Book Cat Speaks! & Three Literary Links


Salve! (pronounced Sal-way!) That’s “Hi” in Latin.

Yup.  I’m a Book Cat. I’ve picked up a LOT from reading over my bookish PERSON’S shoulder since I left the pound.  I usually enjoy books, except when she’s crying over every other page of The Dollmaker. I did sit on the book for a while to discourage her from reading on.  My colleague cats are so strung out by the emotional roller coaster of Appalchian fiction that  one took a little bite out of the corner of a page.  When will they learn?  I REVERE books, even when they made me sad.  If they allowed domestic shorthairs like me to compete at cat shows, I’d do tricks with books proving I’m way brainier than those Persians and Hairless Cats who win Best in Show!  But I’m frankly too unsedated to sit in a cage and let the judges handle me.  I’m more interested in feline classics than displaying my coat: my favorites books are  Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, The Dover Anthology of Cat Stories, Paul Gallico’s The Three Lives of Thomasina, and T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

I have a lot of book-related jobs.

Sitting on bookcases.  I call it Keeping on Top of Books.

Book Cat!

Sniffing library books.  They do have the oddest smell.


Culling the Persephone collecton. I like Isobel English’a Every Eye, which I’m sitting on. Sorry, the other has to go.

IMG_3407And now I’m also picking out today’s literary links, because my person is colossally bored.


remebmracne of things past proust13387282._SY540_1 Sarah Boxer writes at the Atlantic about reading Proust on a cellphone after her silver paperback fell apart and she experienced reader’s block.

A long time ago I was hopelessly hung up, and not in a good way, on a certain passage in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. The offending passage, obstructing all the rest of Proust for me, lay in the very middle volume, the fourth of seven, which was then called Cities of the Plain (and has since been retranslated, with more accuracy and more filth, as Sodom and Gomorrah)

And she says she finally got past it and finished up on a cell phone.  She claims it was a Proustian experience.  I don’t buy it., but it’s amusing.

2 The Atlantic also published Juliet Shulevitz’s article,“The Brontës’ Secret:  The sisters turned domestic constraints into grist for brilliant books.”

Nelly Dean 25673956She begins,

No body of writing has engendered more other bodies of writing than the Bible, but the Brontë corpus comes alarmingly close. “Since 1857, when Elizabeth Gaskell published her famous Life of Charlotte Brontë, hardly a year has gone by without some form of biographical material on the Brontës appearing—from articles in newspapers to full-length lives, from images on tea towels to plays, films, and novelizations,” wrote Lucasta Miller in The Brontë Myth, her 2001 history of Brontëmania. This year the Brontë literary-industrial complex celebrates the bicentennial of Charlotte’s birth, and British and American publishers have been especially busy. In the U.S., there is a new Charlotte Brontë biography by Claire Harman; a Brontë-themed literary detective novel; a novelistic riff on Jane Eyre whose heroine is a serial killer; a collection of short stories inspired by that novel’s famous last line, “Reader, I married him”; and a fan-fiction-style “autobiography” of Nelly Dean, the servant-narrator of Wuthering Heights. Last year’s highlights included a young-adult novelization of Emily’s adolescence and a book of insightful essays called The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects, which uses items belonging to Charlotte, Emily, and Anne …

florence_marryatd5c5c1.13 And the blogger Catherine Pope-Victorian Geek wrote a piece on “Miss Maryat vs. Charles Dickens.”She begins,

It’s not often that Florence Marryat makes the national press, so this has been an exciting week. An unpublished letter from 1860 has emerged in which Charles Dickens berates Marryat for requesting advice from him. She offered a short story for inclusion in his journal All the Year Round, hoping that he would also give her a critique. Of course, it’s perfectly usual for authors to solicit feedback from editors, and Dickens was actually a close friend of her father, fellow novelist Captain Frederick Marryat. Poor Florence must’ve been rather miffed to receive a three-page snotgram in response.


More on Proust Translations: A Letter to the TLS, The Boston Review on Moncrieff’s Translation, & Is It Shorter?

