For anyone who ever wondered what Marcel Proust had in mind when he wrote the one-and-a-quarter-million words of In Search of Lost Time (while bedridden no less), Alain de Botton has the answer. For, in this stylish, erudite and frequently hilarious book, de Botton dips deeply into Proust¿s life and work - his fiction, letters, and conversations ¿ and distils from them that rare self-help manual: one that is actually helpful.
Here, tendered in prose almost as luminous as its subject¿s, is advice on cultivating friendships, suffering successfully, recognising love, and understanding why you should never sleep with someone on the first date. And here, too, is a generously perceptive literary biography that suggests that the master is as relevant today as he was in fin de siècle Paris.
Following is an excerpt from Chapter 8, "How to be Happy in Love":
Q: Did Proust have any relevant thoughts on dating? What should one
talk about on a first date?
A: Advice is scant. A more fundamental doubt is whether one should
accept dinner in the first place.
There is no doubt that a person's charms are less frequently a cause
of love than a remark such as: "No, this evening I shan't be free."
If this response proves bewitching, it is because of the connection made
... between appreciation and absence. Though a person may be filled with
attributes, an incentive is nevertheless required to ensure that a
seducer will focus wholeheartedly on these, an incentive which finds
perfect form in a dinner rebuff.
Q: Was he against sex before marriage?
A: No, just before love. And not for any starchy reasons, simply
because he felt it wasn't a good idea to sleep together when encouraging
someone to fall in love was a consideration.
Women who are to some extent resistant, whom one cannot possess at
once, whom one does not even know at first whether one will ever
possess, are the only interesting ones.
Q: Surely not?
A: Other women may of course be fascinating, the problem is that
they risk not seeming so ...
Q: Are there any secrets to long-lasting relationships?
A: Infidelity. Not the act itself, but the threat of it. For Proust,
an injection of jealousy is the only thing capable of rescuing a
relationship ruined by habit ... The threat of losing their partner may
lead them to realize that they have not appreciated this person
adequately ... If someone threatens the relationship, they get jealous,
wake up for a moment, have another kiss with the horny tusk, and get
bored once more. Condensed into a male heterosexual version, the
situation runs like this:
Afraid of losing her, we forget all the others. Sure of keeping her,
we compare her with the those others whom at once we prefer to her.
Excerpted from "How Proust Can Change Your Life" by Alain De Botton. Copyright © 1998 by Alain De Botton. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.