I’m glad to know too that we share some of them. And oh, how cool is that that you’ve a copy of 12 Years a Slave. This one is going to be huge when Oscar Season comes around. Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise is also being developed into a movie with Kristin Scott Thomas, hope that is good. And… urban sprawl and all its reasons. This sounds like a really interesting book. Thanks for sharing!


  5. Ah, that must be my problem. Not reading particular books with the appropriate mindset — relaxed, at ease, open. Madeleines and tea wouldn’t hurt, either 😉 You have such a way of drawing out the essence of a reading experience that I admire.


      1. We’re amazed if someone still uses the typewriter instead of a computer, but can you imagine Proust hand-wrote his 7 Vol. novel In Search of Lost Time (est. 1.2 million words)? But wasn’t that what writers used to do in the past, writing by hand? How we need to preserve this skill… using our hand to write. 😉


  6. A very attractive, intelligent woman that I was getting on well with at a party asked me if I had read Proust and I said that life was too short to read Proust (or something silly like that) and she never spoke to me again.


  7. Oh, Arti. For the first time, someone has tempted me toward Proust. The quotations you’ve provided and the context you’ve described are perfect jumping off points for the post I want to write about my visit to the Crystal Bridges Museum, and what I found there.

    Bentonville, after all, is in Arkansas, not New York or Chicago. There were plenty of museum visitors in blue jeans – not cool, fashionista jeans, but work jeans. Etc., and so on. There’s a lot to think about here, and I think Proust will help me sort it through. Eventually, I’ll pick up this volume, but these words are enough to get me started.

    And I must say, that thought of transforming personality into a mirror – that resonates, too. Heaven knows I’m no Proust, but I think I take his meaning here, and I think that’s very much part of what I try to do in my writing. This is worth contemplating, too.

    As for reading in bed… there’s no way. I don’t even enjoy it. Isn’t that strange? But generally, when I head to bed, I’m tired and pretty intent on going to sleep. And since sleeplessness never is an issue for me, I can’t even turn on the light and read in the middle of the night!


    1. Linda,

      If you do, and I hope you will maybe during the lazy hazy winter days by the Texas Gulf coat. 😉 And if you do, you’ll have to start from Vol. 1. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the loquacious styling of Proust’s writing. Truth is, I have to skim through many pages in order to arrive at something I can truly take hold of… so you can see it’s like a gleaning. Although I must say I’ve enjoyed many of his descriptions and narratives, and surprisingly, the topics he covers.


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