IN ONE OF THE GREATEST WORKS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust, the narrator steps back in time and recreates the sights, sounds, smells and landscape of his childhood. Indeed, this work has given rise to the literary concept of ‘Proustian moment’, which is an intense reliving of the past in the present. It is not a detached moment of recall or even a conscious attempt to remember the past. It also comes with a sense of freedom from the constraints of time and space.
Here is the passage in the book, which describes such a ‘Proustian moment’:
‘. . . one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called ‘petite madeleines’, which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was me . . . Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sense that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could not, indeed be of the same nature . . .’
John Cowper Powys (1872 – 1963) recreated the landscapes of his native Somerset and Dorset, in his novels, with a similar immersion as if he too had stepped back in time through his protagonists. The significance of Powys’ recreation lies in that he was on a lecturing circuit in America when he wrote his great West Country novels (Wolf Solent, Weymouth Sands, The Glastonbury Romance).
Likewise, Alison Uttley (1884 – 1976), the creator of the Grey Rabbit series, says:
‘Once I sat with pencil and paper in the bedroom at my old home, determined to write the feelings that flooded my mind before I went away. I could not do it. I was too near the subject of my desire.
‘Not until I went away from home and brought before my inner eye the vision of the pack road and the shaggy wood could I capture it in writing . . .’
Is your writing triggered by similar ‘Proustian moments’ of stepping back in time?
Do you use familiar landscapes with which you are no longer in daily contact?
Is the inner eye more powerful than the external eye in the creation of landscapes and themes in your writing?
Are there any familiar landscapes or themes that you return to time and again in your writing?
— Golden Langur