C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Proust

C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Proust

On Oct. 31 in the TLS, A.N. Wilson reviewed a new biography, Jean Findlay’s Chasing Lost Time: The Life of C. K. Scott Moncrieff.  Wilson says that Moncrieff’s English translation of Proust is a masterpiece and raises the question of whether it is better than Proust.

I was fascinated by Wilson’s review since I am reading Proust’s In Search of Lost Time in the marvelous Moncrieff translation corrected by Terence Kilmartin and later by D. J. Enright.  I do have two volumes of the Moncrieff original in old Modern Library hardback editions.  Should I read this musty hardback of The Guermantes Way in the original translation?  (The smaller print makes it less attractive.)  My other  flippant thought was, “Is Moncrieff’s translation shorter?” It is not.

In the Nov. 7 issue of the TLS, Christopher Prendergast, the general editor of the Penguin translations of Proust, wrote an outraged Letter to the Editor about Wilson’s “eccentric” claim that Moncrieff is better than Proust.  He says he called Moncrieff’s efforts “heroic” and the translation “majestic” in the introductions to the Penguin translations.  That does not, however, mean that the new translations are not superb.

Literary tastes naturally vary, and there are many ways of tasting Proust.  Lydia Davis’s translation of the volume re-baptized by her, largely for reasons to do with Proust’s own tetchy reservations over Scott Moncrieff’s version, as The Way by Swann’s is characterized by Wilson as “technically more ‘accurate,’  but no one, reading it, could consider it an atmospheric piece of writing.”  I leave it on one side what possibilities there are for us with The Way by Swann other than by “reading it.”  By “no one,” I take it that…this is code for Wilson.

He then quotes two passages, the first by Moncrieff and the other by Lydia Davis, and asks us which we like better.  The passage he chose?  Davis’s is by far more vivid.

Translations fascinate me, and I am certainly not adverse to the Penguins. For one thing, these are gorgeous books.  I respect the idea that we need new translations for a new century, and certainly there are different philosophies of translation.  Do you go with Moncrieff’s title Swann’s Way, or Davis’s more literal The Way by Swann’s?  (By the way, Davis’s is still called Swann’s Way in the U.S.)  We do have a copy of Davis’s translation (the book sale), and though I admired the first 125 pages, I went back to my Moncrieff-Kilmarten-Enright.  I prefer it.

What do others think of Moncrieff?  In The Boston Review, on June 16, 2014, Leland de la Durantaye reviewed a new Yale University Press edition of the C. K. Scott Moncrieff translation of Swann’s Way, edited and annotated by William C. Carter.  Carter believes the Moncrieff is the best, but de la Durantayef finds it very odd that Carter undid the revisions by Kilmarten and Enright.

There is always a tension in translation between the spirit and the letter, between conveying things we might call tone, mood, feel, or music, and being as literally faithful to the original as possible. Moncrieff excelled at both. He created a rich and recognizable style that became, for English readers, Proust. Because the translation was the only one in existence for so very long, it naturally became closely intertwined with the fate of the work in the English-speaking world. But translations age differently—and more quickly—than originals, and Moncrieff’s monumental achievement, with its many Edwardian intonations, came to feel increasingly dated. With this in mind Moncrieff’s translation was reviewed and revised in 1981 by Terence Kilmartin, and then re-reviewed and re-revised in 1992 by D.J. Enright, who changed its title to the more literal In Search of Lost Time. Ten years later, with the book at last out of copyright, a new translation was produced with a different translator for each volume, beginning with Lydia Davis’s 2002 translation of Swann’s Way—which she lobbied energetically, but in vain, to have retitled more literally as The Way Past Swann’s Place.

Translators have difficulty capturing the very real differences of the experience of reading a book in a foreign languages.  For instance, the best translations of Catullus I have read are in David Ferry’s 2012 National Book Award winner, Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations.  They are far from literal, but they capture the spirit. Are they Catullus?  Sort of.

And so as a common reader,  I am going with the Moncrieff-Kilmarten-Enright.  I love it, so why switch?

That said, I am sure the Penguins are worth reading.  Lydia Davis’s translation of Madame Bovary is a masterpiece.

Checking-in on Proust & Barbara Pym’s Less Than Angels

The last couple of years I’ve read fewer books than usual.  Too many long books (War and Peace three and a half times).

