The child, language and literature : the theme of childhood in the work and times of Marcel Proust
This thesis aims not only to set Proust's treatment of childhood in the context of his work as a whole, but also to set that work in the context of contemporary writing about childhood. Chapter 1 reveals the existence of a fashion in Proust's time for literature devoted to childhood. This genre has a tendency towards technical innovation, despite repetition of the same subject matter, or 'myths'. One particularly important myth, that of the 'child-artist', is seen to be influential - not only on Proust's work but also on contemporary scientific attitudes to childhood. Chapter 2 traces the origins of the genre to the earlier literary form of the Pastoral. It examines residual elements of the Pastoral, or the myth of the pastoral childhood, in later works which may have influenced Proust. Combray, it is concluded, both affirms and questions this myth. Chapter 3 examines the mythology of play. Although play generally has a significant role in the genre, it is peculiarly absent from Combray. In Proust's novel, the usual functions of play are fulfilled by reading, while apparent examples of play that remain are in reality strategies for obtaining sexual gratification. Chapter 4 shows how Proust's use of metaphor represents a partial return to the syncretism characteristic of childhood impressions and the essentialism of the child's beliefs about proper names. The final chapter verifies the impressions of earlier chapters that Proust's work simultaneously affirms and denies the child-artist myth, and that his hero can only become a narrator when a process of fusion between child and adult is complete. This process permits a reinterpretation of A la recherche, its structure, and themes (such as society and love) in terms of childhood. Thus, the importance of childhood and its associated genre to Proust's work as a whole is confirmed.