cover image Marcel Proust

Marcel Proust

Jean-Yves Tadie. Viking Books, $40 (1052pp) ISBN 978-0-670-87655-6

""He lived in order to write, and his life... became his laboratory,"" notes Tadi , editor of the definitive Pl iade edition of Proust's magnum opus, A la recherche du temps perdu. Compared with William Carter's more conventional biography, published earlier this year (see Forecasts, Feb. 7), Tadi 's masterful literary biography, originally published in France in 1996, is more impressionistic at times but succeeds in more clearly mapping the ""history of a mind."" Tadi , a professor of literature at the Sorbonne, constructs a model of the novelist's intellectual progress and literary development. In the early pages, when portraying Proust as a rich, somewhat aimless young man shuttling between the worlds of letters and high society, the account is a bit static. But throughout, Tadi quite ably makes biographical detail relevant to his literary analysis. For example, after discussing the comparative failure of Proust's debut miscellany, Les plaisirs et les jours, and his failure to complete his first novel, Jean Santeuil, Tadi argues that Proust needed aesthetic recharging. With impressive erudition, he convincingly argues that the novelist received this energizing from his struggle to translate Ruskin's Bible of Amiens into French. Tadi contends that it was the decline of Proust's social life combined with a worsening asthmatic condition that led him to take up what would become his life's work. Tadi arguably knows Proust and his great work better than any previous biographer; his narrative skillfully meshes the creation of A la recherche with all the aspects of Proust's life that inspired and informed it. 16 pages of b&w photos, not seen by PW. (Aug.)