In The Guardian's luke warm review of Proust The Search by Benjamin Taylor it is suggested
that the big question on Proust Taylor addresses is "How did a simpering, high-class layabout write a work of such profound moral seriousness?" This for me pretty much wrecked the book.
I am currently doing my third read through of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Times. Wayne Carter, the greatest living authority on Proust, is producing, published by Yale University Press, heavily annotated with illuminating data, a revision of the great translation of F. Scott Charles Moncreiff. I was kindly given an advanced review copy of Volume One which I posted on last year and am now reading a review copy of volume two.
The standard biographies of Marcel Proust are huge, pushing 1000 pages. Taylor's sort of biography is just over 200 pages. Taylor has two basic objectives. The first is a task he acknowledges as impossible, explaining how Proust's life experiences lead to him producing one of the the very greatest novels ever written, a supreme artistic achievement of the human spirit. Taylor somehow buys into the notion that because Proust was gay he was of weak character, lacking in the strength to produce a 3500 page masterpiece. This notion permeates Taylor's account of the life of Proust. Taylor also tries to place Proust in the European Jewish tradition. Proust's father was Christian, his mother Jewish. I did not find this tremendously interesting and I think it is counterproductive to limit Proust like this.
Taylor goes into detail on Proust's romantic life with various young men and what Taylor sees, probably rightly, as "cover" relationships with women in his younger days. It is not pleasant to learn what Proust liked to do at a gay brothel he might have provided start up money for, Proust inherited in today's money five millions dollars from his mother. Taylor lets us see that Proust was not money smart but was blessed with a good money manager. He sometimes bought stocks because he liked the company name. He was a very generous tipper and gave large gifts.
My thoughts on getting into Proust (check out on YouTube the hilarious Monty Python skit on Proust)
First to state the obvious, read Proust. It will take awhile, it is very, seven volumes over 3500 pages in most editions, long but it is not "difficult" or hard to follow. (There is an interesting scene in Taylor's book describing a meeting of Proust and James Joyce.) I read tne Moncreiff translations but will eventually read newer translations. Next I would suggest you read Wayne Carter's biography of Proust.
I have read two good secondary books on Proust. Roger Shatluck's Proust's Way A Field Guide to Remebrance of Things Past is a work I found interesting and useful.
Anka Mulstein's Proust's Library is super interesting.
Taylor does talk a good bit about Proust's reading. He loved The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I must read it again.
On Taylor's book, it is for Proust fanatics only. There is enough detail to keep readers like me interested but most will be better served by following my suggestions.
Taylor is an adjunct professor at Columbia University and I guess this book started out as class room lectures and Taylor felt a need to base his work on things young students who most likely have never read Proust could relate to, him being Jewish and Gay. It was near offensive when Taylor suggested it was surprising when Proust, who joined the military to get his choice of where he would be trained knowing he would be drafted, liked the army and was considered a good soldier.