Landscapes and Perceptual Distortions in Proust
This essay examines descriptions of landscapes in À la recherche du temps perdu to illustrate how Impressionist and post-Impressionist painters informed Proust’s conception of the shifting perspectives in the narrative. In descriptions that immediately precede typical examples of his unreliability or subjectivity, the narrator Marcel portrays the landscape in a manner that evokes the experimentation of these artists. Proust deploys this tactic to two ends: first, highlighting the narrator’s subjectivity primes readers to notice authorial irony; second, and more importantly, using art to frame inaccuracies helps readers realize that the distortions that pervade Marcel’s representation of the fictional world are not impediments to be avoided, but rather intimations of a new way of seeing. Indeed, a significant component of the protagonist’s, and in some ways the reader’s, apprenticeship over the course of the novel is learning to recognize and take pleasure in the interpretive challenges that a subjective perspective generates.