And I am still reading long books.

Less Than Angels Barbara Pym Cartoon Pym 4I am also a fan of short books, and I was very happy to read (and finish) Barbara Pym’s Less Than Angels.  This charming novel, published in 1955, is  wilder than her tales of curate-obsessed spinsters.   It centers on a group of anthropologists, some of whom appear in her other novels, because Pym obviously thinks they’re very funny. The novel is narrated from multiple points of view: my favorite character is Catherine Oliphant,  a romance writer and women’s magazine journalist, who provides a humorous outsider’s look at the group.  There is also Tom, her boyfriend, who returns from Africa after two years.  She kicks him out when she learns he is cheating on her with Deirdre, a 19-year-old anthropology student. Mark and Digby, two bachelors who are competing for grants for field work, are amusingly on the make at the new anthropological library and research institute.  And Deirdra, who lives in the suburbs with her mother, aunt, and older brother and is still very adolescent, is thrilled to have a sophisticated boyfriend, though she forgets him when he goes back to Africa.  Catherine proves the truer lover.

Pym’s mirthful attitude towards academics is typified by sketches of Professor Mainwaring, who persuades an American woman to fund grants for the center, and Miss Clovis, who became caretaker of the center after leaving Learned Society over the grand subject of tea.

The subject of Miss Clovis’s quarrel with the President was known only to a privileged few and even those knew no more than that it had something to do with the making of tea.  Not that the making of tea can ever really be treated as a petty or trivial matter and Miss Clovis did seem to have been seriously at fault.  Hot water from the tap had been used, the kettle had not been quite boiling, the teapot had not been warmed…whatever the details, there had been words, during the course of which other things had come out, things of a darker nature.  Voices had been raised and in the end Miss Clovis had felt bound to hand in her resignation.

So funny!  Of course I might have quit too…

I am also loving Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, though it’s futile to try to articulate it.  The series is one long novel, no? My husband, who has read the entire series in French, crossly says that Swann’s Way is the only volume worth reading.  Well, I’m simply loving it, but I see the structure is tighter in Swann’s Way than in the second volume, In a Budding Grove. Of course it’s all modernist brilliance. And there are seven fucking volumes so get used to it! One basks in Marcel’s symphonic descriptions of places, walks, meals, dinner conversations, the hotel in Balbec, neurotic worries about girls, friendships with the pretentious Bloch and the generous Robert, and lovesickness for the lively Gilberte Swann,.  The pattern of hopeless, anxious love is set by  his relationship with his mother, but his love for Gilberte is also echoes the pattern of Swann’s courtship of the fickle Odette, who makes him miserable.   In the second volume, we are amazed to find that Swann has become a bourgeois husband bustling to convince government officials to dine with Odette, since his aristocratic connections won’t entertain her.  There are many comic episodes: when Gilberte tells Marcel that Swann and Odette don’t like him, Marcel is indignant and writes him a very long letter about his love and respect for the Swanns. Ah, youth!  So funny!  I do recall writing a letter like that to a boyfriend’s parents, but thank God I didn’t send it.

I’ll try later to synthesize some comments by critics and biographers on Proust.  How I love homework!

Proust Translations: Moncrieff, Moncrieff Revised, or Penguin?

The Modern Library edition of Proust translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmarten and revised by D. J. Enright.

The Modern Library set, translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin and revised by D. J. Enright.

I have been reading Proust for three weeks.

In Search of Lost Time is a page-turner.

That is a comment on middle age, is it not?  When I first read Swann’s Way, it seemed a collection of beautiful, haunting, digressive essays.

Now I see form and story, as well as elegaic essays, and will write soon about the second volume, Within a Budding Grove.

But I wonder, Which translation should I be reading?

I am reading the Modern Library paperback editions, translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin and revised by  D. J. Enright.  I used to have a fragile, falling-apart seven-volume Modern Library set in the original Moncrieff translation.  My husband read  Proust in the  Moncrieff and Kilmartin translation.

But is the original Moncrieff even better?

