Free eBooks: Read All of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past


“We seem to be reach­ing a point in his­to­ry where Ulysses (1922) is talked or writ­ten about more than read,” writes Wayne Wolf­son at Out­sideleft in an essay on James Joyce and Mar­cel Proust, whose Swann’s Way, the first in his sev­en-vol­ume cycle Remem­brance of Things Past (À la recherche du temps per­du), turns 100 today. This obser­va­tion might have applied to Proust’s enor­mous mod­ernist feat at all times in its his­to­ry. Though Proust was fêt­ed by high cul­ture patrons and writ­ers like Vio­let and Syd­ney Schiff, it’s hard to imag­ine these busy socialites seclud­ing them­selves for sev­er­al months to catch up with a 4,000-page mod­ernist mas­ter­work. As French crime nov­el­ist Frédérique Molay glibly observes, “[Remem­brance of Things Past] cor­re­sponds to a lot of lost time.”

Molay also points out that Proust’s friend and rival André Gide “didn’t like the man­u­script, call­ing it ‘incom­pre­hen­si­ble.’” Gide only saw vol­ume one, Swann’s Way, though whether he actu­al­ly read it or not is in some dis­pute. In any case, after Gide’s rejec­tion, Proust’s pub­lish­ing options nar­rowed to Bernard Gras­set (Proust foot­ed the bill for print­ing), with whom, notes The Inde­pen­dent, the author “engaged in a tor­tu­ous pas de deux… for most of 1913.” The back and forth includ­ed the “elab­o­rate to-and-fro of his labyrinthine gal­ley-proofs” (see an exam­ple above, and more here). And yet, The Inde­pen­dent goes on,

Swan­n’s Way at last appeared on 14 Novem­ber in an edi­tion of 1,750 copies (for which Proust paid more than 1,000 francs). A famil­iar kind of lit­er­ary myth would sug­gest that, after a dif­fi­cult birth, such a ground­break­ing work must sink with­out trace. On the con­trary.

Indeed. As a young grad stu­dent, I once walked in shame because—gasp—I had read no Proust. Not a word. I vague­ly asso­ci­at­ed the name with French mod­ernism, with a lan­guorous, self-indul­gent kind of writ­ing that a read­er like myself at the time, with a taste for the knot­ty, gnarled, and grotesque—for Faulkn­er and O’Connor, Hardy, Melville, and yes, Joyce—found dis­agree­able. I’d avoid­ed Proust thus far, I rea­soned, no need to rend my veil of igno­rance now. Lat­er, I default­ed to Molay’s glib­ness. Shrug, who has the time?

But today I feel I should revise that con­clu­sion, at the very least because a band­wag­on full of high­ly respect­ed names has turned up to cel­e­brate Proust’s achievement—or its nom­i­nal birthdate—including Ira Glass, pas­try chef Dominique Ansel, who will bake madeleines (and who invent­ed the Cronut), and nov­el­ist Rick Moody. These are but three of a cloud of “Proust fans of all kinds” par­tic­i­pat­ing in a “nomadic read­ing” of Swann’s Way in New York. It’s a showy affair, with read­ers gath­er­ing “over madeleines and cham­pagne, in hotel rooms, gar­dens and night­clubs, from the Bronx to Brook­lyn.”

By con­trast, Antonin Baudry, one of the event’s orga­niz­ers tells us, “In France, ordi­nary peo­ple are more like­ly just to read Proust at home.” (You can see clips of every­day French peo­ple read­ing Proust here, in fact.) Giv­en the famous­ly hypochon­dri­ac and reclu­sive author’s pen­chant, I may also spend the day at home, read­ing Proust, in bed, inspired also by Rick Moody’s obser­va­tion: “As a young writer, I felt there were two kinds of peo­ple: Joyce peo­ple and Proust peo­ple.… For a long time, I would’ve assert­ed my alle­giance to Joycean qual­i­ties. But in my gal­lop­ing mid­dle age, Proust calls to me more fer­vent­ly.”

If you feel like­wise inspired today, you can read all of Proust’s lit­er­ary feast—or just sam­ple it in bites. Find links to all sev­en vol­umes of Remem­brance of Things Past below. They’re oth­er­wise housed in our col­lec­tion, 800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kin­dle & Oth­er Devices.

And you fran­coph­o­nes can read the nov­el in its orig­i­nal lan­guage online here. Or lis­ten to an audio ver­sion here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Supreme Court Jus­tice Stephen Brey­er Dis­cuss­es His Love for Read­ing Proust, and Why “Lit­er­a­ture is Cru­cial to Any Democ­ra­cy”

Lis­ten­ing to Proust’s Remem­brance of Things Past, (Maybe) the Longest Audio Book Ever Made

Watch Mon­ty Python’s “Sum­ma­rize Proust Com­pe­ti­tion” on the 100th Anniver­sary of Swann’s Way

Hear All of Finnegans Wake Read Aloud: A 35 Hour Read­ing

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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