In Search of Lost Time

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Printed proof with handwritten notes from À la recherche du temps perdu: Du côté de chez Swann

In Search of Lost Time (French original title: À la recherche du temps perdu , published between 1913 and 1927) is a seven-part novel by Marcel Proust . It tells the story of Proust's own life as an allegorical search for the truth and is the main work of French fiction of the early 20th century.

When Proust dips a rusk (which in the novel becomes a madeleine ) in his tea in January 1909 , he is involuntarily transported back to his childhood. In July he retired from the world to write his novel, the first draft of which was completed in September 1912. The first volume Du côté de chez Swann (1913; German: In Swanns Welt , also: On the way to Swann ) was rejected by publishing houses for various reasons and appeared at his own expense in November 1913. At that time, only three volumes were by Proust planned.

During the war years , Proust revised the rest of his work, deepening his sensations, structure and interpretation , developing the real and satirical elements further and tripling its length. In this way he transformed it into one of the most profound feats of the human imagination. In June 1919 À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (1919; In the shadow of a young girl's blossom ) appeared at the same time as a new edition by Swann . In December 1919 À l'ombre received the Prix ​​Goncourt and made Proust famous in one fell swoop. Two more volumes were published while he was still alive and benefited from his latest revision: Le Côté de Guermantes (1920/1921; Die Welt der Guermantes ) and Sodome et Gomorrhe (1921/1922; Sodom and Gomorrah ). The last three parts of À la recherche appeared posthumously in an advanced but not yet finished arrangement: La Prisonnière (1923; Die Gefangene ), Albertine disparue (1925; Die Escaped ) and Le Temps retrouvé (1927; The time found again ). The first reliable complete edition did not appear until 1954.


A first-person narrator reports on his life and the process of remembering .

The novel is set in fin de siècle France in upper class society. The first-person narrator comes from a middle-class Parisian family who usually spend the summer with relatives in the country. Here he experienced a happy childhood and met people who would play a role in his further life, such as the art lover Swann, his daughter Gilberte, or the local aristocratic family, the Guermantes.

Cabourg (Balbec) Grand Hotel

When he is old enough to choose a profession, going to the theater arouses his interest in art and wants to become a writer. However, his poor health and indolence prevent him from creating a literary work. When observing nature closely, however, he repeatedly experiences moments of extreme concentration that he would like to process, but he never gets to.

The narrator spends the summer in the fictional seaside resort of Balbec, a large part of the action takes place in the local grand hotel. The model for Balbec is the seaside resort of Cabourg on the Normandy coast , in whose Grand Hotel Proust often worked on his novel. Here the first-person narrator falls in love with the young Albertine for the first time. He also befriends the Marquis de Saint-Loup, who is related to the Guermantes family.

As a result, the first-person narrator rises in the world of the nobility and visits the salons . Here he makes fun of people's empty chatter, but he is also intrigued and cannot part with them to create his work. The political affairs of his time hardly interest him. He only realizes that the Dreyfus Affair allows some people to rise in society while it forces others to go down.

After a first love for Gilberte, he finally becomes Albertine's lover, although he does not find happiness, but suffers because of his jealousy and makes her life hell too. He describes the development of his feelings in minute detail. Albertine leaves him in the end and dies in a riding accident, which is why he blames himself.

During the First World War he stayed in Paris because he was unfit for military service . His friend Saint-Loup is killed in the war. Long after the war, he visits a company for the last time. He is old and sick now and realizes that he hardly recognizes the people he once knew, they have changed so much. Plus, they seem to have completely forgotten who was and who wasn't. The Guermantes have been forgotten and the nouveau riche, previously despised, are celebrated.

The first-person narrator notes that the past exists only in his memory. At the end of his life he realizes that through his love affairs and contacts with unimportant people he never found the time and effort to create the work of art that he had planned. The last option is to write the novel of his memories, which would otherwise be irretrievably lost with his death. And so the novel ends as the author begins to write it.

"Lost time" can thus be understood ambiguously:

  • as time that seems wasted;
  • as time that seems irretrievably lost if it is not preserved in memory or in a work of art ;
  • as memories or imaginations that evoke names or objects.

“The lost time is the time that seems irretrievably lost to us. That's the whole point of the novel. We have someone there who is looking for something, for a truth in life, for a meaning in life, who would like to be a writer, but has no topic at all and doesn't really know where it's going. And these involuntary memories show him what the matter of a book could be, what his book then becomes. In this respect it is a time found again, because the last volume is called "Le temps retrouvé", time found again. "

Charles Haas, model for the character of Charles Swann

A love of Swann

Un amour de Swann is the middle part of the first volume and formally falls outside the scope of the research, because this self-contained narrative is written in the Er-form from the perspective of an authorial narrator , while the rest of the novel is exclusively a first- person narration.

