Sunday, August 1, 2010

Remembrance of Things Present




Yes, I’m now in possession of the fourteen-volume 1862-1868 edition of Madame de Sévigné’s letters*. I need only learn French. I paid forty dollars for the set — a ridiculously low price, despite the fact that the covers are not original. For who knows how many years, the letters were part of the Marylhurst College Library collection in Oswego, Oregon. A year or so ago, the books turned up at the Friends bookstore at our local public library. They were priced at sixty dollars until recently, when the person in charge decided they had been sitting there long enough and lowered them to forty. Naturally, I took that as I sign and brought them home. I just looked in my wallet — one lizard, one fence post, a piece of barbed wire, and a tumbleweed. No more book-buying for a good long while now. No nothing, in fact.






I read online, probably on Wikipedia but I might be mistaken, that Madame de Sévigné’s letters are referred to in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past as favorite reading material of the narrator’s grandmother.

Remembrance of Things Past — thanks to my son, I now have both volumes of the 1934 Modern Library edition translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff. I had the first volume, and he had the second. When we were at Powell’s Books recently, we found a set containing both volumes, so he bought it and gave me the book he already had. And then he had a shocking idea: he said we should read all of it — the whole thing, both volumes. The first volume contains 1,141 pages; the second contains 1,124 — a mere 2,265 pages.

We begin that project today.

* Madame de Sévigné (1626-1696) wrote a lot of letters.


Recently Linked: My thanks to Annie Wyndham for linking to yesterday’s poem, this will be, from this early morning roundup in her fine blog, Jottings of an Ameriquebeckian.

Update:
In the Forum: philosophical treatises, steamy love notes, musings on the weather.

18 comments:

ALeks said...

French is difficult for me but I love the sound of it! You go William!! :O)

Jean Spitzer said...

Reading is easier than speaking, but it still sounds like quite an undertaking. Good luck with it and with the Proust project, too. Meanwhile, I think you're very lucky to be relatively close to Powell's, my favorite bookstore.

Janice said...

What wonderful books these are William! Books are like magnets for you. They seem to know that you love them and want to bring them home, just like a lost kitten. Your wallet will survive to buy books again someday, so don't fret :)
I would love to own these books whether I could read them or not, which I cannot, but I'd sure give it a try now and then!
I love the way that you and your son bond...how beautiful.

William Michaelian said...

Thanks, Aleksandra! And if not in this life, maybe the next!

Hi, Jean. That’s been my experience thus far in my feeble attempts to learn any language. Reading is one thing, speaking comes with more difficulty. And of course there’s the small matter of comprehension.... Powell’s — it’s about a forty-five-minute drive from here. It’s almost scary thinking about what would happen if it were closer.

Thanks, Janice. I appreciate that. And it’s true — I’ve actually seen books winking at me from the shelf!

Joseph Hutchison said...

I managed to read Swann's Way (Englished, of course) maybe three years ago and loved it, but haven't gone on with the series. Probably because I'm socially backward, and Proust's special genius seems to have been for portraying the spiritual dimension of social life, I found his book beautiful but almost disorienting. I look forward to your take on it!

William Michaelian said...

Almost disorienting? Now I’m really looking forward to it!

Ed Baker said...

I got the classic comic book version..simple English and picture-ized:

http://www.nbmpub.com/comicslit/proust/prousthome.html

I once had a complete set of The Great Books of the Western World

they were on the top shelf
of my books case... I was barely into Dante's Infernknow
when ...los-an-behold

the book-case collapsed and I was crushed to death by the set of books..

years later when the dust mites/motes had finished with my Exquisite Corpse
something else happened...which I forget

William Michaelian said...

I used to git my lit from Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories. Ten cents a month — how could you go wrong?

Here’s to your esprit de corpse....

nouvelles couleurs - vienna atelier said...

a tresuere, :-) I#m happy that you have them..

I fear that in a short time, you buy another library .... (bookshelves)

hehehehehehehe

William Michaelian said...

Laura, you’re right, that day is coming... and soon!

Dwight said...

Swann's Way is as far as I've made it on Proust, something I'm hoping to correct soon. In addition to reading it a few years ago, I listened to it over a couple of weeks recently during my commute (thanks to the library for having it available!). Something I'm discovering, slowly, is that many authors with reputations of denseness or convolution (James, Proust, Woolf for example) have none of those characteristics when heard. I need to read aloud much more often.

William Michaelian said...

It makes a huge difference. I finished the Overture yesterday, and am loving it so far. Immediately engaging, dense, no stone unturned, and yet no wasted words.

Gerry Boyd said...

You are correct on the Proust reference to the letters. I have read that translation and loved it despite the occasional tedium of Proust himself. He's a 'quivering mass of sensibility'. There are points where you are just about to say 'all right, all ready' and then you notice there are tears in your eyes. If there's a better transcription of a human life and ALL of its facets, I have yet to discover it. Advice: savor it.

William Michaelian said...

Advice accepted. And I hope to leave my own gray tedium at the door.

The name Sévigné pops up for the first time on Page 16 or 18, I believe.

Thanks, Gerry.

Momo Luna said...

Mais oui, i can understand why you couldn't resist that sign. How wonderful, such a delicious treasure. I love old books. I always imagine who have had it in his or her hands, a long time ago. A little bit as if you are connected with that time. The scent of the old paper, of old forgotten times. Ha! I can go on like this awhile. An ode to old books.

I'm happy for you William, that you find such a treasure....

William Michaelian said...

Thanks, Monica, and a treasure it is, for all the reasons you give....

Dwight said...

Ah, and a later reference: "These de La Trémouailles whom Mme. Verdurin has exhibited to us as so little to be desired," inquired Brichot, articulating vigorously, "are they, by any chance, descended from the couple whom that worthy old snob, Sévigné, said she was delighted to know, because it was so good for her peasants? True, the Marquise had another reason, which in her case probably came first, for she was a thorough journalist at heart, and always on the look-out for 'copy.' And, in the journal which she used to send regularly to her daughter, it was Mme. de La Trémouaille, kept well-informed through all her grand connections, who supplied the foreign politics."

From "Swann Whipped"

William Michaelian said...

“Swann Whipped”? Now you’re way ahead of me....