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Page 95

PART II - BOOKS
CHAPTER V - PROUST

historian of the late Middle Ages turns to Dante and finds there described not a personal fantasy but the last and the greatest of the crusades that were supposed to end in heaven ; so, reading Proust, the historian of the early twentieth century will see not the dallyings of the insignificant hero, not the local snobberies of the Faubourg Saint Germain, but-you and me ! He will say, ' This work, whatever its qualities as art, is an epic, for it expresses the spirit of its age.' And he will add (perhaps rather to our surprise if we still take notice of the remarks of wise men) :` It was pre-eminently an age of adventure.'
There is, of course, nothing of the swashbuckler about Proust, me, or you. There is no question of adventure of that sort ; the laurels of the House of Guermantes have faded long before the action starts ; the martial ardours of Saint Loup are slightly demode and absurd, like the caperings of a heraldic lion ; there is no true summons to battle when the bugles of Doncieres blow and its fortifications take shape in the mists. And when the Great War does come it is a monster, indecent and imbecile, shaggy with dispatches, in whose faetid darkness A1. de Charlus waddles about seeking pleasure and Madame Verdurin personates Joan of Arc. Of adventure in the chivalrous or romantic sense there is nothing, nothing. But the characters want to live, the author wants to write about them, and when we ask why, in a world so obviously unsatisfactory, we get an answer which will be echoed in our own private diary, namely, ' We want to know what will happen to-morrow.' To-morrow may not be better than to-day, and may well be worse, but it has one unique attraction : it has not yet come. Proust, though introspective, and unhappy, was full of vitality-he could not have written a million words if he was not-he was inquisitive about to-morrow, he and his characters cling to existence though logic indicates suicide, and though disease drags them down still keep one eye open, half an eye, and scan the bitter unremunerative levels of the sea. A la Recherche du Temps perdu is an epic of curiosity and of despair. It is an adventure in the modern mode where the nerves and brain as well as the blood take part, and the-whole man moves forward to encounter he does not know what ; certainly not to any goal.

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