Sandro Botticelli's portrait, which stands for Odette

A love from Swann meticulously describes the development of the love of the bon vivant Swann for the courtesan Odette de Crécy. At first Swann is hardly interested in her, but the two gradually get closer. His affection finds new nourishment when he recognizes in her the image of Sephora , one of Jethro's daughters , as depicted in Botticelli's fresco Trials of Moses in the Sistine Chapel . As their relationship settles in, Odette begins to set Swann aside from other contacts - above all the circle around Madame Verdurin, which finds its counterpart in Madame de Caivallet - and thus arouses his jealousy. Swann's jealousy increases his love for Odette in a kind of feedback. This cycle only ends when he becomes indifferent again. Regardless of this, Odette meets the reader later as Swann's wife and mother of Gilberte.

Many motifs are anticipated in the narrative, which are then expanded upon in more detail in the “search”. Art already plays an important role here; Swann's jealous love corresponds to the narrator's love for Gilberte and Albertine. Swann is prevented by love and the mundane salon life from creating a lasting work - similar to the first-person narrator, who nevertheless manages to do so at the last moment. Last but not least, the involuntary memory is already hinted at in the "little phrase", a melody that Swann hears together with Odette and which awakens his memories when he hears it again.


In terms of content, the novel is like a large labyrinth in which people and topics keep cropping up, only to be forgotten again. But there are some principles that structure the novel.


In Search of Lost Time is a novel of memories. The author differentiates between conscious memory , which is always incomplete and often frightening, and involuntary memory. The most famous example is the Madeleine (a scallop-shaped pastries), served as the main person adult of his mother and her taste envisioned him the fullness of his childhood experiences with all the images, sounds, tastes and smells again. This so-called involuntary memory is on the one hand a psychological experience (in the sense of déjà vu experiences), on the other hand a literary trick that allows the narrator to start chains of associations .

“He distrusts willful memory, that was Proust's great discovery: you can remember something willingly, but everything that happens willingly is basically just a falsified memory. The true memory, the true sensation, as it really was, that is the revelation through the famous involuntary memory, the mémoires involontaires, these are the déjà vu experiences that one has. ?? "


The most noticeable structural principle is the stylistic device leitmotif through repetitions and modifications of themes and literary motifs . The narrator's love affairs, which always follow the same pattern, are described very often. Another example is a particular railway line. As a child, the main person reads the names of the cities on this route in the timetable and uses these place names to make ideas. Later he actually takes this train, and a friend makes etymological remarks about the names of the places, although the apparently scientific accuracy hardly conceals that this is also a pure fantasy.

The image of man

Jean Firges summarizes the 2010 work from an anthropological point of view . According to Firges at Proust, the relevant requirements of the worldview are:

  • The subject is enclosed in a monad structure without a window to the outside;
  • the ego is divided into multiple states of consciousness that are constantly changing;
  • time is not linear, but discontinuous.

The novel depicts the upper society of the Third Republic , which is subject to its human conditions, as a world of lies, pretense and decadence.

Prose poems

The descriptions of nature in particular are often worked out in such a way that they have almost developed into prose poems . Proust himself describes the so-called Martinville essay from Volume I in Volume II as a “poème en prose”. The structure of the sentence, especially the chaotic commas, clearly show that Proust took prosody as a design element very seriously.


In order to find his own style, Proust had written several so-called pastiches , e.g. B. to Gustave Flaubert and Ernest Renan . Against the literary critic Sainte-Beuve , Proust argued that a literary work could not be explained primarily through the author and that Sainte-Beuve neglected questions of style. From an essay begun in 1908, Proust's extensive research on the style of various artists emerged, the results of which reappear in fictional figures (such as the musician Vinteuil, the painter Elstir or the writer Bergotte), these figures being deliberately presented in such a way that the reader can only guess, but can guess which real characters are behind it, especially when several painters / musicians / writers have given Proust's characters traits. An educated contemporary of Proust could easily have recognized the Anatole France des Père Goriot behind Legrandin's Eloge on Opal Bay in Balbec , just as the German reader would suspect Wilhelm Meister from the Bad Kreuznach sketch in Vol. III . The most essential pastiche in the search for lost time , however, is undoubtedly the Goncourt pastiche at the beginning of Volume 7, a bravura piece in which Proust imitates the diaries of the Goncourt brothers and one or both Goncourts (always from himself and all others were perceived as a unit), allows his fictional characters to encounter, so that the reader z. B. Proust's Verdurin or Swann gets to hear through the voice of Prousts Goncourt. In Volume 5, Proust has Albertine (“she is my work”) imitate Proust's style in a similar self-persiflage (“I would never talk like that”).


