Rereading Proust; Rereading Myself

A few weeks ago, I decided to reread In Search of Lost Time; I’m hoping to finish in the middle of March 2021. Adapting a schedule I discovered online, I’m reading roughly between 10 and 20 pages a day. Click here to see the schedule (as well as other links to a Bibliography of secondary sources that take up Proust and Woolf and some developing reading notes). [Edit: The idea to reread Proust actually wasn’t mine. A close friend and fellow Woolf scholar suggested in a Facebook comment that we read it together. A third friend and Woolf scholar saw the suggestion and started a FB Group of Woolfians who may (or may not) read Proust together at their own pace. Check out this post over at Blogging Woolf.]

I first read In Search of Lost Time in the summer of 2009 as part of my preparation for the Ph.D. comprehensive exams at the University of Rhode Island. One of the areas I specialized in was European modernism, so naturally Proust featured centrally in the list of texts I studied in May, June, July, and August. Though I read all six/seven volumes of Proust’s novel too quickly to really develop anything resembling interpretive mastery, I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. Beginning in late May of 2009, I read Proust for about six to eight hours a day, completing the novel in mid June. To be exact: the 18th of June at 10:16am (EST).

I know the exact day and time I finished Time Regained because I wrote it down:

I started rereading Proust nearly two years later when my dissertation chair offered a graduate seminar aspiring to read through the whole novel in a single semester. Since I had read the whole thing in about three weeks, I figured I could handle it in four months—except I was trying to write my dissertation. Though I did manage to reread Swann’s Way, I had to bow out of the seminar just a three or four weeks in. My chair acknowledged this was probably wise if I wanted to make headway on my next dissertation chapter.

After finishing my Ph.D. the following spring, I moved to Newport, RI and continued to work at URI as an academic advisor and per course instructor. On my days off I would occasionally carry Swann’s Way with me to a local coffee shop in Newport and jot down passages from the section “Swann in Love” (Un amour de Swann) from Kilmartin’s revision to Moncrieff’s translation. I used a tiny little orange notebook that I still keep on my bookshelf among my Proust books. As I read and took notes in Remembrance of Things Past, I also paused to copy out passages that corresponded to whatever I was thinking in the margins of my book.

Now in 2020—in the midst of a pandemic and quite another life (very far from graduate school and Aquidneck Island), I’ve returned to Proust again, hoping that all six/seven volumes will sustain me through whatever changes are ahead. The experience has been quite fulfilling: I’m using the volumes I read when studying for my Ph.D. exams and when auditing the Proust seminar in 2011, so I find myself encountering two very different sets of marginalia. One set is hurried; the other is a bit more careful.

But one thing that caught me off guard was a sequence of numbers, written (by me) in blue pen in the very earliest pages of the book. Here’s what they look like:

Note the 2, 3, and 4 in squares?

While I noticed that the numbers eventually stopped around pg. 24 or so, I haven’t really thought about them again for some days. (I’m nearing the end of “Combray” now and looking forward to “Swann in Love.”) This morning, as I stewed around for something to do, I recalled these numbers and began brainstorming when I would have written them.

Not during my first read through (I used an extra fine black pen, barely legible in the image above).

Not during my read through in Newport (since I used a different book).

It must have been when I was reading Proust for the 2011 seminar—but to what did the numbers correspond? Not my orange notebook. Not any files on my computer (I looked). I dug around in a file drawer filled with old notebooks and discovered yet another notebook, which I had started using before the 2011 semester began and for the few weeks I audited the Proust seminar.

Here’s another gallery:

There are still some things I don’t know, even after discovering the missing half of the mysterious numbers in my copy of Swann’s Way.

For instance, since I clearly used different pens to copy out the passages in the notebook and to write in the numbers 1 through 18, I may have copied out the passages in the notebook before the 2011 Proust seminar but after I studied Proust in the summer of 2009. When I started breaking Proust back out in preparation for the seminar, I could have written those numbers in . . . but for what reason? Perhaps because it’s often hard to locate a short passage in the middle of Proust’s long sentences?

Regardless of the reason for this clumsy method of note taking and cross referencing, it’s been a bit wild stumbling across Proustian remains of my own lost time studying this novel, regaining fragments that seem to be coming back together as I venture to finish all of In Search of Lost Time. Again.

Reading on . . .

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