Eating at Aunt Leonie's

Monday, 20 June 2011

The air of those rooms was saturated with the fine bouquet of a silence so nourishing, so succulent, that I never went into them without a sort of greedy anticipation, particularly on those first mornings, chilly still, of the Easter holidays, when I could taste it more fully becuase I had only just arrived in Combray:  before I went in to say good morning to my aunt I would be kept waiting a moment in the outer room where the sun, wintry still, had crept in to warm itself before the fire, which was already alight between its two bricks and plastering the whole room with a smell of soot, turning it into one of those great rustic open hearths, or one of those canopied mantelpieces in country houses, beneath which one sits hoping that in the world outside it is raining or snowing, hoping almost for a catastrophic deluge to add the romance of being in winter quarters to the comfort of a snug reatreat;  I would pace to and fro between the prie-dieu and the stamped velvet armchairs, each one always draped in its crocheted antimacassar, while the fire, baking like dough the appetising smells with which the air of the room was thickly clotted and which the moist and sunny freshness of the morning had already "raised" and started to "set", puffed them and glazed them and fluted them and swelled them into an invisible though not impalpable country pie, an immense "turnover" to which, barely waiting to savour the crisper, more delicate, more reputably but also drier aromas of the cupboard, the chest of drawers and the patterned wall-paper, I always returned with an unconfessed gluttony to wallow in the central, glutinous, insipid, indigestible and fruity smell of the flowered bedspread.

Marcel Proust - Swann's Way

That is one single sentence.  Mr Proust, you may argue that there are colons and semi-colons in there and that this is in fact three combined sentences.  I would tend to take your side, if that's indeed what you would say.  However, every English teacher in the world would probably lambast you, and Microsoft Word would castigate you, for your ridiculous sentence lengthiness.

And yet what the hell do they know about miracles?  My mind, ill fit for concentration and memory, read straight through that entire sentence, not having to stop once to go back to find itself again, only going back because it wanted a second taste.

You, my dear Mr Proust, are the literary equivalent of a chocolate eclair (as I do not believe I have ever tasted a madeleine).  Thank you :)


  1. If he could hear you comparing his work to a chocolate eclair, I'm sure he would smile.

    In "The Past Recaptured", Proust wrote: This constant aberration of the critics is such that a writer should almost prefer to be judged by the public at large...For the talent of a great writer-which, after all, is merely an instinct religiously hearkened to (while silence is imposed on everything else) perfected and understood-has more in common with the instinctive life of the people than with the superficial verbiage and fluctuating standards of the conventionally recognised judges.

  2. "... an instinct religiously hearkened to (while silence is imposed on everything else)" - honestly, Kel, he just makes my heart soar, the way he puts things :)

  3. You have whetted my appetite to taste a bit of Proust. You can purchase madeleines here in Montreal, but it is shorter, more buttery and plain than eclairs or mille feuilles. Back in the Old Country (New York City), we used to call mille feuilles napoleons.

  4. Tess - tis lovely, ain't it :)

    Barbara - you've whetted MY appetite to taste a bit of mille feuille. Yum, yum, yum. The only thing better than a layer of puff pastry is three layers. (I had to look up what they were actually - oh yes, I'm rather familiar with those :)

    You've also whetted my appetite for madeleines now too :) Oh, baked goods, thou dost downfall me.


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