Collecting Proust in the New Millennium
by Tremain Haynes
[Mr. Haynes no longer responds to his email address, so I have modified this essay accordingly and also shortened it a bit. If a book mentioned is available on Amazon, I have provided a link to it--but note that these are seldom the same edition that Mr. Haynes purchased.]
One collector and Marcel Proust
I ask myself, me with a high school diploma, no French and a hearty antipathy to academia, how was I bewitched by Marcel Proust? Well, he is a magician and his prose is mesmerizing, traits he shares with many writers. Uniquely, however, Proust either chose, or in total submission to the necessity of art found no other subject worthy to write about but Time and Truth, the conundrum of existence that must be courageously illuminated and transformed into art. He enriches the lives of all who explore his work. Today, late in my life, his pursuit of a century ago and my own pursuit of him culminate in my collection....
As a teenager when I first learned of Proust and the subject of his novel, which some kind critic presented to me in comprehensible prose I thought Proust must be unique and I would have to scale his formidable mountain of prose. I was always drawn to long novels - the longer, the better. So that moment was really as inevitable as learning Earth is a sphere. Once I caught a whisper of the Recherche my rendezvous with Proust became destiny. Nor did it matter that I came to him prematurely, as a naïve, restless teenager. Aiming high and without a guide, my thirst for literature at the time was voracious and undiscriminating.
At about seventeen - hormonal, overreaching, and unprepared - I lost my way in the third volume of Scott Moncrieff’s translation of Remembrance. Despite initial disappointment I knew one day I would take it up again. I never forgot Proust and fifteen years later – living in near total isolation on a sinking float house at the remote northern tip of Vancouver Island I read it through from the beginning. And in a un-Proustian way I was not disappointed, as one often is reaching back for something from the past, aglow with all the golden adornments of memory. On the contrary, in the first flush of that initial success, while having barely scratched the surface Proust was not done with me. We were fated for a lifelong relationship. And thus it has been for thirty years. [More recently] I began aggressively to collect Proustiana in our contemporary way, on the Internet.
Reading Proust and Proustiana
For those who are curious I must insist that I have actually enjoyed reading most of the English language books I have collected. These include everything by Proust himself, except the longwinded and aimless Jean Santeuil which, like the author himself, I could not finish. Additionally I have read all the biographies, a great many of the books of background material, reference books and many of the books of literary criticism, especially the earliest ones, and the modern ones on Proust and Venice and on Proust as devotee and translator of Ruskin. Among my favorites are Samuel Beckett’s brilliant little essay, Pamela Hansford Johnson’s Six Proust Reconstructions, and Harold Pinter’s unproduced The Proust Screenplay and his collaboration with Di Trevis on a successfully produced theater adaptation. It is no wonder that interest in Proust and Proustiana remains robust nearly a century after his death. But despite my devotion and having read a great deal of and on such Proust I make no assertion of academic scholarship. One day my collection, a work in progress, will speak for me as an amateur bibliophile.
Collecting Marcel Proust in the New Millennium
Because I don’t speak French when I began collecting Proust in 2005, before I knew what excitement I was in for, I set the parameters of my ambition at first editions in English of all his works and the seminal works of biography and literary criticism. In pursuit of these, reading through lists on eBay and Abebooks, I got a sense of how oceanic this collecting field has become. It seemed relatively easy to track down what I wanted in English and by the time I had covered it I felt confident enough to pursue French original editions and other related material in French, for sifting through them in quest of material in English had made them familiar to me....
Today as a collector of Proust, my intention from the first was to form the best collection I could with limited means. I set a distant time limit as well. It is both self-indulgence and a speculative venture. I hope the total will prove to be worth more than the sum of its parts and produce financial rewards for my retirement after having providing me with great pleasure until then. To maximize its monetary potential I intend to hold on to it until near the centenary of his death in 2022.
What I found – highlights
In English translation I have complete sets of first editions of ROTP & ISOLT, US and UK, and many illustrated editions of the Recherche and Swann. The condition of all is “good to fine”. I have first editions of the seminal works of biography and literary criticism, letters and memoires.
At the apex of French language Proustiana there exists a despairingly finite number of “good” to “fine” autographed and inscribed (by the author) numbered copies of the original editions of the seven novels comprising ALRDTP on various special fine papers. There is almost but not quite nothing on the market at this level. Since I began there has almost always been one or two Grasset Swann’s, listed at from $5000 to $45,000, with prices subject to the normal rules governing the value of first editions. I never saw a one volume first edition of A l’ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleurs for sale at any price until now. This copy is in fine binding and slipcase from the library of Jean Schlumberger, at the time of publication a member of the NRF editorial board one of the first run by which so horrified MP when he saw the “microscopic” size font the printer used. It runs to 443 pages, eight fewer pages than a Grasset Swann. (The font in my paperback Penguin edition of A l’ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleurs in the Grieve translation is quite readable at 531 pages.)
I have gathered a few of the more affordable original editions of the later volumes of the Recherche. As of 2009 I have an original two-volume edition of La Prisonniere (1923) in a fine binding. I have the two-volume original edition of Albertine Disparue (Nov. 30, 1925) numbered 132 of 1200, in “good” condition. I also have a copy of Volume One of the original edition of Les cote de Guermantes, #678 of 800, in “good/very good” condition.
Foiled by the hard realities - extreme scarcity and astronomical prices - of collecting at the peak of the Proustiana market, I decided to buy what I could of the rarest titles I could afford including French original editions of second-tier items. My quest grew more interesting. Rather than try to repeat what has already been done better, I would attempt to form the most well-rounded and comprehensive collection possible. I bought not firsts but fine, serviceable editions of books that influenced Proust’s development by George Eliot and Thomas Hardy, as well as a sampling of Saint-Simon’s diaries, a collection of the letters of Mme. De Sevigne, Rousseau’s Confessions, Freud’s Psychology of Every Day Life, Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil, and Whistler and Montesquiou. The Butterfly and the Bat by Edgar Munhall – books and a few artifacts that animate the France of the Belle Epoque. (One such non-book item is a period Magic Lantern that might be the very one with which Proust himself projected those lantern slides depicting the life of Genevieve de Brabant upon the walls of his lonely room in Combray/Illiers). In French I have first editions of books and memoirs by his contemporaries and friends, the acknowledged social and artistic celebrities of the day. Two highlights of the latter are Reynaldo Hahn’s The Divine Sarah (Hahn’s biography of one of Proust’s idols, a prototype of the thespian character la Berma, and Hahn’s own close friend Sarah Bernhardt) and Le Journal de l’Abbe Mugnier, a Catholic priest whose “flock” occupied the golden pinnacle of Sainte Germain, and who usually supped with those who “dined” and never “ate”. In English I have first editions of Ruskin’s Sesame and Lilies and Amiens as well as of Philippe Jullian’s Prince of Aesthetes, a biography of Proust’s friend, the aristocrat, bon vivant, social tyrant and third-rate poet, Robert de Montesquieu; of My Blue Notebooks, the memoirs of the famous Belle Epoque courtesan Liane de Pougy; of The Proud Tower, Barbara Tuchman’s history of Europe from the Belle Epoque to the outbreak of WW I; of Misia, Gold and Fizdale’s biography of Misia Sert; and of Paris Sees It Through, the journalist H. Pearl Adam’s account of living through WW I in Paris. As well, I have books by and about Proust’s father, his Mother, and even a copy of a pamphlet for a lecture delivered by his brother, Dr. Robert Proust.