All England Summarise Proust Competition, 2019 edition
August 25, 2019 1:42 PM   Subscribe

Over this Bank Holiday weekend, BBC Radio 4 is airing Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time in 10 episodes running to about nine hours in total. With a starry cast headed by Derek Jacobi as the Narrator, the adaptation is written by U.S.-born, UK-based playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker.

Is it possible to condense a book like this into even nine hours? Is it worth it? One review describes the first two hours as "a bit of Radio 4 showoffery rather than a handy side door into a classic."

If nine hours is too much of an abridgement, there is the 153 hour complete audiobook. Or you could watch a film or two based on parts of it.

And of course at nine hours, it's far too long to be in with a shout at lifting the trophy, but even so, it's a good try.
posted by YoungStencil (29 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
> Timberlake Wertenbaker

Sold.
posted by kyrademon at 1:45 PM on August 25 [5 favorites]


Obligatory... "Proust is his first book wrote about, wrote about..."
posted by Windopaene at 1:45 PM on August 25 [10 favorites]


(My comment above comes with a story. In the early-to-mid nineties, I was in a playwriting class with a number of memorable people roughly evenly divided between the amazing and the horrible. One of them was a middle-aged man who, in a bar one night, claimed that there had been no great -- and could be no great -- women playwrights. I stared at him as if he had grown three heads and said that was ridiculous, and he challenged me to name five. My instant response: "Aphra Behn, Lorraine Hansberry, Paula Vogel, Wendy Wasserstein, Timberlake Wertenbaker. Want more?" Anyway, my point is, Timberlake Wertenbaker is great and her play Our Country's Good is especially brilliant.)
posted by kyrademon at 2:12 PM on August 25 [11 favorites]


BBC Radio 4 did a six-hour version in the mid-2000s starring a bunch of actors whose voices I recognized because they had either played fictional detectives or fictional murder victims. It was enjoyable.
posted by betweenthebars at 2:16 PM on August 25


turns out unabridged ≠ in French
posted by chavenet at 2:32 PM on August 25


Unpopular opinion, based on a recent re-reading of "Swann's Way" in a new English translation: Proust would have greatly benefited from an editor. Proust's brilliantly languid modernist statement no longer needs to be read. It technique has long ago been absorbed by the world's literary subconscious and lives on in the great literary works of the 20th century and our own time. There is no need to take on the opportunity cost of actually reading Proust anymore than it is necessary to sit through a performance of John Cage's 4'33".

If you're going to undertake the reading of that amount of prose, read Balzac, Hugo and Stendhal instead. Proust is, in some ways, the aerosol version of Balzac and Stendhal.
posted by Modest House at 2:50 PM on August 25


There is no need to take on the opportunity cost of actually reading Proust anymore than it is necessary to sit through a performance of John Cage's 4'33".

That is a very strange analogy, given that the former takes a very large amount of time while the latter takes, well, four minutes and thirty-three seconds.
posted by Daily Alice at 2:58 PM on August 25


Good point, Daily Alice. How about Philip Glass's 5-hour "Einstein on the Beach". I've seen some of it, and a brisk summary makes for an adequate substitute.
posted by Modest House at 3:10 PM on August 25


That Python sketch was where I first ever even heard of Proust, so at least there's that. The title of this thread made me go and watch it again on one of the video sites. Astonishing how numbingly unfunny many of those old Python shows are now... perhaps always were.

Proust needs an editor? lol
Strange as it may seem there are those who still enjoy reading, who cherish his long-windedness. Perverse I know in this twittery age.
posted by Atom Collection at 4:11 PM on August 25 [7 favorites]


Proust's brilliantly languid modernist statement no longer needs to be read. It technique has long ago been absorbed by the world's literary subconscious and lives on in the great literary works of the 20th century and our own time.

I don't want to scandalize you, but some people read for pleasure. (Also ISLT is a literary work of the 20th century?)
posted by praemunire at 4:30 PM on August 25 [4 favorites]


Strange as it may seem there are those who still enjoy reading, who cherish his long-windedness.

Same with Dickens, who may or may not be as good a writer? I feel like those times/the zeitgeist tended to a kind of bucolic long-windedness, and it's ok to let that invest itself in your reading. It's expansive, and there are no existential threats to the world. If you leave it alone, everything will come along in its own time. Look, there's someone painting on the river bank... (I mean, sure there are dark Satanic Mills & all, but that's not everything that's going on either.)
posted by sneebler at 4:38 PM on August 25


I've seen some of it, and a brisk summary makes for an adequate substitute.

It's about Russia.
posted by betweenthebars at 4:49 PM on August 25 [4 favorites]


Swann's Way is the one most people seem to read, if they read any of it, but if you really don't have the stomach for the whole thing, my reccomendation is The Guermentes Way AND Soddom and Gommorah. Lots of dazzly Parisian society and lots of Baron de Charlus. All the really fun parts.
posted by hwestiii at 5:33 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


You had me at Cadfael
posted by rather be jorting at 6:34 PM on August 25


Can any MeFites offer their take on this? And is there any way to listen to this off-line, for long road trips?
posted by filthy light thief at 9:01 PM on August 25


Derek Jacobi lost all his gravitas for me after he did this godawful kids' show called "In the Night Garden". It's all him commentating on characters with names like Iggle Piggle and Upsy Daisy and how they are riding on the fucking Ninky Nonk.
posted by w0mbat at 9:07 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


Just learning all sorts of new Jacobi facts in 2019!
posted by rather be jorting at 10:03 PM on August 25


🍿

^ couldn't find the madelaine emoji
posted by fairmettle at 11:00 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


filthy light thief - if you have access to the BBC Radio app, you can download the episodes (regionalisation issues may apply). I have a long drive coming up today with my family, so if I never post here again it's because I made them listen to Proust while stuck in traffic on the M25 and didn't make it out alive.
posted by YoungStencil at 11:07 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


Same with Dickens, who may or may not be as good a writer? I feel like those times/the zeitgeist tended to a kind of bucolic long-windedness, and it's ok to let that invest itself in your reading. It's expansive, and there are no existential threats to the world.

