By CHRISTINE M. CANO
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESSCopyright © 2006 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All right reserved.
Chapter OneForthcoming: Announcing the Recherche
Vous le comprendrez facilement, je travaille depuis longtemps à cette oeuvre, j'y ai mis le meilleur de ma pensée; elle réclame maintenant un tombeau qui soit achevé avant que le mien soit rempli. You will readily understand: I've been working on this book for a long time and have put the best of myself into it; now it is clamoring for a tomb that can be completed before my own is filled. -Proust to René Blum, February 1913
Like most novels published in France at the beginning of the twentieth century, À la recherche du temps perdu was the object of a strategic publicity campaign designed to hook the interest of readers even before the book appeared. Commissioned book reviews in the French press, excerpts published in prominent literary journals, announcements of volumes to come: these appeals to a prospective or continuing readership preceded, and then accompanied, the publication of each installment of Proust's multivolume novel-from the appearance of Du côté de chez Swann in 1913 to the staccato publication of volumes throughout the 1920s, several of them posthumous. But long before thenovel's first volume saw the light of day, it was Proust himself who initiated the process by announcing to his correspondents, often tentatively and with very little written, his literary plans. A series of such advertisements announcing the book to come punctuates Proust's correspondence over many years, publicly engaging him to the undertaking of a project and to its eventual completion. Of these announcements, one in particular, a 1909 letter sent from a seaside resort, has acquired a significant symbolic charge for critics.
Writing from Cabourg, Normandy, in August 1909, Proust announced in a letter to his longtime friend Geneviève Straus that he had just begun-and finished-a whole long book. "Vous me lirez-," he wrote, "et plus que vous ne voudrez-car je viens de commencer-et de finir-tout un long livre" (You will read me-more of me than you will want-for I've just begun-and finished-a whole long book) (Corr., 9:163; SL, 2:445-46). Perhaps the most frequently quoted passage in all of Proust's correspondence, these words have become identified with the genesis of À la recherche du temps perdu. Classically interpreted as recording an epiphany and a turning point in Proust's writing process, the letter to Madame Straus allegedly marks the frontier between his original project for a critical essay, Contre Sainte-Beuve, and the start of the Recherche-that is, the frontier between theory and fiction. The seemingly immediate expression "I have just begun-and finished" has come to symbolize Proust's discovery of a structure for his future novel, a structure based on the articulation between beginning and end. In reality, "to begin" and "to finish" condense months of writing into a single laconic phrase, and the breakthrough that allowed Proust to move from essay to novel-so often characterized as a spontaneous "illumination"-has also been construed as a series of decisive moments spread out over several years.
But whether or not Proust's 1909 announcement of his future book marks an epiphany, it is in this passage that he first set forth the terms in which he would continually define and defend what he called the "construction" of À la recherche du temps perdu. For years to come, Proust invoked the near-simultaneous composition of the novel's beginning and end whenever its coherence came under attack-and especially in 1919-20, when critics responded to the publication of À l'Ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs. Reacting to a December 12, 1919, review by Jean de Pierrefeu in the Journal des Débats, Proust wrote to critic André Chaumeix that the last chapter had actually been written before the first. "Si vous avez quelquefois l'occasion de causer avec Monsieur de Pierrefeu, vous pourrez lui dire que le dernier chapitre de mon oeuvre ayant été écrit avant le premier, et tout l'ouvrage étant fait et terminé, il n'a pas besoin d'attendre ma mort, comme il dit, pour voir finir À la recherche du temps perdu" (If ever you have the chance to chat with Monsieur de Pierrefeu, do tell him that since the last chapter of my novel was written before the first, and since the entire work is done and finished, he needn't wait for my death, as he says, to see the end of À la recherche du temps perdu) (Corr., 18:524). And a few days later, in a famous response to Paul Souday of Le Temps, Proust reasserted the meticulous construction of the whole in a formula that has become the emblem of that construction. "Le dernier chapitre du dernier volume a été écrit tout de suite après le premier chapitre du premier volume. Tout l'entre-deux' a été écrit ensuite" (The last chapter of the last volume was written immediately after the first chapter of the first volume. The entire "in-between" was written next) (Corr., 18:536). Before, immediately after: small variations in a formula repeatedly presented as compelling evidence of the rigorous structure of the Recherche.
The 1909 letter to Madame Straus continues: "Mais je voudrais bien finir, aboutir. Si tout est écrit, beaucoup de choses sont à remanier" (But I'd love to finish, get to the end of it. If everything is written, a lot of things have yet to be revised) (Corr., 9:163). "Everything is written": Proust's striking assertion of wholeness and completion at the threshold of a writing project that will span thirteen more years-the rest of his life-is hardly to be taken literally. His figurative use of the word tout (everything) to designate a text composed of only beginning and end marks the first of his efforts to establish a totalizing metaphor for his uvre, a metaphor that would guard it symbolically against the effects of future discontinuity (that is, against the effects of time itself). From the outset, Proust's representations of his writing process are characterized at once by an insistence on preliminary unity and by an acute consciousness of the eventuality of interruption. The external contingencies that he evoked endlessly in his letters-the possibility of fragmentation or interruption during the publication process, his readers' failure to read through to the end, his own death-function as the counterpart to Proust's unifying metaphor for the text. The metaphorical tout, by means of which Proust alleges a simultaneously conceived whole, can be thought of as his initial provision against the pulverizing temporality of writing, publishing, and reading.
