Abstract

This article turns around the role that Proust’s novel played—for better or worse—in my formation as a medievalist and as a full human being. In the curé’s obsession with genealogy and etymology, I recognized in the 1970s a deep medieval mental structure that coincided with contemporaneous work by historians of the Annales School on lineage and by structuralists on the linguistic patterns underpinning kinship. This led to a book, Etymologies and Genealogies: A Literary Anthropology of the French Middle Ages. But other strong strains of the Proustian sentimental orbit, doomed love, aligned chronologically and conceptually with the articulation in the 1890s of courtly love and made for dire consequences in a life lived along those lines. My wife, Ellen Handler Spitz, provides an emotionally corrective experience via the question, Was Swann in Love? Using the psychoanalytic concept of the partial object, she shows how limited Proust’s notion of love really is. We end on a note of wild admiration for Proust’s description of what it feels like to be in what he calls “love” but with a dose of skepticism with regard to his framing of the project of love itself.

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