Out of the Budding Grove

When I picked up Swann’s Way earlier in March, I had no idea that 2013 is the 100th Anniversary of its publication. Now in hindsight, I’m all the more excited with this serendipitous selection for a Read-Along. And what discoveries I’ve made reading Proust!

Six months later in September, I started Vol. II Within A Budding Grove, allowing myself and any fellow reader two months to finish this 730 page volume.

Within A Budding Grove Modern Library

I reiterate, I’ve encountered thickets blocking the way through the budding grove, but I must say, the enjoyment I’ve reaped from slashing and plowing through it is greater than my frustration. All in all, coming out of it feels like finding my way through a corn maze. Out I come dazed but gratified.

I’ve posted some thoughts on Part One of Within A Budding Grove here. This latter part is about Balbec, a seaside resort the adolescent narrator travels with his Grandmother to stay for the summer to recuperate his health. Like his memories of Combray, Proust’s description of Balbec is detailed and colourful. He relays to his reader his journey, the scenery, the Grand Hotel they stay in, its guests and their social hierarchical interactions, his new-formed friendship with the painter Elstir who introduces him to the band of girls the young narrator admires but is too shy to greet on his own, Albertine, Andrée, Rosemonde, Gisele…

The original title of this volume is In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs) which I think is spot on. But, the budding grove is an apt metaphor too for his adolescent self discoveries of love and passion. And in one hilarious scene with Albertine, Proust has shown he can be a writer for Saturday Night Live any time. Too long to quote here but well worth the read. (p. 700-701 in case you want to skip the first 699 pages.)

And young Marcel is ever in-touch with his own feelings for these girls, especially Albertine. Here is his honest analysis:

At the start of a new love as at its ending, we are not exclusively attached to the object of that love, but rather the desire to love from which it well presently arise (and, later on, the memory it leaves behind)… (p. 676)

Ahh… romancing a desire and a future memory.

What about Gilberte, Swann’s daughter, with whom the young narrator is so obsessed earlier? To his credit, young Marcel has a full grasp of his own psyche. Why? It’s all a matter of Habit, he reasons. Since Gilberte has snubbed him, he needs to forget her and let go of any form of Habit reminding him of his previous life in pursuing her. This trip to Balbec takes him away from the familiar and replaces his memories of Gilberte, and a static existence, with fresh experiences and revitalized senses. Getting out of his home in Paris and going away might just be the best medicine:

… one’s days being paralysed by a sedentary life, the best way to gain time is to change one’s place of residence. My journey to Balbec was like the first outing of a convalescent who needed only that to convince him that he was cured. (p. 301)

Even before he gets to Balbec, while on the train stopping at a station, the sensitive and observant narrator is already filled with delight as he sees a young milk-girl carrying a jar of milk walking to the train at the break of dawn:

She passed down the line of windows, offering coffee and milk to a few awakened passengers. Flushed with the glow of morning, her face was rosier than the sky. I felt on seeing her that desire to live which is reborn in us whenever we become conscious anew of beauty and of happiness. (P. 318)

My own memories of the changing hue on those Bohemian Waxwings come to mind. Proust has effectively conveyed the power of association, the linking of words on a page to the reader’s own memory and the joy it had once elicited.


Proust in Cabourg copy 1
Photo Source: franceculture.fr

Proust insists that In Search of Lost Time is not autobiographical, but said “The pleasure that an artist gives us, is to introduce us to another universe.” No matter, his writing relates closely to his life experiences, parallel universe if you will.

Balbec is the fictitious reconstruction of Cabourg, a seaside resort town in the Basse-Normandie region of France where Proust frequented between 1907-1914. While Proust explores voluntary and involuntary memories in his long work, he could well be weaving memories with imagination, fusing fiction with real life experiences, creating an intricate tapestry.

Lydia Davis, translator of the most recent edition of Swann’s Way (The Way by Swann’s), offers this insight: “this novel is not autobiography wearing a thin disguise of fiction but . . . fiction in the guise of autobiography.”


Whichever way you slice it, it’s still as delicious as madeleines dipped in tea.


