Back to Proust. I am reading A La Recherche - about to finish Volume 3, Le Cote de Guermantes.
Joseph Epstein has written a moving review of M. Proust's Library, by Anka Muhlstein, published in the Wall Street Journal. I have not read this book, yet.
There is mention of a 1905 essay by Proust entitled On reading, which I shall try to get hold of . Here is what Ms. Muhlstein says about it, according to Epstein:
"...in Proust's freeing himself to write his great novel, he quoted Descartes: "The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the most cultivated of men of past centuries who have been their authors." Proust's examination of "the original psychological act called reading," that "noblest of distractions," holds that books are superior to conversation, which "dissipates immediately." A book, he felt, is "a friendship . . . and the fact that it is directed to one who is dead, who is absent, gives it something disinterested, almost moving." Books are actually better than friends, Proust thought, because you turn to them only when you truly desire their company and can ignore them when you wish, neither of which is true of a friend..."
The final paragraph of the review includes the following description of Proust, which corresponds exactly to my own dawning realisation:
"...No other modern author was more alive than he to the toll taken by snobbery, cruelty, brutishness; none so exalted kindness, loftiness of spirit, sweetness of character, the kind and generous heart..."
However clear-sighted he is, and conscious of people's foibles, he is never less than kind and compassionate in his writing about them. Also very funny.
The rest of the review is worth reading too.