Proust The Search Benjamin Taylor

Jewish Lives
Publication date:
27 Oct 2015
Yale University Press
224 pages: 210 x 146 x 19mm
8 b-w illus.
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From the prizewinning Jewish Lives series, an arresting new study of the life, times, and achievement of one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century

“Taylor’s endeavor is not to explain the life by the novel or the novel by the life but to show how different events, different emotional upheavals, fired Proust’s imagination and, albeit sometimes completely transformed, appeared in his work. The result is a very subtle, thought-provoking book.”—Anka Muhlstein, author of Balzac’s Omelette and Monsieur Proust’s Library
Marcel Proust came into his own as a novelist comparatively late in life, yet only Shakespeare, Balzac, Dickens, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky were his equals when it came to creating characters as memorably human. As biographer Benjamin Taylor suggests, Proust was a literary lightweight before writing his multivolume masterwork In Search of Lost Time, but following a series of momentous historical and personal events, he became—against all expectations—one of the greatest writers of his, and indeed any, era.
This insightful, beautifully written biography examines Proust’s artistic struggles—the “search” of the subtitle—and stunning metamorphosis in the context of his times. Taylor provides an in-depth study of the author’s life while exploring how Proust’s personal correspondence and published works were greatly informed by his mother’s Judaism, his homosexuality, and such dramatic events as the Dreyfus Affair and, above all, World War I. As Taylor writes in his prologue, “Proust’s Search is the most encyclopedic of novels, encompassing the essentials of human nature. . . . His account, running from the early years of the Third Republic to the aftermath of World War I, becomes the inclusive story of all lives, a colossal mimesis. To read the entire Search is to find oneself transfigured and victorious at journey’s end, at home in time and in eternity too.”

About Jewish Lives: 

Jewish Lives is a prizewinning series of interpretative biography designed to explore the many facets of Jewish identity. Individual volumes illuminate the imprint of Jewish figures upon literature, religion, philosophy, politics, cultural and economic life, and the arts and sciences. Subjects are paired with authors to elicit lively, deeply informed books that explore the range and depth of the Jewish experience from antiquity to the present.

In 2014, the Jewish Book Council named Jewish Lives the winner of its Jewish Book of the Year Award, the first series ever to receive this award.

More praise for Jewish Lives:

"Excellent." –New York Times

"Exemplary." –Wall Street Journal

"Distinguished." –New Yorker

"Superb." –The Guardian

Benjamin Taylor is a founding member of the Graduate Writing Program faculty at the New School and the author or editor of six previous books, including The Book of Getting Even and Saul Bellow: Letters.

"This engaging book, invitingly elegant to handle with it’s beautiful deckle-edged pages, should encourage those who have quailed at the thought of Proust’s colossus to have another go."—John Carey, Sunday Times

"Benjamin Taylor’s Proust: The Search is a marvel of brief biography, reanimating the hapless, almost Chaplinesque figure who by all logic should never have accomplished what he did. With a kind of worldly tenderness, Taylor shows Proust’s work accruing amid personal pratfalls, French anti-Semitism and the catastrophe of World War I."—Thomas Mallon, New York Times Book Review

"Taylor’s loose, multi-clausal sentences are as bendy as the master’s, and there is the same shimmery quality to the prose, like sunlight glancing off a shallow Normandy sea."—Kathryn Hughes, Guardian

"An important contribution to the study of this complex individual . . . A riveting summary of the rampant anti-Semitism found in late 19th-century France . . . . Excellent analysis of the Dreyfus affair and how it split French society . . . . A noteworthy biography of a great writer."—Library Journal

"Deeply researched, and immensely well considered, Benjamin Taylor’s own search is an outstanding addition to Proust studies."—Robert McCrum, The Observer

"If you’ve read Proust’s novel, Taylor is entertaining and tells you things you didn’t already know, deepening your appreciation of Proust and his world. For those who have been so far put off reading him, this biography is a peerless introduction."—Max Liu, Independent

"Benjamin Taylor’s short readable biography of Proust . . . tells Proust’s life story briefly and well."—David Herman, Jewish Chronicle

"Benjamin Taylor’s brief life is immaculately executed. He writes with lithe concision, wry wit and deceptive lightness about his formidable and demanding subject. There are no cloying moments, but Taylor’s perceptive tenderness will bring tears to the eyes of dedicated Proustians. Every page has charm and acumen."—Richard Davenport-Hines, The Oldie

"Situates Proust in the milieu that nurtured his genius, at once specific and universal . . . an important work. What he demonstrates about Proust’s life is true of everyone. We all change with time and time changes us all. Pass the madeleines, s’il vous plait."—Elka Weber, Segula

"Taylor’s slim and elegant biography will bring new readers to Proust, and remind us to see him as a true modern."—Ingrid Wassenaar, TLS

"Because Taylor has been willing to learn from Proust how to write his biography—be enjoyably clever but not too presumptuous—his book is unusually instructive about how we can read Proust . . . Explains both formally and intimately, through straightforward documentary narrative and engaging interpretation, the facts and fictions of Proust’s extraordinarily improbable life.—Adam Phillips, London Review of Books

"Those who found reading Proust too grand an undertaking over the years because of distractions and deficiencies of their own, might well rush to reconsider after confronting this dazzlingly elegant biography."—Philip Roth

"Taylor’s endeavor is not to explain the life by the novel or the novel by the life but to show how different events, different emotional upheavals, fired Proust’s imagination and, albeit sometimes completely transformed, appeared in his work. The result is a very subtle, thought-provoking book."—Anka Muhlstein, author of Balzac’s Omelette and Monsieur Proust’s Library