Proust and James, in or out

William James’s sister Alice described his  temperament as the “delightful” mirror of his New Hampshire summer retreat in Chocorua, dubbed Stonewall, with its “14 doors all opening out.” He used to spill out of one or the other of those doors to cross the street and climb the mountain or circle the lake. He was (at his best) the epitome of nature-loving, expansive vigor and vitality, curious, questioning and questing, and engaged with the world.


When I think of Marcel Proust, on the other hand, the image that springs immediately to mind (right after the cookie bar) is his infamous cramped cork-lined bedroom and its suggestion of an insulated, involuted mind, a closed-off character.


I strolled into the stacks of Vandy library yesterday and picked up the Cambridge Companion to Proust. Its editor says he’s gotten a bum rap over that sealed chamber, that he was just trying to cut out some of the construction noise next door.

Well, we’ll see.

We’ll also see if I can take seriously the project of offering my own modest summary of Proust.

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