|Swann in Love|
At home I have a volume entitled Marcel Proust on Art and Literature, which besides Proust's well-known "Contre Saint-Beuve," also contains the section "Proust the Reader," the first essay of which is on Goethe. Editors date it to the period of Jean Santeuil, Proust's first novel, between 1899 and 1904 . Here are a few nuggets:
The habits we constantly recur to in our books show what has fired our imagination ... In Goethe sites are extremely important. We often come upon a place where there is a wide and varied prospect. Valleys extend before us, with villages and a fine river on which the light of morning dazzles, and we look down on all of this from a little mountain. Various private collections, too, are dwelt on with pleasure, collections of pictures, natural history collections. One feels that these things were not merely put in to please, but that they had an extremely serious bearing on his intellectual life; that the concern of his intellect and its essential aim was to analyze the pleasure he drew from them ... and to ascertain their effect on his mind.
Characters, likewise, show us "the habitual preoccupations of Goethe's mind." Proust also draws attention to an aspect that is sometimes mentioned in connection with his own work, i.e., allegory, and to the seeming importance to Goethe of symbolizing "what is seen and unseen in our lives by ceremonies."
Proust's reading of Goethe appears to have been fairly wide. He mentions the Wilhelm Meister novels (of which the quote above might refer to the opening of the second novel) and Elective Affinities (commenting on the Count and the Baroness and on the laying out of gardens), as well as to what the translation calls "the Reflections," which I assume means the Maximen und Reflexionen. I can't help thinking back to my post a few weeks back in which I discussed what I considered the deficits of J.M. Coetzee's piece on Goethe in the New York Review of Books. Proust's take on Goethe, in contrast, shows the mind of a great writer thinking deeply about another great writer.