Remembrance of Things Past
“Remembrance of Things Past” is one of seven volumes of a series written by Marcel Praust, the first one being Swann’s Way. In the beginning of Swann’s Way, the narrator, Marcel, begins to narrate the experiences he has had while falling asleep, dreaming and waking up. He makes numerous analogies and similes to real life and compares it to those realities of dreams. He narrates what he experiences in his dreams, and indirectly states that what he has lived in his dreams seem far more interesting than what he has endured in his daily life. He narrates also, how his mind and his body react to the event of actually waking up, like a video tape or audio cassette one has to rewind in order to re-remember where one is, where one has been, in specific details such as the positions of his body and the last thing his mind was thinking about.etc. Because of this he would also begin to remember things from his past, people from his past, and events from his past as well, in Combray with his great aunt, in Paris Venice, etc, making the themes of this overture Time and Memory.
Over the course of the narration, the order in which the events take place seem to mix and merge and it is not quite clear the view of these memories, as if the narrator has somehow forgotten parts of these memories. By describing these events he travels back in time instead of just moving forward with his life:
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Or, perhaps, while I was asleep I had returned without the least effort to an earlier stage in my life, now for ever outgrown; and had come under the thrall of one of my childish terrors, such as that old terror of my great-uncle’s pulling my curls, which was effectually dispelled on the day–the dawn of a new era to me–on which they were finally cropped from my head. I had forgotten that event during my sleep… (p.2)
Furthermore, as the narrator describes how he used to have trouble sleeping when he was a little boy and simultaneously the narrator describing this event seems to be falling asleep as well, when he begins to state that he feel he is the subject of the book he was reading before he fell asleep. When he wakes up, he wakes up to find darkness all around him and this appears as he has lost his sense of time:
This impression would persist for some moments after I was awake; it did not disturb my mind, but it lay like scales upon my eyes and prevented them from registering the fact that the candle was no longer burning. Then it would begin to seem unintelligible, as the thoughts of a former existence must be to a reincarnate spirit; the subject of my book would separate itself from me, leaving me free to choose whether I would form part of it or no; and at the same time my sight would return and I would be astonished to find myself in a state of darkness, pleasant and restful enough for the eyes, and even more, perhaps, for my mind, to which it appeared incomprehensible, without a cause, a matter dark indeed. (p.1)
As I mentioned before, Memory also plays an important theme in the Overture of Swann’s Way. The main memories, Marcel begins to narrate are his childhood memories back home in Combray, such as the memory mentioned before of his terror of his great uncle pulling his fleece from him and feeling the touch of his fingers at night. In addition to this he later on describes a specific woman appearing to him while he was asleep, having a feeling that he had known her during a specific moment of his past. “If, as would sometimes happen, she had the appearance of some woman whom I had known in waking hours, I would abandon myself altogether to the sole quest of her, like people who set out on a journey to see with their own eyes some city that they have always longed to visit, and imagine that they can taste in reality what has charmed their fancy. And then, gradually, the memory of her would dissolve and vanish, until I had forgotten the maiden of my dream.” (p.2)
Overall, the most important memories Marcel describes in this overture are the ones he contains of himself as a child back home in Combray, with his great aunt and all of the places he had traveled after that and all of the people he had met while there, like Venice, Paris and Balbec. In the end, there seems to be a powerful and great ability of the mind to take a person back in time depending on what that person sees, hears or touches:
I could still believe in their possible presence; for memory was now set in motion; as a rule I did not attempt to go to sleep again at once, but used to spend the greater part of the night recalling our life in the old days at Combray with my great-aunt, at Balbec, Paris, Doncières, Venice, and the rest; remembering again all the places and people that I had known, what I had actually seen of them, and what others had told me. (p.5)
Proust, Marcel. (1913). Swann’s Way. Remembrance of Things Past.