In an article in the Oct. 31 issue of the TLS,  “Faun’s Way,” a review of Jean Findlays’ Chasing Lost Time:  The Life of C. K. Scott Moncrieff, A. N. Wilson says that Findlay’s excellent biography reminds readers of Moncrieff’s literary genius and raises the question of whether his translation is better than Proust’s original.   Moncrieff’s is not a literal translation, but Proust himself very much admired it. Joseph Conrad preferred Moncrieff’s rendering to Proust.

Wilson writes,

Many of us with A level French are not quite able to read A la Recherche without frequently repairing to our frayed Harrap’s Dictionaries, and feel, if we are honest, that we have got more out of Proust by reading him in Scott Moncrieff’s pocket-sized, beautifully bound blue volumes, with their perfect dust wrappers designed by Enid Marx.  Many of us, indeed, would surely want to go further, and to say that we have derived more pleasure from these twelve volumes than from any other reading experience, and that, as well as basking in Scott Moncrieff’s prose, and luxuriating in the comedy of Proust’s characters, we have also learnt what little we know about life from reading and rereading them.

He goes on to say, “Scott Moncrieff’s twelve sky-blue volumes, therefore, belong to that special category of translations which are themselves literary masterpieces.”

And now I’m saying to myself, F–, f—, f—, I have the wrong translation then.

Coincidentally, I found a reference to the sky-blue Proust in Barbara Pym’s Less Than Angels.  When  Tom, an anthropologist, writes from Africa   about a memory that was “a moment out of Proust,” his girlfriend Deirdre is dismayed.

Must I then read Proust?  she asked herself despairingly, seeing the twelve blue volumes with red labels in Catherine’s bookshelves, for she was not much of a reader at the best of times.

The 12-volume sky-blue set of  Scott Moncrieff's Proust.

The 12-volume sky-blue set of Scott Moncrieff’s Proust.

All right, I don’t have the sky-blue Chatto & Windus, but I’m not panicking.  I love my paperback editions, whoever is responsible for the translation. The French editions of A la recherche were revised, first in 1954 and then in the ’80s:  hence the revisions by Kilmartin and then Enright.

I did find one of my old Modern Library editions (more than slightly foxed), The Captive.  Looking at the first page, I see very few differences in the translation.

Here is a sentence from Moncrieff:

The first sounds from the street had told me, according to whether they came to my ears dulled and distorted by the moisture of the atmosphere or quivering like arrows in the resonant and empty area of a spacious, crisply frozen morning; as soon as I heard the rumble of the first tramcar, I could tell whether it was sodden with rain or setting forth into the blue.

Here is the Enright revised:

The first sounds from the street had told me, according to whether they came to my ears deadened and distorted by the moisture of the atmosphere or quivering like arrows in the resonant, empty expanses of a spacious, frosty, pure morning; as soon as I heard the rumble of the first tramcar, I could tell whether it was sodden with rain or setting forth into the blue.

Does anyone have a preference?

Presumably there are whole paragraphs that don’t appear in the original Moncrieff.  But if you read the original Moncrieff, it is still Proust.  Yes?

And  there are the recent Penguin translations, each by a different translator.  Lydia Davis translated Swann’s Way.

Which Proust are you reading, or have you read?

Back to my Modern Library much-revised paperback editions!

Reading Catch-Up: Proust Update & John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids

Odette in Swann's Way looks like Boticelli's Zipporah:  one must admit she's gorgeous.

Odette in Swann’s Way looks like Botticelli’s Zipporah.

I’ve been reading like a bookseller, fast, felicitously, and not quite finished with all I plan to hold forth on.  A bookseller once told me he had 16 books going at once because he could not sell a book without knowing whether it would interest his patrons.  He finished the best books, but rejected many after reading half or two-thirds.

I, too, have several books going at once.  Here’s an update on two of the best:  the Proust obviously is still in progress.

Proust’s Swann’s Way: Proust’s In Search of Lost Time explores feelings and memory. His long sentences may be convoluted, but it is not the sentences that defeat his readers.  To appreciate the evocative beauty of Proust’s labyrinthine stream-of-consciousness, you cannot be afraid to feel.

