Painting with Words: Proust, from Sentence to Illustration

The task of transforming Proust’s seven-volume novel À La Recherche du Temps Perdu into a graphic novel would appear to be daunting, if not impossible. The text’s structural complexity, fluid temporality, cornucopia of characters, and embedding of the narrative with esthetic and philosophical reflections render its representation in visual media daunting.  And, in addition to the inherent difficulties of adapting the literary plot, the graphic artist must somehow communicate the emotional impact of the cascading sentences of Proustian prose.

Despite the substantial obstacles of transposing Proust’s masterpiece into pictorial representations, one illustrator has undertaken this Herculean task.  Fascinated with the Proust’s novel, a French illustrator, Stéphane Heuet is in the process of distilling Proust’s monumental work into twelve volumes of fifty pages each.  To date, the first five volumes have been published.

Through paraphrase, interpretation, translation, creation or recreation, can the colors of Heuet’s artistic paletteexpress the original length, refinement and hyperbolic exaltation that imbues the Proustian universe?  Can Heuet convey the byzantine depth of the text, the implacable precision of the prose, and the feverish sensitivity of the narrator?  Or does the graphic novel inoculate the audience to the true seductions of the written manuscript and preclude potential new readers from undertaking the reading of the actual text?  These are the questions which we will seek to answer through a critical analysis of Heuet’s audacious and fascinating artistic enterprise.


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