Proust’s Madeleines

In Marcel Proust’s A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, the adult narrator eats some cake soaked in tea and is transported back to his childhood, thusly:

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. … Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.

I had my madeleine moment yesterday when I took the dog took me for a walk.  It was smell, not taste:




I can’t say, as Proust did, that having inhaled the lilac smell, the vicissitudes of life became indifferent to me, but I was immediately transported back to that town in North Ontario

There I was, in Grade Three, crooked teeth, crooked bangs, walking to the bus stop at the end of our road, clutching a bunch of lilacs, a gift for my favourite teacher.  My mother, stale and tired from her night shift at the hospital, gave me a pair of scissors and I cut a bunch from the lilac bush near the side door.  Then my mother wet the stems and wrapped them in tin foil. I can almost feel the sharp folds against my fingers. I should have given those flowers to my mother.

What’s your Proustian memory?   


13 thoughts on “Proust’s Madeleines

  1. I love this passage and all that it signifies. Unfortunately my Proustian memory is chlorine! Whenever I feel it at the back of my nose I am drenched in memory, fear, comfort. Insane, hey?

  2. Waffles. (And many other things.) But today in the cafe I did not eat waffles, even though I wanted to, because tomorrow is mother’s day in the States, and my mother made delicious waffles, and she is gone. (My parents lived in Ottawa for a year before I was born, and you can be sure that we always had real maple syrup after that.)

  3. The smell of cinnamon gum and/or unlit cigarettes reminds me of my mother—or rather, her purse, where she kept her cigarettes and a pack of cinnamon gum to mask her smoker’s breath.

    Mom hasn’t smoked for twenty-three years, but it’s still comforting.

  4. Play doh. Every single time I smell it, I am a kid again. For taste though it is soda bread with butter and marmalade or Bird’s custard on apple pie. Great piece of writing D…very evocative.

  5. Lilac for me too, but since it’s already taken: linden trees in flower. Long walks down boulevards in Bucharest in May, hand in hand with my first boyfriends back in my teens.

  6. One of the things I’ve been enthralled by in this move back to my childhood home are the familiar smells. The farms, the hills, the river. Irises. The post office even has a smell I remember.

  7. Having never read Proust, I can’t declare a Proustian moment, however, I do recall a lilac moment when my brothers and I were young and we conceived the idea of bringing my mother a bunch of lilacs for mothers day. We ‘found’ the lilacs on a bush that probably belonged to a neighbour and having no scissors, tore them from the branches, clutching them into a large bunch which my brother – ever the boy scout – tied with a string. None of us were aware that my mother is allergic to lilacs and I don’t think she mentioned that at the time. Lilacs are only now coming out in Toronto! Hope you had a great mothers day, Downith.

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