Proust pays particular attention to his precise descriptions. It can go for pages on a woman's clothes or on a flower. His goal is to preserve the past in the work of art. The descriptions can also be understood as a school for the reader to discover beauty in their seemingly gray everyday life even through careful observation .


Proust is known for his long sentences, which understand the tendency of daydreaming, to get from stick to stick, and thus kidnap the reader into an intermediate realm of semi-consciousness, as well as for the excessive use of the subjunctive , which also leads out of the flat reality in a rich spectrum of possible (or alternative) worlds. A network of self- allusions and motif repetitions that Proust spins ensures that the reader can relive the narrator's memory as his own memory. All in all, one could say that Proust's idiosyncratic style has the function of gradually blurring the boundaries between an inner image of reality and an outer factuality.


Reception in Germany

Proust's discoverer for Germany was certainly Rainer Maria Rilke , who already recommended reading it to Princess Marie-Auguste von Thurn und Taxis in a letter dated January 21, 1914, and in a letter of February 3, 1914, urging the publisher Anton Kippenberg to immediately read the To secure translation rights for Insel-Verlag. The first public statement on Proust in Germany was probably a study by the eminent Romanist Ernst Robert Curtius (1886–1956), which appeared in the journal Der Neue Merkur pp. 745–761 in February 1922 and was enthusiastic about Proust (see p. Proust's letter to Curtius in Kolb (ed.): Correspondance , vol. XXI, p. 81, and his answer p. 128f). Almost at the same time (1923, but foreword from October 1922), Victor Klemperer's Die modern French prose appeared, a study text in which he introduces Proust with an excerpt from Swann (the last section from Combray I) and the passage from the "monstrous building of memory" (WS, p. 70) with the words: "One could set up the formula: Baudelaire + Bergson, but without Bergson's religiosity" (p. 301). He evidently did not recognize Proust's literary importance, although he gave him the “final and climax position”: “In Marcel Proust's rich and loose sketchbook of the modern soul, one can hardly see the great modern French poetry par excellence. Too much cool and oppressive play, too much mere looking at the world without attempting to find a high path in it, too much lack of religion in attitude alien more than the renunciation of the composition of a whole, than the novelty of the technical. But a testimony to the possibilities of the amalgamation of romanticism and classicism is the multivolume and diverse work and further testimony to the inexhaustible richness and constantly flowing growth of French poetry "(p. 71f).

À la recherche du temps perdu was actually only made known to a broader German audience in 1925 through Curtius' extensive essay Marcel Proust, which deals with the first five volumes and was published as part of his monograph French Spirit in New Europe (single print 1955 by Suhrkamp). The delay was, of course, also due to Curtius, who knew how to defend his territory and to persuade Proust to reject all attempts at translation, for example for the Daily Rundschau in 1922 , because they did not meet Curtius' approval (see Correspondence Proust- Gallimard, pp. 517, 519, 525). At the request of the Berlin publishing house Die Schmiede , whether Curtius would like to create a complete translation himself, the latter declined. After this "basket" the publishing house entrusted the translation to the philologist Rudolf Schottlaender (1900–1988) and in 1926 published the first volume of the SvZ under the title Der Weg zu Swann in two volumes. This edition was - one is tempted to say: as expected - panned so excessively by Curtius that, under pressure from Gallimard, the German publishing house transferred the continuation of the project to Walter Benjamin (1882–1940) and Franz Hessel (1880–1941). Volume II, In the Shadow of Young Girls , appeared in 1927. After the Berlin publishing house had to cease operations in 1929, the Piper publishing house in Munich took over the Proust project; the third volume, Die Herzogin von Guermantes , appeared here in 1930 in the Benjamin / Hessel translation (in two volumes) . The approaching National Socialism put an end to the attempt to publish a foreign and also "half-Jewish author" in Germany; the manuscript for the translation of Sodome et Gomorrhe , which Benjamin noted to have been completed in 1926, has been lost.

