Wendy Ligon Smith and Sophie Preston: ‘An Evening of Fashion, Music Art and Marcel Proust’ at Manchester Art Gallery. Blog post #1

Wendy Ligon Smith and Sophie Preston: ‘An Evening of Fashion, Music Art and Marcel Proust’ at Manchester Art Gallery. Blog post #1

Wendy and I have decided to propose a public engagement event inspired by the one hundredth anniversary of the first volume of French author Marcel Proust’s long novel, In Search of Lost Time, Swann’s Way.


As both of our PhD projects involve substantial research on the novel, we are interested in making connections between our work and the way other readers interact with the novel. Our initial idea was to create a website or blog that would curate scanned images of submitted pages of people’s copies of Swann’s Way. We hoped to attract scholars, academics, students and general readers of Proust to submit their pages.


We were interested in the traces and marks readers left when navigating the novel. Turned down pages, highlighted or underlined words or phrases, doodles, annotations etc., all evidence the lovable ardour of reading Proust and similarly mirror Proust’s own laborious writing process, made visible in the hundreds of preliminary notebooks, full of crossings out and doodled images.


After attending the first workshop defining the wider impact of PhD research and learning how to communicate this research to non-experts through cultural organisations, we were asked to choose a cultural partner. We were keen to join up with the John Rylands University Library at Deansgate. This seemed like the most pertinent choice due to the literary nature of our proposed project and as the library holds a relevant archive – that of Marie Nordlinger, a friend of Proust’s who helped him to translate works by English critic, John Ruskin.  In the archives, we hoped to find and share Nordlinger’s own responses to Proust.


After being turned down by John Rylands University Library due to the profusion of applications they had received, we were given a laurel branch when Emma Anderson, from the Manchester Museum & Galleries Partnership, asked to have a meeting with us, along with Project Leader Kostas Arvanitis . Emma and Kostas both liked the premise of celebrating the anniversary of Swann’s Way but were less keen on the blog idea in terms of a public engagement event. We had a frank discussion coming up with lots of ideas, from exhibitions to using social media. Eventually we came to a mutual decision to put on a one off event. Emma suggested the ‘Thursday Lates’ series at the Manchester Art Gallery would be an ideal arena to put on an evening celebrating the Proustian centenary. Wendy and I came away from this meeting feeling anxious but buoyant about these changes to the proposed project and got to work.


Wendy and I have since been to the Manchester Art Gallery and spent some time looking at the paintings on display. We have been excited to realise that a good deal of the works remind us of passages or themes from Proust’s novel. From here, things have really taken off.  We have enjoyed our final workshop and received invaluable advice from Emily McIntosh and Esme Ward and drafted an email to the MAG giving them a detailed plan of our proposal. We have had another meeting with Emma and have been introduced to Manchester Art Gallery Programme Assistant, Connie Witham. Together we have discussed a preliminary idea for a unique tour looking at some of the artworks on display through a Proustian lens. Due to shared enthusiasm between Wendy, Emma Connie and myself for the potential success of the event, we have been confident submitting our final proposal. We can’t wait for  ‘An Evening of Fashion, Music Art and Marcel Proust’…

Sophie Preston, 1st year PhD researcher in Art History

Wendy Ligon Smith,  3rd year PhD researcher in Art History