The 14-Minute Marcel Proust
Available at most Amazon stores in paperback and Kindle editions

HOME > PROUSTIANA 2

Collecting Proust in the New Millennium (continued)

I purchased copies of NRF magazines, in which parts of the Recherche first appeared in an edited version slightly different from what the author published later in the original editions. I acquired NRF debuts of “Les Intermittences du coeur” and “Le Mort d’Albertine”. I also bought some of Proust’s short stories and essays in their first NRF appearances, such as “Un Baiser (The Kiss)” and “Une Agonie”; and “A propos de style de Flaubert” as well as “A Propos de Baudelaire”. These early pieces illuminate shadows around the Recherche. Proust’s life story shows that he read and wrote almost constantly, long before he started ALRDTP. His early salon and literary pieces, his translations of Ruskin, his two posthumously published unfinished fictions Jean Santeuil– composed between 1895 and 1899 -and Contre Sainte-Beauve – following Ruskin and preceding the Recherche – his first and unsuccessful attempt to convey philosophy through art, are all in my archive.

These posthumous publications transfused thrilling new vigor into the scholarship and creative guesswork of devoted academics, men like Tadie and Milly in France and Enright and Kilmartin in England. In the last thirty years, the painstaking and seminal (but also flowery and self-indulgent) Scott Moncrieff translation, warmly received at first, has been subjected to harsh criticism and sometimes nit-picky and perhaps unfair and less satisfying revision. Entirely new English translations have appeared that purport to adhere more strictly to the now accepted texts – texts that in some cases were drastically revised by the academics mentioned above. All these and the commentary and criticism they spawned increased the scope of the collector who aims at thoroughness. Now the Proust Industry is self-perpetuating. It both whets and indulges an insatiable appetite.

Aside from the Recherche, Proust wrote tens of thousands of letters. He never wanted them published, and repeatedly asked the recipients to destroy them. One notes that he wrote CSB to convince the reader that works of art transcend the artist’s personality and biographical details, hence directly contradicting Sainte-Beuve’s theory that knowledge of the writer’s life provided the reader with all he needs to understand a writer’s work. Fortunately thousands of Proust’s letters were saved. Whether or not one agrees with Proust’s conviction a’ la CSB, neither the worldwide Proust Industry nor the recipients of his letters complied with the author’s wishes. His correspondence has been published in as many volumes and formats as his fiction to comprise one of the highlights of the Industry. The French engine of the Proust Industry, naturally enough, has published the most volumes of his correspondence. Only a few volumes of selected letters have appeared in English, the four volumes of Selected Letters and Mina Curtiss’s seminal Letters of Marcel Proust.

Mina Curtiss, whose work has been superseded by more recent and exhaustive editions, presented a milestone to the tiny circle of English speaking devotees when R. H. published her Letters of Marcel Proust  in 1948. Hers was the first collection of selected letters from Proust in English translation. More than fifty years later Other People's Letters (published in 2004 but copyrighted in 1972), her fascinating memoir of gathering the material that went into Letters of MP appeared. In her early fifties in 1947 Ms. Curtiss sailed bravely into the morose and sullen chaos of postwar, rationed Europe to find as many of Proust’s friends and acquaintances as might be still among the living. Under the impression that bourbon whiskey was then in at least as short supply in Europe as it was in the United States, she took a case of it and a cache of American cigarettes - for herself and as currency to loosen the tongues of the more reluctant members of his Parisian circle. She describes meeting Proust’s close friend, the roué Antoine Bibesco, who seduced her as he tried to seduce every woman. She met another Romanian, a woman, Antoine’s cousin by marriage, the Princess Martha Bibesco. A great beauty and for years after her debut the toast of Paris, by the time Curtiss met her, the Princess had become a bejewelled old crone. Cast out while still young from her hereditary Romanian property and wealth, the princess was always short of funds and learned to be resourceful. Like Christ feeding the multitude with a few loaves and  fish, only this time with a practical 20th century twist, the Princess leavened her truly brief and slight acquaintance with Proust into four insubstantial books, sustaining herself by exploiting the burgeoning appetite of the reading public for tales of him. His now famous housekeeper during his last years, Celeste Albaret, still young in mid-1940 became her friend and generously fed Curtiss many details about her time in Proust’s employ. Albaret looked after him during the most productive years of his life. Curtiss was one of the first to whom Albaret opened up about her maitre after a long silence after his death. Curtiss found many other friends who loomed large and small in Proust’s life, whose names would now be forgotten had not the chrism of a letter or two from Proust bestowed, if not eternity in the sight of God, something even better since it is a concept readers can grasp and might envy: a spell of “immortality” in the recipients own eyes as well as in the eyes of subsequent generations.

