Gay Studies Edmund White Marcel Proust

ISBN 13: 9780670880577

Marcel Proust

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9780670880577: Marcel Proust

Marcel Proust, now enjoying a major renaissance, has at last found a biographer who himself once produced the "finest French novel written in English" (The Nation). For Edmund White--author of an award-winning biography of Jean Genet and of the classic gay novel A Boy's Own Story, and known for his own haunting evocation of times past--this portrait is the exquisite expression of a lifetime spent contemplating Proust. Proust teaches us to truly savor the master's delicate perfection of style and his strange, charismatic personality--not just the recluse obsessively rewriting his one massive work through the night, but the yearning, lonely boy; the dazzling wit and darling of Parisian salons; the seeker of fame; and the unhappy closeted homosexual whom this book is the first to explore openly. From the frothiest gossip to the deepest angst, here is a gem to be treasured not only by literati and students, but by anyone looking for an introduction to an enduring genius.

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Review:

Marcel Proust documented his existence so lavishly--albeit in fictional form--that many of his biographers have functioned as little more than code-breakers, doggedly translating art back into life. It's a great pleasure, then, to welcome Edmund White's slender, superbly artful account. A novelist himself (as well as a biographer of Jean Genet), White beautifully evokes "the France of heavy, tasteless furniture, of engraved portraits of Prince Eugene, of clocks kept under a glass bell on the mantelpiece, of overstuffed chairs covered with antimacassars and of brass beds warmed by hot-water bottles." And he's no less canny at summoning up Proust's personality, in all its neurotic, contradictory glory.

Of course, Proust's life can't truly be separated from his art. Every biography of him is bound to operate in the shadow of Remembrance of Things Past, and White has some shrewd things to say about that mammoth work, whose style he describes as "an ether in which all the characters revolve like well-regulated heavenly bodies." Yet the focus remains on Proust and on his unlikely transformation from momma's boy to social climber to world-class genius. Like his subject, White often proceeds by anecdote. His book is packed with telling, hilarious little nuggets, which find Proust being snubbed by that "powdered, perfumed, puffy Irish giant" Oscar Wilde or luring back his lover Alfred Agostinelli by buying him an airplane.

At the same time, White conveys the considerable pain that Proust endured as an invalid, an artist, and (more to the point) a closeted homosexual. No doubt these factors shaped his rather hopeless take on human affections, which impoverished his life even as they enriched his writing. "Proust may be telling us that love is a chimera," White writes, "a projection of rich fantasies onto an indifferent, certainly mysterious surface, but nevertheless these fantasies are undeniably beautiful, intimations of paradise--the artificial paradise of art." In White's view, this recognition makes his subject not only a supreme poet of impermanence but the greatest novelist of the century. Here, of course, it's possible to quibble. But the world would be an emptier place indeed without Proust's mighty masterpiece--and readers curious about its brilliant, bedridden creator should start with White's witty and exquisite portrait. --James Marcus

About the Author:

Edmund White, author of thirteen books, is a Chevalier de L'Ordre des Arts et Lettres, and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Award for Literature from the National Academy of Arts and Letters. His Genet: A Biography won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Lambda Literary Award. He lives in Paris, France.

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