Proust's tentative announcements of intention to write were echoed, throughout the editorial history of the Recherche, by actual announcements of future volumes that stand behind as curious indices of unfulfilled intentions, changes in plan. When Bernard Grasset published Du côté de chez Swann in November 1913, he announced on its flyleaf the upcoming publication of the two volumes meant to complete the tripartite book: "Coming in 1914: Le Côté de Guermantes. Le Temps retrouvé." (The announcement obviously had a provisional nature in Proust's eyes, since he wrote to René Blum, secretary of the prominent newspaper Le Gil Blas, that although the titles of the next volumes had already been announced, he might call the second volume À l'Ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs or Les Intermittences du coeur or L'Adoration perpétuelle or Les Colombes poignardées [Corr., 12:295].) The volumes named in the advertisement would not appear in 1914, and they would never appear as such. August 1914 saw the outbreak of war, Bernard Grasset's mobilization, and the reduction of activity at Grasset Editions to a minimum; the publication of the Recherche was suspended indefinitely as the publishing house all but closed. The second volume announced had been set into proofs (the famous Grasset placards), while the third and final volume was in an indeterminate state of composition. These two projected volumes later became the object of much critical speculation, of attempted reconstructions, and even of a certain nostalgia for an "original," compact version of the Recherche-Proust's novel as it might have read before expanding to its gigantic postwar proportions.
Grasset's 1913 promise of volumes to come was revised and displaced by a second announcement made some five years later (November 1918) and by a different publisher: Gallimard Editions. On the back cover of the novel's new second volume, À l'Ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, the three volumes projected in 1913 had metamorphosed into five. Le Côté de Guermantes, originally announced as the second volume, had been displaced by À l'Ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs and its publication pushed even farther into the future under the heading "In press," with no date specified. Le Temps retrouvé, originally the third volume, had given way to two new volumes, also indicated as being in press: Sodome et Gomorrhe I and Sodome et Gomorrhe II-Le Temps retrouvé. By the middle of 1920, Gaston Gallimard made yet a new announcement at Proust's behest. "Je crois qu'au revers de l'exemplaire de Guermantes I," Proust wrote to Gallimard, "vous devriez annoncer: Pour paraître en décembre , Guermantes II, Sodome et Gomorrhe I" (I think you should announce on the back cover of Guermantes I: Coming in December , Guermantes II, Sodome et Gomorrhe I) (Corr., 19:325). But Le Côté de Guermantes II would appear only in April 1921, with the announcement of four future volumes: three more volumes of Sodome et Gomorrhe and Le Temps retrouvé.
The series was completed by a barely posthumous advertisement that appeared as an insert in the December 1, 1922, issue of La Nouvelle Revue Française, some two weeks after Marcel Proust's death (November 18). The advertisement, printed before his death, recapitulates the volumes of À la recherche du temps perdu already published by the Nouvelle Revue Française and announces under the rubric "In press": Sodome et Gomorrhe III-La Prisonnière; Albertine disparue. These two volumes would appear in 1923 and 1925, respectively. Under a second rubric, "Forthcoming," the uncanny announcement of future volumes that would never materialize: Sodome et Gomorrhe in several volumes (suite); Le Temps retrouvé (conclusion). Although the Nouvelle Revue Française did eventually publish Proust's unrevised notebooks as Le Temps retrouvé in 1927, the "sequel" to Sodome et Gomorrhe announced here, volumes qualified by an indefinite "several," was pure projection in December 1922. The advertisement would not be an unfitting epitaph for Proust, who in the final years of his life had come to identify himself entirely with his oeuvre: pointing toward the future of a Recherche that is always already finished, the posthumous announcement represents both preliminary closure and endless expansion. It fixes in print, as unrealized potential, the characteristic forward movement of À la recherche du temps perdu, the perpetual swell of the in-between flanked by an immutable beginning and end.
These editorial announcements trace an itinerary distinct from the published text of À la recherche du temps perdu as we have come to know it. Read as an ensemble, they form not a coherent succession of volumes but rather a series of revisions where each projection of the finished whole yields to the next. Created as part of a commercial strategy, they appear in retrospect as the locus of a tension between preliminary intentions and projections on the one hand, the contingencies of the writing process on the other. Such contingencies were typically articulated by Proust as matters of life and death. In a paradigmatic 1921 letter to Gaston Gallimard, Proust evoked four future volumes of the Recherche with a parenthetical caution: "Sodome II, Sodome III, Sodome IV et Le Temps retrouvé, quatre longs volumes qui se succéderont à intervalles assez espacés (si Dieu me prête vie)" (four long volumes to follow at fairly long intervals [if God grants me life], Sodome II, Sodome III, Sodome IV and Le Temps retrouvé) (Corr., 20:53; SL, 4:186). The inevitable link that asserts itself between future volumes and an impending death suggests that the specter of a premature end has a structural function in the writing process. The standard caveat that follows Proust's announcements that he has begun to write functions less as a caution than as a wager: it provides an agonistic structure where (the idea of) death serves as a constant threat to the work's completion and organizes it negatively. Questions of length, format, division into volumes, intervals between volumes, and dates of publication all become crucial in their contingency, as references to an imminent death eventually enter into every aspect of editorial production.
Excerpted from Proust's Deadline by CHRISTINE M. CANO Copyright © 2006 by Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Excerpted by permission.
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