I shot this photo in Monday of a professional dog walker in the Bois du Boulogne, the large park on the edge of Paris, which figures in Marcel Proust’s novel, “A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu.”
Over my lifetime, I’ve read this work more than once in English translation (all 3,031 pages in seven volumes), and some of it in the original language, thanks to the basic French I learned via a staff tuition waiver program at the University of North Dakota.
Is Proust, who died in 1922, still relevant?
I think so. His novel continues to sell worldwide, and I purchased two new biographies before we departed from France on Wednesday.
On past visits to the Bois, I’ve made a point of walking around its lakes and on the broad promenades such as the former L’allée des Acacias, now mostly roads crowded with automobiles.
Even so, Dorette, her granddaughter, Avery, and I enjoyed our time there, although the experience troubled me somewhat. The place seemed “different.”
Then I recalled that Proust’s fictional narrator, now an elderly man like me, remembering his youth, had felt a similar disenchantment.
The novel is set in the Belle Epoch when the Bois was the place where on Sundays strolled the most beautiful women of Paris, including one of Proust’s most famous characters, Odette Swann.
The narrator, after reminiscing about long-ago days, describes what he now sees:
“Nature was resuming its reign over the Bois, from which had vanished all trace of the idea that it was the Elysian Garden of Women; above the gimcrack windmill the real sky was grey; the wind wrinkled the surface of the Grand Lac in little wavelets, like a real lake; large birds flew swiftly over the Bois, as over a real wood, and with shrill cries perched one after another on the great oaks which, beneath their Druidical crown, and with Dodonian majesty, seemed to proclaim the inhuman emptiness of this deconsecrated forest, and helped me to understand how paradoxical it is to seek in reality for the pictures that are stored in one’s memory, which must inevitably lose the charm that comes to them from memory itself.”
A good lesson for someone my age. In fact, I intend to go to the Bois to have it repeated next year when I’m in Paris again, hopefully, for the Hemingway Society’s biennial conference.