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    By: Edward J. Hughes

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    Writing in 1927, Julien Benda described France as being afflicted by the twin scourges of narrow, class-based politics and rabid nationalism. He nevertheless identified Marcel Proust (who had died in 1922) as a writer who had refused to embrace the ideological narrowness of his age. Edward J. Hughes seeks to assess how Proust and his novel A la recherche du temps perdu might be understood in relation to issues of class and nation. A la recherche wasproduced in momentous times. As an extended textual construction, first conceived of in 1908 and the last tranche of which appeared posthumously almost two decades later, it was assembled against a backdrop of major historical events: pre-war tensions in the wake of the Dreyfus Affair and the Separation of Church andState (issues on which Proust had campaigned publicly); the First World War and the atmosphere of narrow nationalism and Germanophobia which the conflict generated; and the continuing polarization in class politics in the years after the First World War. These all find echoes in A la recherche and Hughes establishes how the exposure given to questions of class and nation needs to be understood historically. He demonstrates that the frequently entrenched positions of Proust'scontemporaries at times square with the language and images of social conservativism to be found in A la recherche. Yet alongside that, Hughes unearths evidence that points to Proust as a free-floating, often playful, iconoclast and radical commentator who, as Theodor Adorno observed, resisted bourgeoiscompartmentalization.

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