Years before Joyce's, Woolf's, and Faulkner’s novels, contemporary with Braque, Gris, and Picasso’s cubist paintings, and with Einstein’s shattering theories of physics, Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust created a work of art whose central concern is time. Published over fourteen years, the seven volumes of his epic A la recherche du temps perdu radically reshape conventional narrative to recreate the sensation of memory, the past co-existing in thought simultaneous with the present, as each moment of the present becomes the past. Many, many critics, including Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham, consider the work as a whole to be the greatest novel of the century or of all-time. It is also a landmark in gay literature. Volume Four is titled Sodom and Gomorrah and contains lengthy essays on homosexuality (often seen as a rebuttal to Andre Gide's recent Corydon), but every volume encompasses gay characters, observations, and experiences. One rationale for his somewhat dark view is that Proust had co-opted his own happy memories of gay love in trying to imagine heterosexual love for his characters, leaving him only bitter reminiscences when he wrote about aspects of gay life. Another theory is that he was uncomfortable with his sexuality, which manifested itself always with the lower classes and especially with his own servants. His deepest relationship was with his chauffeur, Alfred Agostinelli, who lived with his wife in Proust’s townhouse. Proust also had an affair with his secretary, Albert Nahmias, the namesake for the novel’s love interest, Albertine. When he went to sex clubs, Proust liked to be whipped and humiliated. Very, very rich from an inheritance, he typically slept during the day and wrote at night, both while lying in his blue bed, in his bedroom cork-lined for silence, now in the Musée Carnavalet.
Neil Tennant is 60. Tonight PSB play Serbia.