Jeopardy! category: FRENCH NOVELISTS (13-2-2001)
FJ! Clue: A relative of Henri Bergson’s wife, he used Bergson’s mystical concepts of time in his most famous work
The gist: Probably the only early 20th century French novel in which this scene would be appropriate.
Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust (often more faithfully translated today as In Search of Lost Time) was published in seven parts between 1913 and 1927. It centres on the life of “the Narrator,” whose name may or may not also be Marcel, who recounts much of his life and the lives of those around him – more than 4000 pages worth, in fact – through memories triggered first by his dipping a madeleine cake into a cup of tea, which reminds him experiencing the same sensation as a young boy. The story does a lot of this sort of jumping around in time. At one point, it jumps to fifteen years before the first part, and relates the relationship between Charles Swann, the man whose visit led to the Narrator eating his madeleine cake, and his wife Odette.
The treatment of time in the novel represents a major break from most literary fiction being written by Proust’s predecessors and contemporaries, who wrote realist novels that generally followed a protagonist through a straightforward plot. Thanks to the scientific progress of the early 20th century, scientists, philosophers, and artists alike began to rethink many of the things that had been taken for granted until then. Albert Einstein’s 1915 Theory of Relativity, for example, was a radical re-imagining of the nature of time itself, no longer seen as constant and universal but rather mutable and subjective. This led to Henri Bergson‘s formulation of “Duration,” the idea that time is not truly a measurable dimension but rather a continuously flowing progression that is impossible to accurately pin down. Duration accumulates for each person uniquely, and is experienced through one’s memories, which, Bergson believed, were the summation of one’s consciousness. As the clue says, Bergson’s theories influenced Proust’s writing, as can be seen in the fluidity with which the plot glides through time, as well as in the centrality of the Narrator’s memories to the telling of the story itself.
The clue: Only one of the three contestants got this clue correct, indicating it’s not an easy one. Since no one is too likely to be aware of Henri Bergson’s literary relations, the real hint in this clue is in the “mystical concepts of time.” Even then, it would still be helpful to be at least a bit familiar with the structure of Proust’s work in order to figure out that’s what the clue is going for. Otherwise, you’d have to manage to come up with it just on the title alone, which does suggest something to do with time, either directly if you know it as In Search of Lost Time or indirectly if it’s Remembrance of Things Past.
In Jeopardy!: Seeing as he’s considered one of humanity’s greatest authors, we shouldn’t be surprised to see him appear in 49 regular clues and one FJ! clue (that’s this one). “Remembrance of Things Past“ is in 24 of those clues, ten times as the correct response, plus another two as “In Search of Lost Time” and six as “A la recherche du temps perdu.” The famous madeleine cake is even the subject of four clues itself. Six of them are about the character Charles Swann (who was the namesake of the book’s first part, “Swann’s Way”). Another three clues mention Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30, from which phrase “A Remembrance of Things Past” is taken. Proust has also had the honour of having two full categories written about him, which mostly fill out the rest of the clues that aren’t about his major work. Mostly, this book’s all you need know when it comes to Proust and Jeopardy!.