Books About Proust

  • Carter, William C. Marcel Proust: A Life. New Haven: Yale UP, 2000.
    • After trying to get through this massive biography for over a year and a half, I finally set it aside. It's comprehensive, detailed, more responsible than Tadié, and although I was moved early on by the descriptions of Proust's sickly childhood, it quickly became dry and mechanical.
  • Thumbs down Davenport-Hines, Richard. Proust at the Majestic: The Last Days of the Author Whose Book Changed Paris. New York: Bloomsbury, 2006.
    • A tantalizing topic: the evening of May 18, 1922, that Proust spent dining with Joyce, Picasso, Diaghilev, and Stravinsky at the Majestic hotel after the premier of Renard. A number of anecdotes circulate about the disappointing nature of the conversation that exceptional evening, and Davenport-Hines relates them all here. And that's about it for the first chapter: no details of interest that haven't been rehearsed better elsewhere. The remaining 250 pages fail to substantiate how Proust's novel "changed Paris" (in fact, there's no pretense to even trying). I sense Davenport-Hines has tried to hitch his star to the recent wavelet of popular interest in Proust. This is cotton candy advertised as truffles.
  • Thumbs up Hayman, Ronald. Proust: A Biography. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1990.
    • This thorough, solid, unpretentious, dependable biography, with its delightfully enlightening details, make it the biography I return to again and again.
  • Painter, Georges. Marcel Proust: A Biography. 2 vols. New York: Vintage, 1959.
    • This monumental literary biography is justifiably famous.  Yet it was written without access to much of Proust's correspondence, is often gossipy in tone, and conflates Proust's fiction with his life.
  • Thumbs down Tadié, Jean-Yves. Marcel Proust: A Life. Trans. Evan Cameron. New York: Viking, 2000. Translation of Marcel Proust. Paris: Gallimard, 1996.
    • Tadié is the editor-in-chief of the new Pléiade edition of the Recherche. If Proust's Narrator disparagingly describes a "littérature de notations," Tadié has written a "biographie de notations": a collection of editorial notes forced into a biographical narrative. I'm not sure I'm even going to be using it as a reference work. Poorly written, poorly translated. My favorite clunker (left hanging, without any elaboration whatsoever) is, "It was through fashion that the young man discovered the passage of time" (117).
      Online review at:
      Spike Magazine.
  • Thumbs up White, Edmund. Marcel Proust. New York : Lipper/Viking, 1999.
    • If you can forgive White for over-emphasizing everything homosexual in Proust's life and works, this short work is all almost anyone needs in a biography of Proust.
      Online review at:
      The New York Review of Books.

Mark Calkins © 2009
Page last updated: October 29, 2006