Book Review: Harold Pinter’s Stage Adaptation of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past

Proust pinterIt’s fairly well known that Harold Pinter created what is known as The Proust Screenplay, distilling Proust’s seven-volume epic novel for Joseph Losey, who hoped to make a film. This 1977 screenplay as since been published, and is available in volume 2 of Pinter’s screenplay. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

What I only discovered recently, however, is that Pinter, together with Di Trevis, adapted this screenplay for the stage, and that it was performed in London at the National Theatre in 2000, as well in a few other locations. I read the screenplay a very long time ago, and recently read the stage play, which is available on its own from Faber & Faber. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

This play is fascinating, but it’s very possible that you could only really appreciate it if you are familiar with the novel. Pinter (and Trevis) manage to pull a number of brief scenes from the novel and string them together with a loose narrative to tell the story of this massive work. Many of the bits are very short, and they are not all in chronological order, but they do fit in a certain way.

You see the narrator (here, clearly named Marcel), and many of the supporting characters: Swann, Gilberte, Albertine, baron de Charles, Mmm Verdure, and many others, all deftly painted with fine strokes that highlight their characters. Situations that take dozens of pages are summarized in a few lines, and others in scenes that tell just enough about the characters. Certain themes come back often – the narrator’s jealousy, Swann’s disappointment in his marriage, and the ever-present them of class, and striving to attain a better station.

It’s a brief read, just 138 pages, no doubt meant to last about two and a half hours on stage. If you’ve read Proust already, I strongly recommend this. If not, well, it’s up to you; you may not get a lot out of it. It’s hard to know, since I have read La Recherch√© several times.

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