Still in the category of letters, I own a copy of the rare Lettres et Vers a Mesdames Laure Hayman et Louisa de Mornand recueillis et annotes par George Andrieux avec de Prefaces du Docteur Robert Proust et de Fernand Noziere (1928) and its companion volume in matching wrappers, the Hotel Drouot sale Cat Deux correspondences de Marcel Proust Laure Hayman, L. de Mornand (1928). The former is valuable for the Pref by his brother, who recorded nothing else about their relationship. The Drouot Cat was an inexpensive and surprising find on eBay, important because it includes a list of prices achieved at the sale, prices that today seem ludicrously low. The letters exchanged by Proust and Reynaldo Hahn (in French only) are tremendously interesting because Proust’s sexual relationship with Hahn, himself an accomplished and recognized musician, singer, and composer, while relatively brief, outlasted physicality and became more satisfying to both of them than any of Proust’s subsequent “loves”. An inexplicably rare copy of Volume III of Selected Letters 1910-1917 (1992) annotated and edited by Philip Kolb and translated by Terence Kilmartin came my way from Australia after a long wait.Only then could I appreciated how rare and valuable it is, having missed the chance to buy it on eBay at half the Australian price when I bid too cautiously and was blasted out of competition in the last five seconds. I haven’t found another copy since.

In the field of biographies and memoirs, highlights of my collection include Marcel Proust: His Life and Work by Leon Pierre-Quint (1928) and Du cote de Marcel Proust Suivi de lettres inedites de Marcel Proust by Benjamin Cremieux (1929). Another item of interest is the 1936 Le Professeur Adrien Proust (1834-1903) by Dr. Robert Le Masle, presented to the Faculty of Medicine of Paris to commemorate the 15th Anniversary of the death of Dr. Proust’s son. I also have the English edition of the vital Monsieur Proust: a Memoir by Celeste Albaret (1975).

In the field of reference I have almost complete runs of the two important periodicals, Bulletin de la Societe des Amis de Marcel Proust et des Amis de Combray and The Proust Research Association Newsletter.  I have even managed to find, inscribed, A Proust Dictionary by Maxine Vogely (1981) as well as the Frances Stern’s equally obscure Concordance to Proust (1987). Victor G.’s Bibliographie des etudes sur Marcel Proust et son oeuvre (1976), with 2274 listings, includes both French and English publications but only up to 1976. It has been most useful in the writing of my catalogue Elizabeth Russell Taylor’s Marcel Proust and his Contexts (1981), with 1393 items – with informative capsule appraisals of most – only slightly more up-to-date - is devoted solely to English-language scholarship. Although selective bibliographies appear in many works about Proust, and his oeuvre is nearly a century old, to my knowledge no comprehensive up-to-date, post G./Russell Taylor bibliography has appeared. Such a Herculean labour may well be a “golden egg” that will one day hatch a Doctorate for some fearless graduate student breaking new ground for a dissertation.

By far the majority of works on Proust are works of Literary Criticism. Yet, ironically, this most dynamic area of the Proust Industry holds the least monetary value and is of interest almost solely to academics. At more than a hundred titles it comprises the single largest section in my archive. They are included because I am the “interested layman” to whom academic publishers want to sell their books. Among rarities of Proustian lit crit in English is a copy of the Woolf’s Hogarth Press edition of Clive Bell’s Proust (1928). Not in itself hard to find but, based on its condition (vg/f) and the fact that it retains its dust jacket my copy may be unique. Another rarity in this field in fine condition and with its dust jacket is Samuel Beckett’s Proust (1931). A dust-jacketed copy of Wilson’s Axel’s Castle (1939) is also in the archive. The earliest titles in this line are Scott Moncrieff’s Marcel Proust: an English Tribute (1923 – US edition) and Edith Wharton’s The Writing of Fiction (1925 – US edition).  In French, I have Benoist-Mechin’s La Musique et L’ immortality dans L’ oeuvre de Marcel Proust (1926); Marcel Proust by Paul Souday in a fine binding inscribed to countess Andre de Fels (1926); and the important study Quelques Progres dans l’etude du coeur Humain, Freud et Proust, a fine copy, #31 of 375, uncut (1927), written by his devoted, long-suffering, and brilliant NRF/Gallimard Ed, Jacques Riviere. I find some of the most interesting and informative lit-crit items in my archive deal with Proust as a translator of Ruskin. Of these, one in particular stands out for its rigorous and convincing scholarship, Cynthia J. Gamble’s Proust as Interpreter of Ruskin – The Seven Lamps of Translation (2002). Michael Karlin’s Proust’s English (2005) ties in beautifully with the former to support Gamble’s premise that Proust actually did translate Ruskin into French, not without a great deal of help but, at the same time, uniquely, with astounding intuition as well as with his acknowledged intellectual brilliance.

continued in part 3