Some Relevant Links:

The TLS blog: French literary anniversaries, part 4 – Du côté de chez Swann

CLICK HERE to a webpage on Cabourg where you can see the video of The Grand Hotel, with Proust’s room still being kept there.

Proust in Cabourg

In The Shadow of Young Girls in Flowers, from The Modernism Lab at Yale University

Photo Source: franceculture.fr


Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

Half Way Through a Budding Grove

Swann’s Way Part I: Combray

Parts 2 & 3: Swann In Love


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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.

15 thoughts on “Out of the Budding Grove”

  1. How wonderful to be reading Proust in this anniversary year. I tried it once, quite a few years ago, and only got about 20 pages in. I’m too busy with other reading to try something so strenuous at the moment, but one day I hope to read him. In the meantime I have a number of books about other people reading Proust that I hope to get read too.


    1. Louise,

      Considering the page numbers for each volume, it’s like reading 2-3 books for each. So, it’s really not that hard except, of course, you could be caught in some dense thickets. Easiest way to deal with those is to slash them through… that’s what I do. Skim the tangled passages and stay a bit to enjoy the clearings. 😉


  2. So glad you liked it! Any plans to go on to the Guermantes Way? If so, I will definitely readalong with that one as my bookmark is still firmly stuck in its middle after a very long time.


    1. Stefanie,

      At the moment, I’ve to catch up with many other books waiting TBR, titles that I’ve put aside trying to finish this Proust volume. I’ve no plans as of now to go further yet. I just might go back and reread Swann’s Way, for all the things I’d missed. 😉


  3. What an apt description, as far as I can tell, to say that you emerged triumphant through a thicket. This sounds rather sexual to me, but in a comin of age/tender way. I’m so disappointed in myself for abandoning it, but the fall has been too stressful for much reading. Or, blogging. Or, commenting. Sorry, Arti, and I’m so thrilled you persevered. There is something to be said for a hard won victory such as you’ve accomplished.


    1. Bellezza,

      I know how it is. Don’t feel bad, you’ll always have the book around now, and whenever you have the time and in the mood, just pick it up and read a few pages. Actually that’s all I had done for two months. Anyway, I must thank you for initiating this. If not for your prompting, I wouldn’t have picked it up. So… until our next challenge. 😉


  4. yes, it’s really cool to read Proust this year, in fact there’s a whole Goodreads community, with a calendar since Jan 1st 2013, to read a set # of pages every week, so that you cover the whole thing this year. got delayed and am only starting Sodome et Gomorrhe, #4, but enjoying the experience. Dragging my feet though at reviewing them! I admire your courage at trying to review Proust, lol!!


    1. WordsAndPeace,

      Not really a review (how can with just one or two posts on hundreds of pages?) No, merely sharing my thoughts on the experience. So I, the reader of Proust, will remember and cherish in the future these moments of me reading Proust. I admire your persistence more in pressing ahead for the rest of the volumes. I think I’ll just park here for a while and renew the sights in my mind’s eye. (I’m a quick study and a slow reader). 😉


      1. what I like in Proust is that you struggle for hundreds of pages, some boring, and suddenly, at the turn of a page, you get this amazing gem! I guess that’s what keeps me going. so maybe like looking for gold, lol


  5. Beautiful thoughts on Proust, Arti. You only have to say the word ‘Balbec’ and I find myself transported back there. It’s amazing how some fictional places can be as vivid and dramatic in the mind as any real ones. I love Proust when he’s a hoot, too, and he is more often than people think. I’m so glad you’re enjoying it.


    1. litlove,

      If I have the chance to go to France again, I’ll be sure to visit these places. The real towns from which Proust draw his inspirations. So far, it’s Combray and Balbec, both summer vacation spots. Sounds cool. 😉


  6. Apart from the Madeleine passage, and all of that about Proustian memory, I haven’t tackled Proust at all. On the other hand, I may try “backing” into his work. I have a copy of Alain de Botton’s “How Proust Can Change Your Life” on the bookshelf, and I have dipped into that. It’s very interesting, and might be just the ticket for pulling me into Proust himself.

    Here’s a link to a couple of minutes of de Botton talking about his approach that I think you’ll find congenial. How Proust Can Change Your Life”


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