Journal of Romance Studies

The red shoes: Walter Benjamin’s reading of memory in Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, in the light of the Dreyfus Affair

Journal of Romance Studies (2003), 3, (1), 29–43.

Abstract

Memory in Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu is usually interpreted in psychological or metaphysical terms. Walter Benjamin highlighted the historical aspects of memory in Proust through two prisms: modernity and the Dreyfus Affair. This essay presents a comment on Benjamin’s reading of memory in À la recherche du temps perdu, and on a narrative strand in the novel about a pair of red shoes and a red dress of Mme de Guermantes. These serve as metonyms to remind the reader of how the aristocratic Mme de Guermantes ‘forgets’ her Jewish friend Swann in the course of the Dreyfus Affair and its aftermath. Involuntary memory, which is interpreted as memory through forgetfulness, emerges as a modest counterweight to a process of memory/forgetting which is constructed under collective pressure.

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Jansen, Yolande