In 1953 the publisher Peter Suhrkamp sold his house in Kampen on Sylt to the publishers Axel and Rosemarie Springer in order to be liquid enough to acquire the rights to the German translation from Piper-Verlag. Here, too, the Suhrkamp author Hermann Hesse was probably a moral motor who had been pushing since 1925 for the "web of this tender poet" to finally be completely translated into German. In the same year presented Suhrkamp literary scholar Eva Rechel-Mertens (1895-1981), who had his doctorate under Ernst Robert Curtius, in his publishing house with the sole mission, a new or original translation of À la recherche du temps perdu to create; this was completed in 1957. The tools that were available to her as a clerk in a publishing house explain the astonishing speed with which she did her job. But while Rechel-Mertens was still busy with the first volume, a new edition of the research, revised by Pierre Clarac and André Ferré , was published in Gallimard's La Pléiade series , with text-critical commentary, which Rechel-Mertens then used as the basis for its translation first volume; The fact that the first volume is still based on the first edition is not a problem, however, since the differences between the text of the first edition and the Clarac / Ferré version are marginal in this volume. The renewed comprehensive revision of the French text by Jean-Yves Tadié in the 1980s, which was mainly characterized by new versions in the texts of the posthumous volumes, also made a revision of the German translation necessary. Luzius Keller and Sybilla Laemmel took on this task from 1994–2004 as part of a complete edition of Proust's works at Suhrkamp, ​​which was also provided with edition reports, annotations, a list of names and a bibliography.

In 1996 and 2001, dtv Hanno Helblings published translations of the preprints from the SvZ under the titles Der gewendet Tag and Albertine . In 2002 the author Michael Kleeberg and Combray presented a translation of the first half of the first volume, which was followed in 2004 by the second half under the title Eine Liebe Swanns .

Between 2013 and 2017 a new translation with extensive commentary by Bernd-Jürgen Fischer was published in seven volumes by Reclam.

Pistorius: Proust in Germany provides a detailed, catalog-like overview of Proust's reception in Germany up to 2002 .


Original editions

The first volume was published in 1913 by Grasset and in 1919 in a slightly modified version by Gallimard. The remaining volumes were published by Gallimard. The last three volumes appeared posthumously, although Proust had corrected volume five himself. Volume seven had been available in full for some time. Volume six ("Albertine disparue") was compiled from the estate by Proust's brother, the doctor Robert Proust, together with Gallimard's editor Jacques Rivière. In 1986 the so-called "Mauriac-Typoscript", a mainly shortened revision of the sixth volume by Proust's hand, was published under the title "La Fugitive".

Translation / complete editions

The first complete German translation was made by Eva Rechel-Mertens in the 1950s. This was revised by Luzius Keller as part of the Frankfurt edition . Both appeared in Frankfurt / M .: Suhrkamp, ​​had several editions, also as licensed editions in other publishers.

  • 1953–1961: Edition in seven volumes:
    • In Swann's world
    • In the shadow of a young girl's blossom
    • The world of the Guermantes
    • Sodom and Gomorrah
    • The prisoner
    • The escaped
    • The time found again
  • 1964: Work edition in 13 volumes (1st – 5th and 7th volume as two parts each).
  • 1979: Edition in ten volumes, suhrkamp pocket book and bound (2nd – 4th volume as two part volumes each).
  • 1980: Edition in three volumes, again in the 2000 anniversary edition .
  • 1994–2002 .: Frankfurt edition with revised titles, ed. v. Luzius Keller, ISBN 3-518-41385-6 :

Partial editions

Audio book

  • In Search of Lost Time Parts 1–7 Unabridged complete edition on 135 CDs (Lengfeld'schen Buchhandlung, Cologne). Speaker: Bernt Hahn and Peter Lieck, based on the Frankfurt edition of Suhrkamp Verlag, translated by Eva Rechel-Mertens and revised by Luzius Keller.
  • In Search of Lost Time Part 1–7 Complete Edition. CD and MP3-CD from Hörverlag as an unabridged reading by Peter Matić , ISBN 978-3-86717-682-8 . The work was named "Audio Book of the Year 2010" on the audio book best list and is based on the unrevised edition translated by Eva Rechel-Mertens.

Film adaptations

Despite the complexity of the novel, there have been attempts to film at least parts of the cycle : Volker Schlöndorff's Eine Liebe von Swann (1983) with Jeremy Irons and Ornella Muti as well as The Recovered Time by Raúl Ruiz with Catherine Deneuve , Emmanuelle Béart and John Malkovich as well The prisoner of Chantal Akerman .

The attempt to film the entire work: In Search of Lost Time (A la recherche du temps perdu) was made in France in 2011 under the direction of Nina Companéez in 2 parts with 113 and 119 minutes. The television film was shown on German television in 2012 .


The French comic artist Stéphane Heuet has been working on a comic adaptation of the cycle since 1998 .

Examples of reception by German artists

The author Jochen Schmidt published a 600-page summary in 2008, “Schmidt reads Proust”, after reading 20 pages every day for six months from “In search of lost time”. He summarizes courses of action and combines this summary with his own reading and life history.

