My re-read of Remembrance of Things Past was partly inspired by my reading of Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time. I don’t think it’s a stretch to acknowledge that the title of Powell’s later social epic is clearly referencing Proust (especially since late translations have used more accurate translations of the title, like In Search of Lost Time). But the comparisons, beyond length and focus on capturing a changing, upper class world, were usually acknowledged to be, ultimately, fairly superficial.
And, yes they are, but as I’m re-reading Proust, I also have to say, no they aren’t. Powell’s epic, despite many tragic moments, is ultimately a comic novel (not a comedy, but a comic novel), whereas the Frenchman, despite including many comic episodes and interludes, wrote a more melancholy piece – a tragedy, in fact. But despite that difference, having finished roughly two thirds of Remembrance of Things Past, I am more struck by similarities. Nick, from Dance is more of an observer of the outside world, whereas Marcel from Remembrance is chronicling his internal self as much as he is chronicling his world. But the observations of a vanishing (though the participants knew it not) aristocratic world by a figure both of and not of that world feel very similar. I think that maybe folks harp on the differences because of the undercooked final novel of Dance and the wonderful three book sequence that takes place during World War II, which is part and parcel of the whole (and arguably, the best part), but the most unlike Remembrance. But that leaves eight books out of the dozen that feel very similar to Proust’s seven volumes. None of which is to say that Powell is better than Proust, he most certainly is not.