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Title:The Structural Role of Idolatry in The Works of Marcel Proust
Author(s):Frye, Robert Dean
Department / Program:French
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, Romance
Abstract:The goals of this study are: (1) to determine how the theme of idolatry is integrated into Proust's works from the earliest texts through the major novel and (2) to discover and explain how it acquires structural importance as proust matures as a writer. Investigated first of all is Proust's evolution from being only vaguely, if at all, aware of the importance of idolatry (witness Les Plaisirs where it is suggested mainly in an anecdotal fashion) through Jean Santeuil where a more acute awareness of the difficulties facing the potential artist/writer emerge. The "Ruskin years" mark the period when Proust is confronted directly with the full ramifications of the theme. In profuse prefaces to the Ruskin translations, Proust treats idolatry in the most serious terms citing examples of individuals he knows (Ruskin, of course, and the Comte de Montesquiou) and of characters from fiction (Balzac's Princesse de Cadignan, for example) who either manifest the deleterious effects of idolatry or represent, as a kind of sign, the singular pursuit of one activity or ambition. Prior to the Ruskin translations, Proust travelled to Italy and visited the Arena Chapel in Padua and saw Giotto's rendering of the psychomachia (the struggle between the Virtues and the Vices) dipicted in the Chapel. Henceforth, Proust's works, which were largely "anecdotal" previously (excluding Jean Santeuil which should for this purpose be counted among the mature works) attain levels of universality and artistic significance. The new strategy seems intent on transposing the lessons learned from Giotto's frescoes into a structural framework suitable for his own writing. Invoking the cliche that a cathedral can be "constructed" in much the same way as a novel, Proust reverses the argument: why cannot a novel be "constructed" like a cathedral, i.e., why cannot A la recherche du temps perdu be modeled after Giotto's representation of the eternal tensions and struggles that exist between the penchant for good and the temptation to indulge in evil. For the potential artist the narrator of La Recherche might become, the challenge is to overcome the dangers of vice--which must first be known since the artist/creator requires a knowledge of life's many sides--and devote his remaining years to creative pursuits. Intermediaries and intercessors who provide an understanding of the pitfalls to be avoided abound in the novel (Charles Swann, the Baron de Charlus, Odette, the Duchesse de Guermantes, Madame Verdurin, Francoise).
Proceeding chronologically, the study notes early interests and trends that anticipate later developments. Attention is focused on the "Ruskin years," Proust's passion for medievalism, his introduction to Giotto and the erudition of Emile Male. Then, the study turns to two characteris in La Recherche who forcefully exemplify the dangers of idolatry: Swann and Charlus. Finally, manifestations of the theme in other characters are discussed (La Berma, Elstir, for example). Other studies have inquired into the narrator's apprenticeship, but this investigation attempts to establish the evolution of idolatry in Proust's thought--from its conception as a theme to its inclusion as a structural tool in his works--by tracing its emergence and growing importance through the stages of Proust's literary production.
Issue Date:1980
Description:179 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1980.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8108508
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-14
Date Deposited:1980

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