Gareth H. Steel
Gareth H. Steel once thought of himself as a “lapsed Proustian”: after completing his doctoral thesis (1976) and sending it off to Droz for publication (1979) he more or less vanished from the field. From his government office in Whitehall he would visit a local specialist bookshop to see if the book was still on the shelves (always a thrill to see it there, as it was for a year or two). During a year at the French civil service college ENA in 1983-4 Proust was mentioned a couple of times and it usually created a stir for the French to discover that in the UK system you could write a book on Proust and then go on to work on the Common Market beef support regime, the Nitrate Directive, Materials and Articles in Contact with Food regulations, or the Common Fisheries Policy. After that, Proust disappeared completely from view for a while. It was in the Ministry of Agriculture one morning in 1995 that a colleague (a cultured colleague!) asked if the civil servant Steel was any relationship to the Steel whose book was one of four singled out for thanks by Antoine Compagnon at the head of the notes in the Gallimard Folio edition of Du Côté de chez Swann. Surprise all round as this identity was established.
Soon afterwards Gareth was to embark, with his family, on a series of secondments, lasting twelve years, in Bonn, Berlin and Brussels, and the thought of re-visiting Proust arose from time to time. The book had been published without taking the author’s last set of proof-reading comments into account, so there was a ready-made retirement project, even though Droz had ruled out a second edition. The Proustian revival was jump-started by attending the last conference of the centenary year of Swann’s publication at Exeter University in 2013. William Carter’s keynote contribution brought a sparkling occasion to its conclusion, and William Carter’s handshake was only the warmest of all the greetings that made Gareth feel as if he had re-discovered a lost part of himself, and a lost family of Proustians. In the immediate afterglow of that event it was suggested that Gareth might like to contribute an article to the proceedings of the Conference. Those proceedings are now in print, including Gareth’s “Proust tomorrow?” which taps into the new perspectives he is now discovering in his old interest in time and chronology in Proust.
What Gareth calls his “homespun” web-site (https://sites.google.com/site/marcelprousttime/home) is the vehicle for the continuing work on corrected and updated versions of ‘Chronology and Time in A la recherche du temps perdu ’ as well as any forthcoming Proustian activities and publications.