Saturday, January 27, 2007

Proust's introduction to Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies

Journées de lecture

The National Library of the Nederlands, has a page explaining the background to Proust's 1919 introduction to Sesame and Lilies [Lecturer 1: Sesame - Of King's Teasuries], two lectures Ruskin gave in Manchester in 1864.

The Project Gutenberg Sesame and Lilies

Proust, who spoke no English, did this adequately, but not without assistance: his mother wrote a rough translation of the first book, while his friend Marie Nordlinger did this together with Proust for the other. We can recognize his style, which was to become famous, in both of these translations.

'There might not be any days in our childhood that we experience as intensely as those of which we thought that we didn't really experience them: the days we spent reading a book of our own choice.' These words form the beginning of Journées de lecture. In long, dizzying sentences full of witty metaphors Proust describes in great detail the atmosphere in which he surrendered to the joy of reading as a child. For according to him, what we remember most from what we read is 'the image of the places and days on which we read'.

Proust saw reading as a means, while Ruskin saw it as an end unto itself. Ruskin compared reading to having a good discussion with sophisticated people of previous generations. To Proust, reading gives one magical access to chambers of the soul that had been closed before; it formed a critical mind and made the reader aware of his own inner life. According to Proust, reading becomes dangerous when it doesn't make the reader aware of his own inner life - but instead takes the place of that life. For - he says - finding truth is an ideal that can never be achieved by the passive reading of other people's books.


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