by Rebecca Valette
Proust's Narrator paints with words. For him, the "remembrance of things past" seems to be primarily visual. The taste of madeleine awakens memories of Combray, but subsequently the narrator recalls visual scenes: the blooming hawthorne bushes, the reflections in the pond, the perceived "dance" of the distant church steeples as observed from the slow-moving horse-drawn carriage.
The French title of the work, "A la recherche de temps perdu," recognizes that the past is lost — perdu — and will never return. (Proust would agree with the refrain of the American folksong: "Thou art gone and lost forever, Dreadful sorry, Clementine.")
In the last pages of "Swann's Way" which are probably set in 1913, the Narrator revisits the Bois de Boulogne and regrets what he sees: the fashions of the 1890s have vanished. Women's tunics lack the elegance of the beautiful dresses Madame Swann would wear on her daily promenade. The men are hatless. The automobiles lack the panache of the elegant carriages with their matched teams of horses. The present is so disappointing that the Narrator finds consolation in recreating in great detail the beauty of past scenes as he remembers them.
This same focus on the visual is evident in "Place-Names, the Place" where, as Tom points out, the narrator seems transfixed by the changing view of the ocean as seen from his window in the hotel at Balbec. Lacking a still camera, Proust's narrator uses words to describe the nuances of the scenes that hold his attention. Lacking movie film, he uses words to describe the movements of the young group of girls on the beach. And with the magic of his verbal paintbrush, he makes these scenes come alive for us here in America a century later.