Posted by: Tom Owen | September 1, 2009

Proust’s Way: A Field Guide to In Search of Lost Time (2000) – Roger Shattuck, SPS 1941

Proust’s Way: A Field Guide to In Search of Lost Time

Biographical Notes
Roger Shattuck was an eminent writer and scholar, with the bulk of his work concerning twentieth-century French culture.  After serving in World War II as a cargo pilot, Shattuck made documentaries for UNESCO in Paris, befriending artists like Cocteau, Braque, and Bacon.  He also met his future wife, who danced with Les Ballets Russes des Monte Carlo and Les Ballet de Paris.

Shattuck returned to the U.S., first as an editor at Harcourt Brace, and then teaching French, English, and Comparative Literature at Harvard, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Virgina, and Boston University.  Despite his lack of a graduate degree, his teaching skills and published works were ample substitutes.

One of Shattuck’s most recognized books is The Banquet Years: The Origins of the Avant-Garde in France, 1885 to World War I (1958), a groundbreaking portrait of the turn-of-century bohemians responsible for major artistic, literary, and musical movements.  Often used as a college textbook, The Banquet Years is a lyrical description of the Parisians who redefined art.

Shattuck also received global interest for his book Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography (1996). He questioned if humanity is meant to know everything and applied myth and literature to topics like genetic engineering, nuclear weaponry, and violent pornography.  Critics have both strongly supported and argued against this unique work.

His 1974 biography Marcel Proust won the National Book Award.

In Search of Lost Time, the 3,000 page work by Marcel Proust, is an intimidating book.  Its extensive use of flashbacks and involuntary memory, as well as its astounding length, attribute to its well-deserved reputation.  Proust’s Way may be thought of as a highly evolved Cliffs Notes to the book – a walking stick for hiking through this Everest of literature.

There’s a lot going on in this book, and Shattuck guides you through all of it.  The basics are here – plot summaries, character analyses, and general theme discussions – but Shattuck

offers many more levels of analysis.  His extensive knowledge of Proust’s life gives insight into the author’s mindset and his contemporary environment.   Shattuck explores the numerous current interpretations of the role of time and memory without forcing his own opinions on the reader.  He also presents analysis in a balanced way – not too overpowering for first-time readers, but leaving more advanced scholars satisfied.  Readers will appreciate having Shattuck by their side while tackling Proust’s double narration – the story is told by a young Marcel and the older Narrator.  Near the end of the book, Shattuck places Proust in the modern world, discussing film adaptations, translations, and current debates.

The mystery of Proust’s oceanic work is considerably lessened by this “field guide,” and those brave souls willing to tackle In Search of Lost Time should strongly consider this accompaniment.


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