Yesterday I was talking to a friend, and he told me that his brother had been rereading Proust.
“He said there's something missing in Proust. Throughout all serious literature, characters who are deeply drawn have some conflict between desire and duty - what they want to do, and what they ought to do. And yet, despite being stuck in the narrator's head for thousands of pages, there is no sense there of duty, of "ought": he perceives the whole world purely in terms of his desires.
And since we aren't allowed to see anything beyond his perceptions, we get a very lop-sided view.
We get merely a sequence of desires, and of frustration of his desires.
He says it's all very witty and charming; the evocation of sensual effects are breathtaking; and so on. But there's always a sense of something missing.”
I find that an interesting observation.
When I think about it, the conflict between what one wants to do and what one ought to do is depicted in Flaubert, in Dickens and Thackeray, in Jane Austen and George Eliot, in Henry James and Edith Wharton, in Tolstoy and Chekhov, in Nabokov, in Muriel Spark, in Natsume Soseki, and so on, but not really in Proust—at least not in the 2 volumes I have read.
What do you think about this observation?
And if you agree, which other major novelist also doesn’t explore the conflict between duty and desire?