In “Swann in Love,” the second part of Swann’s Way, a traditional narrative tucked in the middle of the book, I empathize with Swann when Odette cheats on him.  She is not Swann’s type, and indeed he is having an affair with a seamstress when he first begins to flirt with Odette.  He is amused by Odette, who is  uneducated and very different from his upper-class circles.  She doesn’t care about art:  she hates the 18th-century decor of a friend’s home because it is so plain, and doesn’t see much in poetry.  But she looks like Botticelli’s Zipporah ( beautiful, but he doesn’t quite like the cheekbones).  In the end, the Botticelli resemblance makes the difference.

The vague feeling of sympathy which attracts one to a work of art, now that he knew the original in flesh and blood of Jethro’s daughter, became a desire which Odette’s physical charms had at first failed to inspire in him. When he had sat for a long time gazing at the Botticelli, he would think of his own living Botticelli, who seemed even lovelier still, and as he drew towards him the photograph of Zipporah he would imagine that he was holding Odette against his heart.”

Proust draws a portrait of the genesis of Swann’s obsession with Odette.  It is erotic, familiar, and painful. Swann  is careful not to spend too much time with Odette, so she will continue to value him.  Yet he becomes more and more intrigued  as he spends evenings with her in the salon of her great friends, the Verdurins.   One night when he is late, Odette has already left to go to a cafe for hot chocolate.  Swann and his coachman search Paris cafes for her. In an erotic scene in the coach after he finds her, he seduces her by first rearranging the flowers on her dress.

There are some charming scenes in which he flirts with Odette.  She plays the piano “vilely,” but he makes her play his favorite phrase from a sonata over and over while he kisses and caresses her.  Though Odette seems empty-headed, we can see her charm for him.  In fact, Proust is the only writer who has ever made me imagine a shallow, pretty woman from a man’s point of view.  Usually I am incredulous, like most of my women friends of my generation.  (We bluestockings came of age in a time when “hotness” was less of a factor in love.)

Odette herself is quite a flirt.

Then she would pretend to stop, saying:  “How do you expect me to play when you keep on holding me?  I can’t do everything at once.  Mae up your mind what you want am I to play the phrase or play with you?”

After she begins to cheat on him with Forcheville,  Swann is in denial, then he tries to catch her.  He  is depressed and would like to go to the country, but  cannot “summon up the courage to leave Paris, even for a day, while Odette was there.”

Poor Swann!  One’s pain over a lover’s infidelity is in direct proportion to the amount of love one feels for the betrayer.  When one is deeply in love, a partner’s infidelity is devastating. It happens to all of us, no?

John Wyndham's The Chrysalids 91OJ24mZT8L._SL1500_John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids.  Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids is one of my favorite science fiction books.   In a postapocalyptic future, a brilliant flash of light blinds most of the people on Earth, and walking plants called triffids, once farmed for oil, have escaped from their corporate greenhouses and are  killing people.  Many categorize this novel a “cozy catastrophe,” because the main characters do manage to survive.

Wyndham’s 1955 novel, The Chrysalis, is overall a simpler novel, though science fiction writer M. John Harrison, in the introduction to the Penguin Decades edition, denies that this Cold War response to the threat of nuclear destruction was a “cozy catastrophes.”  He writes, “…the post-disaster novel was in itself a feature of its times, a response not just to the immediate terrors of the nuclear age, but to the vastly accelerated rate of social, economic and technological change in Britain following World War II.”

In The Chrysalids, the narrator, David, is the son of a landowner -preacher who fanatically tries to stamp out mutations.  One thousand years after a nuclear apocalypse, the government in Labrador has laws decreeing that mutant animals must be destroyed, and mutant humans sterilized and exiled to a wild area known as the Fringes.

What does it mean to be human?  Any kind of difference is suspect.

The character Sophie says, “To be any kind of deviant is to be hurt, always.”

The novel follows the narrator, David, from childhood until he is almost 20.  As a young boy, David first begins to understand how minor the mutations can be when he wanders off alone and meets Sophie.  After sliding down a slope into a sandy gully, her left foot gets jammed between two stones.  David has to remove her shoe to get her foot loose, though she begs him not to.  She has six toes on one foot; he barely notices. But when he takes her back to her mother, she stresses that he must never tell anyone.  Sophie does not have a certificate saying she is human.

