This November, the Yale French Department hosted a marathon reading of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the publication of Swann’s Way. WKND reporter Madeline Duff shares her thoughts about the program here.
Though Woody Allen’s nostalgia victim Gil Pender did eventually muster more appreciation for the now, I can only guess that the Proust Marathon would’ve bouleversed the novelist’s progress. While no carriage of turn-of-the-century revelers appeared Saturday morning to whisk passengers to the Saybrook Underbrook, classy signs (bravo, les affiches!) marked the way to the world of Marcel. And what reader, writer, Francophile, let alone avid Proustian (yes, his respectful admirers have their own adjective) could resist the recreation that awaited? For the destination provided more than bites of madeleines – more than laughter, smiles and even the storytelling. This centennial commemoration allowed its audience to indulge in the atmosphere of performance, and its participants to thrill in conjuring a voice from the pages of history.
It was more than worth it to rise from sleep early that day. Check-ins and confirmations hummed in the wings of the waiting room and the stage-right shadows. The show was on. The curtain was already up. Another volunteer reader had carved a snug spot on the replicated bed. Standing up to take my turn would be the closest to a salon experience I would ever have, as I walked through the space by the red chaise-lounge and grand piano. Against the yellow corkboard walls and blue sheets, all of the readers I saw, Yes, you’re up next, thumbed through their lines of text but stuck out like sonorous chums. Up next? The opening volume of Swann’s Way seemed to fittingly calm those dreaded stage fright nerves. Its rhythms, tone, voice, images, perhaps, guided its slightly bleary-eyed supporters. As they say, ça vaut la peine.
Compared to the role of the event’s dreamers and executioners, though, attending was a stroll by the Seine. Benjamin Mappin-Kasirer ’14 and John Sununu ’15 acted as the tireless architects, along with Professor Alice Kaplan and Agnes Bolton of the French Department. This collective performance had obviously been rehearsing dutifully behind the scenes for months, as the sophisticated, well-planned choreography rolled on.
What this team effort’s accomplished, in part, was plunging their guests into a new collective reality. We weren’t in the Saybrook Underbrook. We were, obviously, in Combray. Bien sur. We weren’t taking turns reading passages from the novel (in French or English). We were bringing words to life. Vive Proust! We weren’t faculty, students, visitors – we were one voice, incantations separated by a silence now and then.
Usually, this kind of silence accompanies a literary masterpiece; we normally read in silence – in a carrel, on a bench, at a communal library table or alone in our rooms. When the soundlessness of your room, then, transforms into the living, breathing sounds in another’s (Proust’s, of course – remember, we weren’t in the Saybrook Underbrook), we witness a little bit of magic. In our now of earbuds, iPhone and laptop screens, human contact may emerge as more special than ever. So, merci beaucoup to all those who had a voice in directing this nuanced blast from the past; I think Gil Pender, nostalgia extraordinaire, would have been most proud. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him loitering at the Saybrook gate on a coming Saturday, at 7 a.m. sharp, waiting for those posters to appear once again. This way to Proust! Encore!