A History of This Archive

This archive is the culmination of work begun in three seminars during my first year in the English Ph.D. Program at the CUNY Graduate Center. At the beginning of Prof. Eve Sedgwick's year-long Proust seminar in 2002-03 I found that the passages having to do with churches were electric to me. I've always had a profound fascination with Gothic cathedrals, but beyond that and my being a lapsed Catholic I couldn't say exactly why I was having such an intense experience. What was happening in these particular narrative and textual situations, what was consistent within and accross them, that was resonating so strongly within me? Since the main goal of the course was to read the Recherche closely, I decided my term papers would constitute an extended meditation on the church motif with an eye toward writing a book-length study in the future.

When I began working on the paper near the end of the first semester I had an impulse to document each occurrence of the motif along with some interpretive information. Spreadsheet applications were not able to handle the formatting that I needed, so I devised in OpenOffice.org for Linux a horizontally oriented document with a table. Across the page, from left to right, I included the pagination information (volume, part, chapter, page numbers); the passage itself; what I thought were themes, concepts, motifs, or other structural features of the passage (together, what I call Associations); plus a note on the narrative context in order to keep in mind the larger picture. The idea was that this document would help me recall passages for whatever I ended up writing about. Aside from some general impressions on the motif and a statement of purpose, that was about all I completed during that semester.

During the January intersession I took the Program's required course in research and critical methodology with Prof. David Greetham. Our readings on textual theory and criticism piqued my interest in the Proust project even more. When we got to the readings on archives I realized that I had been putting one together all this time. What did it mean textuallyâ€â€and therefore in terms of readingâ€â€that I was containing and documenting this particular category of experience? What would happen if I turned this spreadsheet into a searchable document whose content could be displayed and rearranged according to particular words or the abstractions I was teasing out of the passages? I raised these issues with Prof. Greetham and asked whether I could make a database as part of my final project for the course. He agreed and went one step further by suggesting that I add images or other multimedia elements. So I took his advice and began searching the Web for pictures of the churches mentioned in Proust's novel.

I quickly realized that the database skills needed to make such a thing were well beyond what I already possessed and had time to acquire, so I asked my friend Jonathan for help. He very generously designed a database in Microsoft Access that allowed me to record all of the information and generate reports. I put all this together with the information already garnered from the novel and the images from the Web, wrote a rationale (which forms the basis of the Rationale page of this site), and submitted it to Prof. Greetham as my term project.

After the January course I worked on the archive intermittently. One productive stint came during a trip to France and Switzerland in July 2004 for my friend Anthony's wedding. Before leaving for France I had it in mind that I would try to make it out to Illiers-Combray, the town in Eure-et-Loire that was the original of Combray in the Recherche (the name was hyphenated in 1970 in honor of Proust), and packed two cameras for the occasion, one for color film, the other for black and white. I managed to get some photos of Notre Dame and other parts of Paris. During a day trip to Chartres, where I took many photos of the exterior and interior, I learned that Illiers-Combray was an easy 30-minute train ride from there. I decided to go the next day and, when morning came, persisted in this despite having just finished a very late night out in Paris. I made it to Illiers-Combray barely awake and in desperate need of coffee, headed toward the center of town, wandered into a café and, while sitting at the counter, realized that what I was staring at across the street was the little porch I had seen in so many pictures before. I had walked right past the church without even noticing it.

I finished my coffee and began photographing the porch and façade of the church, first in black and white. Unfortunately, on the fifth or sixth shot my camera, a Canon FTb manufactured in 1974, decided to stop cooperating and the shutter froze. From then on I could only use my Olympus Zoom2000 snapshot camera. I went round the outside of the church and found the apse to be exactly as described in Volume 1 of the Recherche:

It was so crude, so devoid of artistic beauty, even of religious feeling. From the outside, since the street crossing which it commanded was on a lower level, its great wall was thrust upwards from a basement of unfaced ashlar, jagged with flints, in which there was nothing particularly ecclesiastical, the windows seemed to have been pierced at an abnormal height, and its whole appearance was that of a prison wall rather than of a church. (1 1 1 84)

I then went inside to photograph the chapel, altar, windows, and other objects, and was delighted to find so much color. The walls of the nave were deep red with a golden diamond pattern, the ceiling of the chapel a vibrant royal blue, the arch leading into it painted with religious scenes, and the beams below the boat-hull ceiling painted with multi-colored patterns and coats of arms. Each panel of the ceiling had a nearly life-sized portrait of a saint, which can be seen at this page on the website of ASEPIC (Association Pour la Sauvegarde de l'Église et du Patrimoine d'Illiers-Combray).

