16 AUGUST 1930, Page 23

The World of Proust

Marcel Proust : Sa Revelation- Psychologlque. By Arnaud Dandieu. (Humphrey Milford. 3s. 6(1.)

Ix the simple far-off Victorian days, Oliver Wendell Holmes remarked that there were always three Johns—John as known only to his Maker, John as seen by himself, and John us seen by his neighbour. The formula of Proust looks even simpler. The " real " John, the independent entity postulated by Holmes, disappears ; and we are face to face with the John as he appears to himself and the John as he appears to others. The world of Proust is a bundle of impressions received directly by himself or transmitted to him by others, and these impres- sions constitute the sum of his knowledge of himself and of other people. In these impressions the reason plays no part ; there is juxtaposition, but there is no possibility of rational co-ordination. Nor can any permanently valid deductions be drawn from them ; for " a large part of what we believe to be true springs from an original misconception of our premisses." The capacity of human nature for deception and self-deception has become a system. Proust has dethroned reason, and thereby reduced human personality to nothingness.

In his brilliant and closely-reasoned little study of Proustian psychology, M. Dandieu tries to defend Proust against this familiar charge. The dethronement of reason does not, says M. Dandieu in effect, amount to a denial of personality ; for personality in its primitive form, such as we see it in children and savages, is fundamentally irrational. He produces some astonishingly apposite parallels from recent works on and psychology. The mingling of past and present, the imperfect differentiation of subject and object, the state (called by Freud Narcissism) in which the external world is perceived only in terms of the subject's own person, thoughts and desires, are the very essence of Proust's creation ; and they are stages recognized by every modern psychologist in the growth of the child mind. Proust descends in a straight line from the French Romantics, who revolted against the intellectual tyranny of the Age of Reason and preached the return to the primitive. He has, so to speak, taken the human mind to pieces, and removed the cogs ; and poring over the wheels as they revolve listlessly and aimlessly on their axis, he theorizes on the incoherent and vacillating operations of the mechanism. The discovery of the large element of the savage and of the child which lurks in the conscious or subconscious self of the civilized adult has both shocked and fascinated the modern world ; and Proust has been, if not the pioneer, at any rate the prin- cipal exponent-in art of these discoveries:

In the last resort, however; the world produced by the isolation of these primitive elements remains a one-sided and artificial world. It is perhaps no less artificial than the world of pure reason which the Romantics set out to overthrow.

[he world of Proust is certainly not the world in which we ordinary mortals live. In The Sweet Cheat Gone (the pen- ultimate novel in the long series A la Recherche du Temps Perdu) Marcel is deserted by his mistress Albertine, who is killed a few days later in an accident. He fails at first to realize her death. The process of falling out of love must follow, in the inverse order, the stages through which he had passed in falling in love with her ; and the novel is woven around this theme. In the first stage the jealousy which had been his strongest passion in the last months of their association (described in the previous volume, The Captive) still dominates him, and he continues with ghoulish curiosity to seek proofs of his dead mistress's infidelities. Then the period of happier memories supervenes ; then the time of casual and intermittent acquaintanceship ; and finally oblivion. There is already something artificial about this enunciation of the problem. It strikes us as a work of art rather than an expression of human experience. The irrational convention of Proust is as far from the realism of Balzac or Flaubert, and as far removed from life, as was the rational convention of the eighteenth century. Proust is the last and most uncompromising of the Romantics but, in the sense in which extremes meet, he has travelled a long way back to meet the Classics.

The present volume has a tragic interest ; for it is the last translation which Scott-Moncrieff completed before his death. It is enough to say here that he has made Proust seem the easiest of all French writers to translate. It remains to be seen whether this impression will survive when the last novel of the series, Le Temps Retrom•e, is attempted by some less practised hand.