One of the pivotal scenes of Proust's novel In Search of Lost Time takes place during a performance of the fictional composer Vinteuil's Septet in Mme Verdurin's salon. The narrator and protagonist of the novel, Marcel, finds himself caught off-guard by the beauty of Vinteuil's Septet; he hears in the Septet a calling to the true life of an artist and vows to begin work on his own masterpiece. As he listens to the Septet, Marcel struggles with the concept of artistic individuality. He tries to discern the similarities and differences between the phrases of Vinteuil's Septet and the same composer's Violin Sonata. Marcel comes to the conclusion that it is not superficial or intellectual similarities between two works by the same composer that really count, but rather some underlying substance that can only be “felt as the result of a direct impression.”
The aesthetic philosophy embodied in these thoughts is not only applicable to Marcel's appreciation of the Septet. It also provides a lens through which we can come to terms with Proust's twenty-page-long description of the Septet, and it allows us to situate this passage meaningfully within In Search of Lost Time. The Septet scene is one of the most deeply intratextual passages of the novel. But just as Marcel gives pride of place to the “profound similarities” between Vinteuil's compositions over musicologists' “analogies ingeniously discovered by reasoning,” so too can the reader distinguish between more superficial connections between the Septet and earlier scenes, and subtler references that bind the novel together on a deeper level.
- © 2012 by the Regents of the University of California