David and eight other children, too, are deviant, because they have a special ability:  they can send “thought shapes”and communicate silently.  Uncle Axel, who comes upon David while he is in the process, stresses that silence and secrecy are of the utmost importance.

David’s father’s, Joseph Strom, is obsessed with offences and blasphemies.

Many of them were still obscure to me; others I had learnt something about.  Offences, for instance.  That was because the occurrence of an Offence was sometimes quite an impressive occasion.  Usually the first sign that something had happened was that my father came home in a bad temper.  Then, in the evening, he would call us all together, including everyone who worked on the farm.  We would all kneel while he proclaimed our repentance and led prayers for forgiveness….  As the sun rose we would sing a hymn while my father ceremoniously slaughtered the two-headed calf, four-legged chicken, or whatever kind of Offence it happened to be.  Sometimes it would be a much queerer thing than those…

Eventually their telepathy is detected because of the strength of his younger sister Petra’s ability.  All of them are in danger.

This beautifully-written novel is much more complex and sophisticated than the recent crop of Y.A. dystopian novels, which apparently are equally popular with adolescents and adults.  But the ending of The Chrysalids is simplistic, and it is because of this simplicity that it could also be marketed as a children’s or Y.A. book.

After a decade or so  of “junk” dystopian Y.A. novels, literary writers are now again adding to the genre.  This year Howard Jacobson’s Man Booker Prize-shortlisted novel, J;  Edan Lepucki’s well-reviewed California, and Emily St. John Mandel’s National Book Award-shortlisted Station Eleven are praised by reviewers.

For now I’ll stick with The Day of the Triffids.

Reading with Bronchitis: Swann’s Way and Laughing at Odette

Me biking, the year I broke my arm.

Biking a few weeks after the broken arm fiasco.

Last night, I lay in bed panicking.  It hurt to cough.  It hurt to breathe.

Did I need to go to the hospital? I wondered.

No.  I would lie in bed and gently breathe until my doctor’s appointment the next day.

Going to the emergency room in the middle of the night is not an experience one wants to repeat. Long, long ago, in a city far, far away, I foolishly went running at night and tripped on the sidewalk and broke my arm.  At the hospital I waited four hours in a filthy emergency room (no soap in the restroom) and all they gave me was a sling.  Does that left arm look a little hyperextended to you?  Yup.  That’s ER care.

No, I would wait to see the doctor.  Because I knew it was bronchitis, not pneumonia.  A cough, chills and sweating, aching lungs, and a fading feeling when I tried to take a walk.

But had it ever hurt to breathe?  It’s been 20 years since I had bronchitis.  I didn’t remember that.

I was in pain, but I am glad I didn’t visit the ER in the middle of the night. The diagnosis is bronchitis and an hour after taking the antibiotics for bronchitis, I COULD BREATHE AGAIN and was on my bike.

And after the bike ride, I was laughing at Odette.

What do I mean by laughing at Odette, you might want to know.

Proust Swann-Way-Modern-Library-Classics-0812972090-LI’m rereading Proust’s Swann’s Way, the first volume of In Search of Lost Time, previously translated more elegantly, to my mind, as Remembrance of Things Past.

Not being a French literature scholar, I find it difficult to write about Proust.  Would that I had read Swann’s Way with Sam Jordison at the Guardian Book Club in 2013.  He eloquently said,

I’m guessing that a healthy proportion of people who pick up the book don’t even get beyond page 51. Within a similar word count, Raymond Chandler could have got through two murders, six whiskies, half a dozen wisecracks. Raymond Carver could have described at least six suburban households descending into despair. And Hemingway had almost finished The Old Man and The Sea. Yet, in pure plot terms, pretty much all that happens in those first pages of Proust is that the young Marcel struggles to fall asleep.