Hannah Arendt describes in her essay Faubourg Saint-Germain Proust's figures in Sodom and Gomorrah as an example of the rootlessness of assimilated Judaism in France. His association with the nobility did not moderate anti-Semitism in the country, on the contrary.


  • Victor E. Graham: Bibliography des études sur Marcel Proust et son œuvre . Geneva: Droz 1976.
  • Marie and George Pistorius: Marcel Proust and Germany: An International Bibliography. With a foreword by Reiner Speck . 2., rework. u. exp. 2002 edition.
reference books
Individual representations
  • Angelika Corbineau-Hoffmann: Marcel Proust: “A la recherche du temps perdu”. Introduction and commentary . Francke, Tübingen 1993. ISBN 3-8252-1755-8 .
  • Meindest Evers: Proust and the aesthetic perspective. A study on “A la recherche du temps perdu” . Königshausen & Neumann , Würzburg 2004. ISBN 3-8260-2853-8 .
  • Jean Firges : Marcel Proust. The lost time. The time found again. Exemplary series literature and philosophy, 28. Sonnenberg, Annweiler 2009. ISBN 978-3-933264-57-2 (with scientific bibliography).
  • Hanno Helbling : Remembered Life. Marcel Proust's “Search for Lost Time” . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1988, ISBN 3-518-38047-8 .
  • Hans Robert Jauß: Time and memory in Marcel Proust's “A la recherche du temps perdu”. A contribution to the theory of the novel . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1986, ISBN 3-518-28187-9 .
  • Georges Poulet: Marcel Proust: “A la Recherche du Temps perdu”. in Walter Pabst (ed.): The modern French novel. Interpretations . Ernst Schmidt, Berlin 1968, pp. 120-133.
  • Philipp Reuter: Proust's “In Search of Lost Time”. Piper, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-492-22890-9 .
  • Henning Teschke : Marcel Proust, “A la recherche du temps perdu” 1913–1927. in Wolfgang Asholt (ed.): Interpretations. French Literature, 20th Century: Novel. Stauffenburg, Tübingen 2007, ISBN 978-3-86057-909-1 .
  • Eric Karpeles: Marcel Proust and the paintings from the lost time . German first edition: DuMont Buchverlag 2010, ISBN 978-3-8321-9276-1 . The painter Eric Karpeles contrasts quotations from Proust's novel with the images that are mentioned or described in the novel.

Web links

Wikisource: À la recherche du temps perdu  - sources and full texts (French)

Individual evidence

  1. ^ In Search of Lost Time . In: Encyclopædia Britannica .
  2. The literary scholar and vice chairman of the Proust Society in Germany Jürgen Ritte in an interview about the literary master Marcel Proust: [1]
  3. Jürgen Ritte in an interview about Marcel Proust: [2]
  4. Firges, Jean (2009): Margel Proust: The lost time - The time found again. Sonnenberg Verlag Annweiler.
  5. See German, especially “The Lemoine Affair” in Proust: Imitated and Mixed. Suhrkamp 1989, pp. 11-85.
  6. See German collection of draft texts in Gegen Sainte-Beuve , Suhrkamp 1997.
  7. See German Proust: On the way to Swann Reclam 2013 edition, p. 183.
  8. See German Proust: Der Weg nach Guermantes , Reclam edition 2015, p. 344f.
  9. See German Proust: Die wiederfinde Zeit , Reclam 2017, pp. 24–35.
  10. See German Proust: Die Gefangene , Reclam edition, 2015, pp. 166–169.
  11. See extensively in particular in: Milly, Jean (1970): Les Pastiches de Proust. Librairie Armand Colin; and Milly, Jean (1970): Proust et le style. Slatkine Genève.
  12. Bernd-Jürgen Fischer : Handbook to Marcel Proust's "Search for the lost time", Ditzingen: Reclam 2018. P. 137-140.
  13. ^ Website of the edition of the Lengfeld'schen Buchhandlung
  14. ^ Schmidt, Jochen (2008): Schmidt reads Proust. Publishing house Voland & Quist, Dresden and Leipzig. ISBN 978-3938424315
  15. [Arendt, Hannah (1986): elements and origins of total rule], Munich: Piper, pp. 190–211; Reprinted in: Essays by Famous Women. Edited by Marlis Gerhardt. Insel, Frankfurt 1997 ISBN 3-458-33641-9 , pp. 54-71
  16. An interpretation of Arendt's essay and "On the function and design of the 'imaginaire social' in Marcel Proust's work" was published as a dissertation by Anette Weber at the FU Berlin 2002: Online