The stained-glass windows, too, were beautiful, and I was surprised to find one with women in yellow, much like the window in the Recherche depicting St Hilaire, "a lady in a yellow robe" (1 1 1 145). My overall impression of the church was that it felt like a well-worn and well-loved home.

After taking pictures of the interior I went out to the parking lot to get some distance shots and then headed into the tourism office. I spoke there with a very nice woman about the various books they had concerning Proust and came away with several. A book on the history of the Parish, written in the 19th Century by the Abbey J. Marquis and the original of the one written by the Curé of Combray, is a fount of information with great photographsâ€â€very easy to become immersed in. I also picked up a cartoon book by Stéphane Heuet, which is an adaptation of the Combray portions of the Recherche, and two books by P.-L. Larcher on the relation of Illiers to Proust's Combray, Le Parfum de Combray and Le Temps Retrouvé d'Illiers.

As our conversation caused me to miss the noon train back to Chartres, I now had nearly two hours to spare before the next one. So I began heading back toward an inn I had noticed near the station and was just past the church when it began to pour. Wearing all linen, I ran to the inn as fast as I could in flip-flops, burst through the door, shook the water off my glasses, and asked to be seated for lunch. My hope was to have a sandwich and maybe fix my camera but I instead found myself seated with five men who worked together and under the obligation to order a four course meal. It was a cozy, turn-of-the-century dining room with beautiful wainscoting and patterned wallpaper. Since I was very tiredâ€â€which the sausage plate, cuisse de canard, rich mashed potatoes, cheese and wine did not alleviateâ€â€I found it difficult to hold up my end of the conversation. But my companions were gracious enough and we had an interesting talk about family names in the region. I left Illiers-Combray thinking I would return under better weather in order to explore the town and its environs a little more.

Development of the archive really didn't pick up again until December 2004 when it came time to complete the independent study for the Certificate in Instructional Technology and Pedagogy (ITP). The ITP program requires an independent study of a teaching activity involving interactive technologyâ€â€in a real classroomâ€â€followed by a written assessment of its success. Since I had already committed to building the Proust archive, I decided to write a proposal incorporating it into a lesson. It was unlikely, however, that an undergraduate literature course would contain enough of Proust to make the archive a viable tool. I therefore decided to conduct the activity in our graduate research and methodology course, the very same in which I began to develope it. If few people in the course had read Proust, at least they would have been reading the theory on which the archive was based and the activity could have a variety of approaches. Prof. Greetham agreed to let me conduct the study in his January section of the course.

Now I had to make the archive available on the web in time for the independent study activity. This had been a goal since the beginning, but though I had some web development skills they were not up to the task of integrating a site with a database. So I asked my friend John, a professional web developer, for help in this. I made a page showing how I wanted the search results to look, and he wrote the ASP pages that implemented the text search. With that working, I had to transcribe the rest of the church passages into the OpenOffice document and then enter them in the database. This was a very intense week, during which my girlfriendâ€â€now my fiancéeâ€â€helped by transcribing passages I had marked in two whole volumes (how could I not marry her after that?). The initial site was finally finished and uploaded to our web server for private use by the class.

At the time of the independent studyâ€â€January 2005â€â€I put in a request with Random House to use the text in a public, fully developed version of the site. This process took about a year and three months in which there were many questions and answers given back and forth, and in which I was referred also to Éditions Gallimard.

With the text usage permission finally granted in March 2006, I put off work on my dissertation prospectus to finish the archive. My friend John worked very hard to implement four more search functions and made them integratable. In the meantime, I scanned all the negatives I had taken at Paris, Chartres, and Illiers-Combray, optimized them for the website, and did much more specialized image research to enhance the variety and accuracy of the pictures.

With much of that finished, the final step was to get permission to use the many hundreds of images in the archive that are not my own. This started as an epic, multi-lingual nightmare that ended up putting me in touch with some of the strangest, nicest, and most generous people I've ever had fun with. Be sure to find them in the image credits and Links pages.

I hope you enjoy this archive and find it helpful for your studies, whatever they might be. There are many people who contributed to this resource, so please do read the Contributors page and the Copyright section of the About page.