Although little happens, there are moments of wild joy.  Proust is for those who revel in lyrical, sensual language rather than traditional narrative. Three thousand pages pass while the narrator Marcel meditates on the subject of memory and describes the visual and sensual cues that evoke the past.  Reading Swann’s Way is like falling into a luxurious feather bed of exquisite language.   Marcel, the narrator, remembers as a boy he couldn’t sleep unless his mother kissd him.  He describes every detail of life at Combray, where the family lives in the summer with his great-aunt, from his Aunt Leonie’s two rooms to the hawthorns he admires on walks to the emotions evoked by the joyful reading of his favorite author, Bergotte, and the joy of his first serious writing.

Swann, a brilliant, thoughtful, charming man who moves in high society, is s a close friend of Marcel’s family.  He is pitied for an unfortunate marriage to a woman who blatantly is unfaithful. Marcel’s aunts don’t quite understand how well-connected Swann is in society.  They like him purely for his kindness, courtesy, and conversation.

The  second section of the novel, “Swann in Love,” focuses on Swann’s passionate affair 15 years ago with Odette, a former courtesan.  The prose is often erotic, and Proust does very definitely know how to evoke the development of an erotic relationship.

Odette is often comical.  Like Marcel’s aunts, she doesn’t understand the meaning of the social circles Swann moves in.  Because his friends, high-ranking government officials and aristocrats, don’t go to the parties and balls she has heard are fashionable, she concludes that Swann’s friends are bores, though she appreciates the first-night theater tickets and racing tickets .

She hoped that he would continue to cultivate such profitable acquaintances, but in other respects she was inclined to regard them as anything but smart, ever since she had passed the Marquise de Villeparisis in the street, wearing a black woolen dress and a bonnet with strings.

“But she looks like an usherette, like an old concierge, darling!  A marquise, her!  Goodness knows I’m not a marquise, but you’d have to pay me a lot of money before you’d get me to go round Paris rigged out like that!”

So funny!

A few of my impressions so far.

Ray Russell’s Haunted Castles, Reading Proust, & Marilyn French

haunted castles ray russellI dislike horror.

I gave up on Stephen King’s The Shining.

I was terrified by Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

They may be good horror genre books, but in general I prefer novels without ghosts or psychics.

Intrigued by the new Penguin series of the best in classic horror, however, I picked up a copy of Ray Russell’s Haunted Castles:  The Complete Gothic Stories, a collection of engrossing, but stylistically unexceptional tales.

In “Sardonicus,” the narrator-doctor, Sir Robert Cargrave, visits his former girlfriend, Maude Randall, and her husband, Mr. Sardonicus, at their castle in Bohemia.

He is one of those precise, detached scientific narrators we know from the tales of Poe and Le Fanu.  He accepts their invitation somewhat reluctantly and says amusingly of travel:

I am not–as my friend Harry Stanton is–fond of travel for its own sake.  Harry has often chided me on this point, calling me a dry-as-dust academician and ‘an incorrigible Londoner,’ which I suppose I am.  For, in point of fact, few things are more tiresome to me than ships and trains and carriages; and…the tedium of travel itself has often made me think twice before going out on a long voyage.”

He discovers that Maude is terrified of her husband, and when he meets Mr. Sardonicus, sees that the man’s lips are pulled back horrifically in “a mirthless smile.”  Mr. Sardonicus asks Sir Robert to operate on his face, though that operation has not, as it were, been approved by doctors.  It cannot end well…

The other tales are equally gloomy.  In “Sagitarrius,” an actor turns out to be demonic.  In “Sanguinarius,” a happy wife learns that her husband and her new female lover are not what they seem to be. In “The Runaway Lovers,” two lovers are put in a dungeon and horrified beyond imagination.

And so on…

There is a repellent, sadistic turn to these tales, as with so many other horror tales.

They’re for Halloween.

But I will certainly never read anything by Ray Russell again.


For a long time I went to bed early.  Sometimes, my candle scarcely out, my eyes would close so quickly that I did not have time to say to myself, ‘I’m falling asleep.’

swanns-way proust lydia davisYes, that is Lydia Davis’s translation of the beginning of Proust’s Swann’s Way, which I persuaded my husband to buy, because I deserve the latest translation.  I will begin Swann’s Way in November, the centennial of its publication, and  I plan to read all of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time in the next year.

Marcelle Clements, author of the excellent novel Midsummer, says in her article, “How to Read In Search of Lost Time” at, that we should read it quickly.

