The Marcel Wave

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.” And, half an hour later, the thought that it was time to try to sleep would wake me; I wanted to put down the book I thought I still had in my hands and blow out my light; I had not ceased while sleeping to form reflections on what I had just read, but these reflections had taken a rather peculiar turn; it seemed to me that I myself was what the book was talking about….
–the opening of Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way (Lydia Davis translation), published 100 years ago today

Declined by a handful of publishers, this first volume of In Search of Lost Time was author-financed, but in the literary community at least, the book’s rise to fame began almost immediately, and by the time Proust died just a little over a decade later, he was, wrote John Middleton Murray in the Times Literary Supplement, “that odd king over the water”:

The vogue has risen into a cult; and the cult, embracing the cultured masses, has deepened into a wave; until the whole of our literary taste is threatened by the towering line of this tidal, this positively Marcel, wave.

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.