CRUELTY IN THE INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS OF MARCEL PROUST'S "A LA RECHERCHE DU TEMPS PERDU"
TURNER, MADELYN PERT
Doctor of Philosophy
The theme of cruelty emerges as a fundamental element in the numerous and varied interpersonal relationships of Marcel Proust's masterpiece, A la recherche du temps perdu. Cruelty in Proust's major artistic creation is actively present in situations involving two or more characters who inevitably assume either one of two roles, that of victim or of aggressor. Cruelty exists in the novel as a state in which the victims cannot and do not escape from their fate of mental subordination, while the aggressors consciously continue with success in the psychological massacre of their weaker, more sensitive opponents. Among the major victims are found the following characters: Saniette, the timid archivist; La Berma, the talented actress; Vinteuil, the gifted composer; Swann, the art-loving dilettante; and Charlus, the eccentric aristocrat. All are sensitive, creative individuals who are overburdened and ultimately consumed by the sordid reality of their existence. Monsieur and Madame Verdurin, the Duke and Duchess of Guermantes, Odette, Morel, and Francoise represent the primary aggressors in the novel. The analysis of the interpersonal relationships in A la recherche du temps perdu is aided by the closed nature of the Verdurin salon which the Verdurins effectively control with the collaboration of Odette and Morel. The Duke and Duchess of Guermantes reign as the aggressors of the artistocratic Faubourg Saint-Germain. Francoise skillfully manipulates the household staff of the narrator's family. The basic information of the narrator's hypersensitive nature is examined by analyzing the environment in which he is nurtured. His grandmother and mother provide a protective shell for the sickly child where love and the absence of selfish motives dominate. These two women represent the antithesis of cruelty in the novel, and the narrator's sheltered childhood contrasts sharply with the forces of ambition, greed, egocentricity, jealousy, and superficiality encountered elsewhere. Though studied for many other qualities, Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu merits a reassessment of the impact of the theme of cruelty on the novel. The characters and their roles have been carefully conceived and developed within the structure of the adversary relationship which separates the protagonists into the roles of victim and of aggressor.