Pleasures and Days by Marcel Proust.
|Edward Gorey's fron cover of|
Proust's Pleasures and Days (1957).
Marcel Proust is most famous for being the Guinness World Record holder for longest novel In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu, 1913-27). It's a novel I enjoyed on the whole, but, although this seems like a very obvious thing to say, it really is too long. It contains some absolutely stunning writing, but because In Search of Lost Time is so very intimidating for its size it can often get by-passed. There are, thankfully, other works by Proust - Jean Santeuil (not published until 1952) which is my favourite Proust, and this - Pleasures and Days (also known as Pleasures and Regrets), first published in 1896.
Pleasures and Days, it's title echoing Hesiod's Work and Days, is a collection of stories including:
- The Death of Baldassare Silvande, Viscount of Sylvania
- A Young Girl's Confession
- A Dinner in Society
- Fragments from Italian Comedy
- Violante, or Worldly Vanities
- The Social Ambitions and Musical Tastes of Bouvard and Pecuchet
- Regrets, Reveries, Changing Skies
- The Melancholy Summer of Madame de Breyves
- The End of Jealousy
They are some of Proust's earliest works, written in the very early 1890s, at the height of the Decadent movement (Huysmans' Against Nature, 1884, being a prime example of this kind of literature). There are elements of this in Pleasures and Days, which shares, as well as the beauty of Jean Santeuil and In Search of Lost Time, some of the major themes that concerned Proust in his works. There is a darkness behind this beauty, a realism within the decadence. Proust referred to it as "this flowery book", which is an extremely apt description; the stories are like a garden filled with flowers, overfilled even, a garden as overwhelming and oppressive as it is sublime, and, as with In Search of Lost Time there is love, boredom, snobbery, anxiety, childhood attachments, disillusionment, and 'la douleur exquise' along with discussions on music, art, and literature.
It is a melancholic work, very elegant, very alluring, from a time now passed. It's a very short, my edition was just 221 pages, and yet it is I think an excellent introduction to Marcel Proust. I really fell in love with these stories.