Expanding the Reach of Close Reading: Les rince-bouches de Proust

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According to I. A. Richards, the founder of Practical Criticism, biographical considerations should play no part in close reading. The present study seeks to challenge such a view and in so doing calls for an extension of close reading. We will start with an intimate letter from Proust to his mother, a letter which in principle has nothing to do with the author’s work. The letter is about a lost safety pin. The letter reveals a troubled mind but the act of writing brings relief. I will read this letter in the light of an unwritten letter in In Search of Lost Time. This unwritten letter I will argue, constitutes the would-be author’s first rejection letter and is far worse than any editor’s rejection letter as it means that his mother will not come and kiss him goodnight. Why did this letter not reach the reader ? A comparison of the two letters will allow us to read the fictional letter as a mise-en-abyme of In Search of Lost Time. Yet despite the importance of this letter it is almost overlooked. I will thus end with a consideration of why the writer seems to distance us from certain pieces of information which he dismisses as unimportant. I will show that what is dismissed as unimportant is in fact a central preoccupation. In other words the supposedly unimportant is in fact highly important. The letter is slipped to the mother along with the mouth-wash at the end of the meal so that no one will notice. It will be argued here that Proust often advances ideas in the same off-hand way and what I will propose here is a « mouth-rinsing theory » of reading.
Translated title of the contributionExpanding the Reach of Close Reading
Original languageFrench
Pages (from-to)15-24
Number of pages10
Journal Dalhousie French Studies
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2011

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