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Sunday, June 14, 2009

 

Marcel Proust and Vida Vamegli

*
Stepping Back in Time

Marcel Proust's writings are said to have a soporofic effect on some readers. There are nights when it would be good to have a book on the bedside table that can help put me to sleep. That,however, is not what I experience when reading Proust.

Proust's Remembrance of Things Past is a book that I have read more than once. Perhaps, after the first time, it was more like skimming through some parts rather than reading every page but Swann's Way never failed to give pleasure. When Alain De Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life was published in 1997, I said to myself "Hey, I know what he means". Did it really change my life? No. But it gave me hours of pleasure; made me think of times past, of people I had known -- all part of the process that makes us what we are.

A week ago while browsing in Menlo Park Library, I stopped at the bin marked "free". I no longer buy books for two reasons: I cannot afford to and I don't have room for them. Nevertheless, the bin was irresistible. I searched through the pile and found a treasure. It was a 1934 edition of the first volume of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past published by Random House. C.K. Scott Moncrieff's translation is superb and volume one contains:

  • Swann's Way
  • Within a Budding Grove
  • The Guermantes Way

Who was Vida Vamegli ?

Considering its age, the book is in excellent condition. 1934 was not long after I was born. The fly-leaf has an inscription "From the library of Vida Vamegli". If she owned the book in the early thirties she is not likely to be around. I drew a blank in searching for Vida Vamegli in the worldwide web. It is an Italian name. No Vamegli surfaced in the Bay area.

In my imagination I think of Vida Vamegli living in the San Francisco Peninsula. Who was she? A house wife? A teacher? Good, copperplate handwriting. Would I have enjoyed meeting her in person? Could she have been a Republican. Were Republican politicians as obnoxious in 1934 as they are today? How did the book end up in "free" bin of the library? Perhaps her books were donated and there were no takers in the library's book sale. Many library goers must have looked at it without finding it worthwhile. It was waiting for me. Not a resident of Menlo Park, I rarely go to that particular library. Fate!

Now, what am I going to do with the book? There will be days and nights when I will pick it up and re-read parts of it. After some time I shall probably give it back to a library with the hope that it will find a home with someone who loves Proust, or -- even better -- someone who will discover Proust for the first time.
*****

"When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past......."
-- William Shakespeare, Sonnet No.30



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