The Wagner Journal

Jeffrey Swann, Wagner and Proust

Jeffrey Swann, Wagner and Proust

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July 2018, Volume 12, Number 2, 34–55.

One of Wagner’s outstanding features is his deep and remarkably varied impact on the world around him. His influence on other composers, while extraordinary, is not unique: composers such as Josquin, Monteverdi, and Beethoven before, and Debussy after him, had a similarly strong and pervasive effect. But his impact on the works of artists and thinkers from the entire gamut of culture and society – poets, novelists, painters, philosophers and social historians – is probably unique in the history of Western art. One such artist on whom Wagner had a major impact is the great French novelist Marcel Proust (1871–1922). This essay will be an examination of the various manifestations of Wagner that play a significant role in Proust’s masterpiece, À la recherche du temps perdu. It is not my intent to examine in any detail Proust’s personal involvement with Wagner’s works, but rather to study how and where Wagner’s impact appears in his great novel cycle. It is not, however, possible to do this without at least a quick look at Wagner’s place in French art and society in the late 19th century.

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