How Proust Can Change Your Life | Alain de Botton

Summary of: How Proust Can Change Your Life
By: Alain de Botton


Embark on a transformative journey through Alain de Botton’s ‘How Proust Can Change Your Life’, which delves into the therapeutic power of literature and its ability to enhance our lives. This book summary walks you through the many engaging and thought-provoking themes induced by de Botton, such as finding meaning in art, overcoming loneliness, and understanding the complexities of love. As you traverse through the lessons garnered from Marcel Proust’s seven-volume novel, ‘In Search of Lost Time’, you’ll unlock a newfound appreciation for the ordinary, enrich your emotional connections, and foster a deeper understanding of your inner self.

The Therapeutic Power of Reading Proust

Marcel Proust’s masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time, is a work of genius and has therapeutic benefits. Reading Proust can make you feel at home in works of art, less lonely, and offer insight into one’s deepest thoughts and feelings. Proust believed that reading fiction had a therapeutic power that even his father, a physician, would have dismissed. Through his habit of matching people on the canvas with people from his own life, Proust felt at home in works of art. In the same way, immersing oneself in Proust allows for finding similarities between one’s world and his characters and can make one less lonely. Finally, reading Proust is an opportunity to meet oneself, as every reader is, when reading, reading his own self.

Why You Should Read Proust

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust is a novel that forces its readers to slow down and fully immerse themselves in its complexity. Although it is over 3,000 pages long and contains long, intricate sentences, Proust’s choice of length over brevity creates space for nuance, shades of gray, and contradiction. He fleshes out his characters and encourages empathy in his readers. Like the Impressionist painters who sought to capture their own perspective of objects, Proust tries to portray life with complete freshness, free from clichéd descriptions. His descriptive style may be lengthy, but it allows readers to think in new ways about the things they see and experience. In essence, Proust’s novel is a lesson in embracing contemplation and exercise in empathy.

Love according to Proust

Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time may not be a romance novel, but the narrator’s experiences with love teach us valuable lessons. We learn that people seldom meet our idealized versions of them, and that even the most passionate love can dissipate with time. However, Proust offers a glimmer of hope: losing something – whether it’s health, or a momentary separation from our partner – can renew and deepen our appreciation of it.

Proust’s narrator wanders the countryside, attends dinner parties, and tries hard to fall asleep – but he never finds lasting love in the thousands of pages of the novel. Instead, he describes less-than-ideal relationships, such as Charles Swann’s toxic marriage to the philandering Odette. Proust himself never spoke much about his romantic life, except that he was gay in a time and place where homosexuality was socially unacceptable.

Yet, Proust has much to say about love indirectly, starting with the narrator’s early encounter with Gilberte. As a boy, Marcel spies Gilberte playing in the Champs Élysées and is instantly fascinated. He imagines having tea with her, and his dream becomes reality when Gilberte invites him over. However, Marcel soon realizes that the real Gilberte doesn’t match the idealized version in his head.

This realization carries an important lesson: people in reality rarely live up to our expectations of them, and it’s unrealistic to expect our partners to consistently appreciate us with unvarying intensity over time. Familiarity can dissipate even the hottest passion, according to Proust. However, he also suggests that there is hope for lasting love, by exploring the story of Noah from the Bible.

When Proust was bedridden and began to think about Noah, he felt a little like Noah adrift on his ark. At first, he pities Noah, who is isolated from land. But soon, Proust grows to think that Noah’s isolation made him appreciate land more than anyone else on earth. Even something tediously familiar becomes precious when we are deprived of it, Proust suggests. In a long-term relationship, we can create our own “ark” – by spending a night away or a day out of contact with our partner. Depriving ourselves momentarily of our partner affords us a chance to see them anew, to be dazzled by them once again.

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