All posts filed under: Proust

Work or play?

Edited excerpt from Drinking with Proust (Leanpub) Image: Portrait of Jean-Baptiste Santeul by Gerard Edelinck, ca 1700. How should we balance work with play? Proust’s first novel Jean Santeuil is a young man’s exploration of life’s trade-offs. Proust’s character is buffeted by contradictory desires: should he get ahead in society or nurture his “little gift of poetry”? William Hogarth – Industry and Idleness, Plate 1; The Fellow ‘Prentices at their Looms. Quote from Proverbs 23:21, “For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.” Proust borrowed the name of his novel’s main character from history. Jean-Baptiste Santeuil (1630-1697) grew up in a well-off merchant family and joined a community of lay canons at St. Victor in Paris. His career was promising. He rose to the rank of subdeacon, which was a stepping stone towards a valuable priesthood. But Santeuil was not inclined to take the straight and narrow path. He discarded his robes and made a name for himself as an eccentric poet. People called him a “devil whom God …

Boni goes bust

Edited excerpt from Drinking with Proust Image: La Vie Parisienne, de Castellane Advert In the winter of 1867, Anne-Marie Le Clerc de Juigné, wife of Marquis Boniface Antoine de Castellane, gave birth to her first son. He was named Boniface, but became known as Boni. He was brought up at his parent’s residence in Paris and at his grandmother’s Château de Rochecotte, a grand villa in the heart of Bourgeuil surrounded by vineyards.52 Boni and Marcel Proust crossed paths in around 1893 when Marcel joined Madeleine Lemaire’s Salon, “one of the most stimulating and amusing in Paris,”53 which was also attended by Boni. In 1894 Boni travelled to America in search of a rich heiress. He needed money. While I had ancestry, title and the very highest social prestige, my income was quite inad-equate. The family estates were important but expensive to maintain; and the Castellane income was not equal to maintain myself and my estates suitably. It was, therefore, not a bad bargain on my part to insure a sufficient income to support my rank in …

In search of lost balance

Edited excerpt from Drinking with Proust (Leanpub) Image: Advert for Vin Mariani, a lithograph by Jules Chéret, 1894 We oscillate between stimulation and rest but seek a balanced life. Caffeine lifts us up, alcohol winds us down. Why not just mix the two? The eighteenth century Scottish physician John Brown argued that to be alive is not a natural state, but a forced state. We tend towards dissolution at every moment, he wrote, and are kept from it only by “foreign powers, and even by these with difficulty, and only for a time; and then, from the necessity of … fate” we “yield to death.”29 In order to stave off dissolution and stay balanced, Brown argued, you have to harness the “foreign powers” available to you. Brown’s substances of choice were seasoned food, alcohol and opium. Spirituous or vinous drink, in which the alcohol is always diluted, stimulates more quickly, and more readily, than seasoned food, and its stimulus is in proportion to the quantity of alcohol that it contains. But there are stimuli, which possess an operation as much quicker, and more …

On wine snobs

Image: Caricature of a Snob in The Book of Snobs by William Makepeace Thackeray Excerpted from:  Drinking with Proust Snobbishness is like Death in a quotation from Horace, which I hope you never have heard, ‘beating with equal foot at poor men’s doors, and kicking at the gates of Emperors.63 Who or what is a wine-snob? I imagine a smug-looking man, a Silicon Valley hotshot, twirling his glass of Napa Cabernet, pausing to harvest its aromas into a hawkish sense organ before pronouncing upon the wine’s provenance and quality. “It’s a bargain at 220$!” he murmurs indistinctly and twitches disdainfully as we venture to give our opinion to the contrary. The word snob became popular in the nineteenth century when William Makepeace Thackeray published a series of articles in Punch magazine, the so-called snob papers. These papers read like tasting notes, not on wine, but on Victorian society. In one of these papers, Thackeray provides the first authoritative account of the wine snob. He introduces us to a snob called Waggle and describes the activities and attitudes that are a snob’s …

Drinking with Proust

Image: Un bar aux Folies Bergère (Manet, 1882) Excerpted from:  Drinking with Proust (Leanpub) We have of the universe only formless, fragmentary visions, which we complete by the association of arbitrary ideas, creative of dangerous suggestions.[1] For a long time hominids were tree-lovers, swinging from branch to branch in the great tropical forests of east Africa. Then the climate changed: temperatures increased, tropical forests dried up and thinned out. Our ancestors were forced to spend more time on the forest floors. They began scavenging for fallen fruit rather than picking it fresh from the source. Our relationship with alcohol is ten-million years old. You can’t avoid alcohol, your body produces it naturally. Your digestive system hosts a complex community of microorganisms. Some of these organisms are just like the yeasts and bacteria that turn grape-sugar into wine, or grain-starch into beer. They allow your body to make use of complex carbohydrates that are indigestible unless they’re fermented. Like it or not, you have a mini-brewery under your belt and yes, this has been used as a defence against drink-driving charges: “I …