I haven’t yet been able to finish Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. I know that’s okay. Most folks have not read it yet. (Or may not ever read it.) But as a former English teacher, someone who majored in creative writing and English literature with a minor in the classics, and still devours books faster than most meals, I feel slightly embarrassed about this.
Friends of mine who have read it say it’s a translation problem. A clunky translator can make a lyrical passage of writing feel plodding and awkward. Maybe those are the translations I have read. (And I’ve been told by those friends that this is the best translation .)
But this I know, from the brief reading of Proust I have done, and what’s in the public consciousness. Madeleines.
Here’s the pivotal passage of Proust’s first book:
“She (Marcel’s mother) sent for one of those squat plump little cakes called “petites madeleines,” which look as though they had been molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell … I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure invaded my senses …
And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray … when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Leonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane …. and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and garden alike, from my cup of tea.”
After reading that, you might want to eat a madeleine.
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