I'm starting to get the impression here that people don't realize these books were written just before and during WWI. (Dickens died before Proust was born.)
posted by praemunire at 12:26 AM on August 26 [1 favorite]


So this came up the radio as i was helping my uncle repaint the farm house kitchen, and it felt like being in the Archers, listening to Proust. So meta.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 3:22 AM on August 26 [1 favorite]


Proust would have benefitted from medication for his OCD. I am never gonna care about the roof tiles on that church, the pigeons, the steeple, WTF, he never mentioned the shadows, they would have tied the room together, man. But really, Proust is the worst example of guys propping up guys in the arts, because they are guys, and managed to do something, besides themselves. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
posted by Oyéah at 10:55 AM on August 26


There is no need to take on the opportunity cost of actually reading Proust anymore

Well, hell, why stop there? Why read literature at all anymore? Just read literary criticism. That way you get both the novelists' ideas as well as the critics' thinking.

</Whit Stillman>
posted by dnash at 11:18 AM on August 26


Alas, I do not see a download option for these episodes in the BBC radio app (I'm in the U.S.), but I can definitely stream the episodes, at least.

Direct web link to the list of aired episodes. As of today, we have 27 days left to listen to Episodes 1 & 2. Eep!
posted by rather be jorting at 11:41 AM on August 26


filthy light thief, the sound effects are an interesting choice, one I'm unaccustomed to - lots of ambient cicada noises and owl hoots and train sounds, amongst other ambient flourishes. I'm guessing such things are meant to add to the sense of this being a radio production, rather than a condensed audiobook.

The sound production for the dialogue scenes is currently messing with my spatial awareness, though it might be great for testing your headphones/stereo systems. Footsteps, doors opening and closing, and voices traveling from one "side" of your head to the other. It's very distracting, imo, like listening to a recording meant to simulate a barbershop haircut. 2019 Proustian ASMR?

But Jacobi's narration is pleasantly mild-mannered enough so far, even with the dark knowledge that he has narrated 100 episodes of a post-Teletubbies Teletubbies-esque kids' show from the same minds that brought Teletubbies unto the world. (I don't place too much store on gravitas being a finite resource, however - even if Jacobi's gravitas had been lost for me, I would be open-minded to its return.)
posted by rather be jorting at 2:09 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


I read the first volume of "Remembrance of Things Past" and loathed the narrator, loathed the rest of the characters, and loathed Proust. The a year passed, and I picked up a copy of the second volume at a thrift shop. A funny thing happened. I loved it. And I tore through the rest and it changed my life. I will try to listen to this.
posted by acrasis at 6:05 PM on August 26


Done with the first 2 episodes!

Having yet to finish reading more than a few pages of the Lydia Davis translation of Swann's Way (which I have been reassured is very good - other priorities keep coming up before I can get back to it), I'm now interested in picking it back up again sooner rather than later. From the radio adaptation alone, I have very little sense of the characters thus far, but there were bits and pieces throughout that I'd be interested in seeing fleshed out in written form. 153 unabridged audiobook hours would be too much for me, though, so I appreciate the preview that the beeb's radio adaptation provides.

While I eventually grew used to the (odd, to me) sound mixing throughout the adaptation, there's one moment near 1:30 or so, in which two of the characters engage in a makeout session that had me simultaneously cringing and cracking up at the crystal clear crispness of the sound effects. Like listening to too-close PDA, tbh.

The radio play format is not my favorite, but I intend to continue so I can hear Simon Russell Beale join the cast in Episode 4 - he was fantastic in Death to Stalin and (imo) The Hollow Crown, so I'm partial to his acting now.
posted by rather be jorting at 7:03 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


Looking to see if anyone has, aherm "archived" this yet, I found that In Search of Lost Time was dramatised by Michael Butt for The Classic Serial, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 between February 6, 2005 and March 13, 2005 (audio on Archive.org). Starring James Wilby, it condensed the entire series into six episodes. Although considerably shortened, it received excellent reviews (Fiction Factory, archived). [Description from Wikipedia]
posted by filthy light thief at 7:30 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


If you're going to undertake the reading of that amount of prose, read Balzac, Hugo and Stendhal instead. Proust is, in some ways, the aerosol version of Balzac and Stendhal.

Part of what's interesting about Proust is that he's the culmination of a line running through French literature by way of Hugo, Stendhal and Balzac. All four of them can be wordy at times and sublime at others.

Simon Russell Beale was fantastic in The Hollow Crown indeed, highly recommended!


And theythere are certainly parts of their works
posted by ersatz at 4:04 AM on August 30


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