An article from The Wall Street Journal by Joseph Epstein: A lucid exposition of how Proust put his reading to work in the creation of In Search of Lost Time.
"No one should read Marcel Proust's "In Search of Lost Time" for the first time. A first reading, however carefully conducted, cannot hope to unlock the book's complexity, its depth, its inexhaustible richness. Roughly a million words and more than 3,000 pages long, it is a novel I have read twice, and one of the reasons I continue to exercise and eat and drink moderately and have a physical every year into my 70s is that I hope to live long enough to read it one more time.
Told with France's Belle Epoque (that bright and lavish quarter of a century before World War I permanently darkened all life in Europe) as its background, "In Search of Lost Time" is the recollections of a first-person narrator over several decades. This narrator, who bears many resemblances to its author (he is called Marcel, and his family and circumstances are similar to Proust's) but who also differs from him in striking ways (chief among them that his life is not devoted to writing a great novel), is relentless in his energy for analysis. In his detailed attempt to remember all things past, he is as all-inclusive as literature can get; what normal people filter out of memory the narrator channels in. And so it was with Proust himself: While most authors working at revision tend to take things out of their manuscripts, up to his death in 1922 Proust was continuing to add things to his."