Theses Doctoral

Proust and Speech

Trumbo-Tual, Matthew

This dissertation examines how Marcel Proust presents and uses different speech styles in A la recherche du temps perdu. The narrator of the novel analyzes how almost everyone he encounters speaks and consistently bases his decisions about how to interact with others on his evaluation of their speech mannerisms. I argue that, through the narrator’s observations, Proust emphasizes the role of the socioindexicality of speech, or how the way a person speaks communicates their social identity, in mediating social relations. I begin by presenting the narrator’s comments on how social status is interpreted through the way that people speak. Then I turn in the second chapter to how the narrator’s understanding of what factors determine a person’s speech mannerisms changes over the course of his life. The third chapter argues that the narrator has a sustained interest in how people use speech to perform different identities and shows how his investigation into the reasons these performances succeed or fail informs Proust’s own technique of using different speech styles to create fictional characters in his novel. The last chapter discusses how Proust’s Jewish and gay characters adapt how they speak to avoid or overcome discrimination. In each of these chapters, I show how, in A la recherche, the way social identity is interpreted and performed through speech causes individuals to take on different identities. I argue that, through the narrator’s comments on this phenomenon, Proust demonstrates how it affects the structure of society while also studying the way it can be used to create fictional characters in a novel.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
French and Romance Philology
Thesis Advisors
Ladenson, Elisabeth A.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
November 1, 2019