CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

In the late 19th century, British industrial and commercial expansion, sprawling travel, and the spread of modern language instruction to new groups (such as the upper middle class), combined to increase the number and kind of agents of 'Englishness', who found themselves using Englishisms that worked as linguistic and symbolic goods once monopolized by the aristocracy.
The novel, In Search of Lost Time suggests a social and linguistic hypersensitivity on the part of its author, but in order to fully grasp its significance, we must consider the social background that rendered this hypersensitivity possible. In this light, Proust’s masterwork can be seen as a precious document which may be used to trace transformations in the use of the English language (and of all things English) back to broader transformations of the social space and its (particularly scholarly) modes of reproduction. This reading of Proust’s novel identifies its author as a pioneering ethnographer of the upperclass between the 1870s and 1920s, and as a fine analyst of linguistic means of social distinction.


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