…here is the secret: Read fast. Read for plot—though you won’t understand what the plot is until the end. Don’t be frightened by the size of the novel. Critics scare readers off by talking of it as a cathedral.

Wouldn’t that be great?  Stay inside for hours…read…no distractions…get that app, “Freedom,” that keeps you off the internet.

But that is not going to happen.

I’ll be reading slowly.

It should take me at least a month to read Swann’s Way.  And then I’ll read something else, and then go back to In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower.

DO YOU ENJOY MARILYN FRENCH?  Open Road Media has reissued four of Marilyn French’s novels and one memoir as e-books:  Her Mother’s Daughter, A Season in Hell (a memoir), My Summer with George, The Bleeding Heart, and Our Father.

French is best known for The Women’s Room, a best-selling feminist novel, which I read many years ago.  How nice that her other books are available.

I plan to read Her Mother’s Daughter while I roast the turkey on Thanksgiving:   I always read a family saga or other pop book on Thanksgiving.   One year I read Edna Ferber’s Giant. You get the picture.

If you’ve read and enjoyed anything by Marilyn French, let me know.

Proust, Not Competitively but Companionably

Proust In Search of Lost TimeFor the next year I plan to read Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. (Phyllis Rose’s The Year of Reading Proust isn’t enough.)  I’ve read the first two volumes of In Search twice, and then I start over again, since narrative isn’t a big part of it.

I’d like to read it with a group.  Starting with Swann’s Way again, of course.

I decided to check for a group at Goodreads.

First, I couldn’t sign in. I thought I was signed in for life.

“Sorry, we didn’t recognize that email/password combination,” it told me.

Well, even I didn’t quite recognize that password.

“Do you want to sign in with Facebook or Twitter?” it asks.

No, I do not.

I have a Twitter account (@MsMirabileDictu), but I don’t tweet.  It is, however, great for “cyber-stalking”:  NYRB, Gary Shteyngart, Mollie Katzen, my blogger friends, TLS, Ron Charles at the Washington Post, Maud Newton, and who is Andrew Holleran? I follow him, too.

By the way, leave me your Twitter address, and I’ll follow you.  Perhaps I’ll tweet someday.  I have sent four tweets, three by accident.

Anyway I finally signed in at Goodreads with a compromise password. The Proust groups are  moribund.

Same thing at LibraryThing. They have no Proust groups.

Drabble The Pure Gold BAbyHere is why I want to read Proust with a group.  I am in the middle of Margaret Drabble’s new novel, The Pure Gold Baby. and am inspired by her heroine, Jess, who is reading Proust with a friend.

Jess was reading Proust with an incentive.  She was reading him not competitively but companionably, in concert with an old schoolfriend from Broghborough with whom she had kept in touch.  They met rarely, for her friend Vivien lived in Edinburgh, where she was the assistant curator of a gallery, but they had preserved their intimacy through Viven’s occasional London visits and through sending one another postcards and letters….. (The reading group had not yet become a nationwide phenomenon.)  Jess and Vivien had already read their way through Ulysses, encouraging one another onwards by exchanging comments and moments of bewilderment and enlightenment, and now they were doing Proust.  Would they reach the end?  They were not sure.  it wouldn’t matter if they didn’t; nobody was watching them, nobody was marking them, there were no exams to sit, no teachers to impress.

Doesn’t this make you want to read Proust?

I need a Proust pen pal.

Seriously, I love Drabble’s heroines.  In her novel, The Seven Sisters, Candida, the narrator, studies Virgil with an adult ed teacher.  I  thought, I’m a Latinist: why not teach an adult ed class?  And so I taught an adult ed Latin class for two years.  Then we ran out of people.

I teaching Latin, in schoolmarm garb.

Teaching Latin, in schoolmarm garb.

Here is a rather sweet, if blurry, picture of me teaching Latin in the ’90s, in schoolmarm clothes (important for discipline) and big glasses.  Sorry, I don’t have any pictures of my adult ed days.

So who’s going to read Proust with me?  Come on!  One person.

No one wants to?????!!!!!?????Maybe someone who reads French?

Oh, well.