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Time Regained describes Paris during World War 1. The Narrator, older and ill, disillusioned with society and love, no longer able to believe in art as something real and unique, and mainly discouraged by his lifelong failure to become a writer, decides to withdraw from society and go into a sanatorium where he will spend a number of years. Once he leaves the sanatorium and finds that he remains indifferent to the beauties of nature, he decides that he has no talent and may as well resume the pointless life of high society.

He accepts an invitation to attend a matinée given by the princesse de Guermantes (formerly Mme Verdurin). On arriving in the courtyard of the Guermantes mansion, he unexpectedly experiences a series of involuntary memories, like that of the madeleine scene, and suddenly understands his life, regains his will—lost in the childhood scene of the goodnight kiss at Combray—sees that he can master his craft, and is at long last ready to write the book (or perhaps its ideal version) that we have just read. Proust gave this work a circular structure, and its first and last words contain the word Time.

Lecture 26

combray revisited

Marcel revisits Combray and Tansonville for the first time since his childhood. He takes late evening walks with Gilberte and is profoundly discouraged by his lack of curiosity. This is only one of the signs of depression that he exhibits. All his deficiencies, his declining health, his failure to respond to the scenes of beloved childhood memories, in which he finds no pleasure, are proof to him that he will never be able to fulfill his lifelong ambition of becoming a writer.

Lecture 27

the effects of the war on m. de charlus

In this lecture, we will look at the remaining passages on Paris during the war. Marcel takes a nocturnal walk in Paris, which takes him as far as the Pont des Invalides.Marcel tells us that Mme Verdurin and Charlus continue to feud and describes her campaign against the Baron as brilliant. In her conversations about him, she labels him as “pre-war” and thus hopelessly outdated. . . . their quarrel had grown steadily more bitter and Mme Verdurin even took advantage of present events to discredit him further. Having said for years that she found him stale, finished, more out of date in his professed audacities than the dullest philistine, she now summed up this condemnation in such a way as to make him an object of general aversion, by saying that he was “pre-war.”

Lecture 28

the silent heights of memory

This is the final movement that leads to the resolution of Marcel’s quest and time regained. The concluding section contains many beautiful passages, so many of them highly quotable, rich in ideas, as Proust gives us his philosophy and esthetics, his artistic credo, all placed within the context of the story and the lives of the characters. We find in these pages answers to the questions posed in the overture at the very beginning and throughout the novel. As he explores, he asks new questions that he will answer. All of this constitutes a magisterial orchestration and resolution of the novel’s major themes.

Lecture 29

the vanity of all things

The scene, often referred to as the masked ball, is perhaps the most famous one in the novel. It contains a great deal of comedy, pathos, and astute observations about the effects of time on a group of people, those characters we have been following since the beginning of the story. Many of the portraits of the characters are caricatures, a technique justified perhaps by the commonly observed phenomenon that as we age we often become caricatures of our former self. Interspersed with the portraits are Proust’s philosophical thoughts on the nature of time, its role in our lives, and also in Marcel’s future book. In this unforgettable scene, Proust has created an impressive array of images and analogies borrowed from many different fields: the theater, zoology, biology, painting, topography, geology, etc.

Lecture 30

an urgent appointment with myself

Although Marcel has stated several times that he no longer fears the dangers of society, he still believes that it is best for him to enter what he earlier characterized as the “inner darkroom” necessary for the writer to develop all the exposed film or negatives. He knows that others will think he is egotistical.

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