The 14-Minute Marcel Proust

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Collecting Proust in the New Millennium

by Tremain Haynes

[Mr. Haynes no longer responds to his email address. I trust he will achieve his goal of reaching the centennial of Proust's death, but I have modified this essay to account for the fact that I can no longer correspond with him, 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.

The 6-volume Modern Library ebook

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.

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.

Poland's Daughter

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.

Immediately after his death and the gradual posthumous appearance in France of all seven novels in a confusing and garbled text, critics considered the Recherche too cerebral and analytical to lend itself to illustration. The critics were wrong and time has turned that opinion on its head. Today we may safely say that despite its interiority and psychological complexity, all Proust’s prose is highly adaptable to illustration. Metaphoric imagery and detail is one of the outstanding rewards of Proust.  There are dozens of illustrated versions of his work with new ones appearing regularly. Morelle’s aquatints for Un Amour du Swann (1998), and at the other extreme Brezet’s comic format lithographic work of the new millennium, could hardly take more differing perspectives. Combray (1998), A l’ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleurs (2002), and Un Amour de Swann (2006), are now in Brezet’s comic-formatted editions, with four years of labour intervening between their publications. While some considered these mere oddities and they certainly are not pure, they are reverent and sincere. They provide visual renderings only of the epiphanous moments of the novel, necessarily omitting the dense analytical prose. The more traditional watercolour illustrations of Van Dongen and Grau-Sala of the mid-twentieth century are informed by altogether different reference points from those of Brezet. Each has found its admirers. Here colour and line do not detract from the prose. I have included most of the illustrated editions in my archive. In this vein I purchased a fabulous large scale L’Affaire Lemoine numbered 108 of 110 copies. It was issued in modern fine linen binding of distinction and illustrated with twelve black and white engravings by twelve noted contemporary French engravers in 1971.

Now Comes Theodora

My greatest collecting coups to date lie in this area, three limited edition portfolios of engraved illustrations of immortal scenes and characters from ALRDTP. Inspired by the Recherche, I have catalogued them under “Spawn”. The earliest and rarest is one of just thirty-five folio copies of ten engravings by Varvara Zazouline, later known as Barbara Rhode. It’s very much a hands-on, homemade item, the front inscribed in the artist’s hand in red: Un Amour du Swann . . . Marcel Proust . . . vu par Varvara Zazouline en dix pointes siches originale (no date).I bought it for several reasons: foremost, it was there. Also it was the first attempt to illustrate Proust, the direct result of Andre Maurois’ influence. (Maurois was one of Proust’s early champions. He “discovered” Zazouline at one of her exhibitions in Paris and encouraged her to attempt it.) Additionally I purchased it because at the end of her life Barbara Rhode (Zazouline) lived a number of years with her daughter in Nelson, British C. U.. As art, her engravings appear somewhat tentative and perhaps less accomplished than the other two. Nevertheless they were groundbreaking. I found it on AbeBooks in the inventory of a Parisian bookseller. Then within a week or two a copy of Philippe Jullian’s portfolio, XV characters (undated), appeared in the inventory of a dealer in Los Angeles. Only 150 copies of the latter’s mannered engravings were printed. These have been called insipid but I find them greatly amusing. My copy includes an additional original pen drawing signed and inscribed by Jullian on the verso of the front cover, marked “Londres. 20.7.49”. His engravings decorated the Chatto and Windus uniform edition of ALRDTP (1949.) I have also a copy of that set in publisher’s blue Morocco  - #48 of 165. The last, largest and most luxe presentation of the three, Bernard Lamotte’s Proust Portfolio - the France of Marcel Proust is also the most ambitions and successful. In consists of twenty-five black and white engravings. In my opinion, this is the artistic highpoint of Proust illustration. This monumental work was printed in one hundred copies and created in Lamotte’s Manhattan studio at East 56th Street. I bought it from a San Francisco dealer. In 1954 thirty-one of Lamotte’s even more brilliant pastels graced the Heritage Press limited edition of Swann’s Way. Since I knew nothing of the existence of these folios before I found them on the internet, it seems reasonable to hope other folios of engravings by Proust’s other illustrators are out there – by Van Dongen? Grau-Sala? Liepke? Morelle? Pecnard? Wait and see.

Still in the category of “Spawn,” I have both translations of Maurois’ fantasy about Proust in England, Chelsea Way (1930 and 1952). These fifty-six page tongue-in-cheek rarities are limited editions and illustrated. I have Harold Pinter’s unproduced Proust Screenplay (1978). His ROTP: Play (2000) (co-written with Di Trevis) is a much later stage adaptation of his original screenplay. It was finally produced in 2000 at the Royal National Theatre to unanimous acclaim. Di Trevis followed this up with ROTP; A Rehearsal Diary (2001), her illustrated commentary on the process of staging it from conception to first night. Also in drama, Six Proust Reconstructions (1958), Pamela Hansford Johnson’s brilliant 1950’s BBC radio dramas freely adapted from the Recherche, cannot, in my opinion, be bettered. I would love to hear these professionally performed. But I will rekindle my own enormous pleasure in them when I reread them.  It’s no surprise that a number of rather labored novels have been spawned by Proust’s life and work. I think the best of these is a rather scathing who-done-it, Murder chez Proust (1994.) It succeeds at sending up both the academic pomposity and the overly reverential snobbishness of his academic and interested laymen devotees. Luxe editions of two Belle Epoque cook books have been published. These are perfect examples of the Proust Industry in full throttle. For is it not slightly scandalous on the part of publishers to make such an effort to associate Proust with fine dining when he had no interest in eating? His famous reference to that most humble of French tea cakes, the Madeleine, is hardly a basis for such extrapolation. It is true that he was often invited to dine with his aristocratic friends, where guests certainly “dined”. But, on the rare occasions he was well enough to join them in their gilded mansions, he hardly touched their food while, swathed in tattered scarves, sweaters and overcoats, he enthralled them with his conversation and impressions of absent personages such as Montesquiou. He rarely ate anything at home but fried potatoes, iced beer from the Ritz, and once or twice picked at a scrawny chicken.

I’ve acquired more than fifty fine bindings, including a few from Andre Maurois’ library, such as Robert de Billy’s Marcel Proust. Letters and conversations (1930). Maurois was an early biographer of Proust (1949), and during the 1930s and 1940s a literary beacon in the Proustian firmament. I have a copy of Maurois’ own Supplement a Melanges et Pastiches de Marcel Proust, #525 of 1100 copies.I was fortunate, when searching for an original edition copy of his first publication Le Plaisirs et les Jours (1896), to find a copy in a leather craft binding by Anthony Gardner, O. B. E.. I have a sixteen-volume full Morocco Oeuvres complete and another fifteen-volume full leather uniform edition of ALRDTP (1929-1933). Another fine binding rarity is Georges Gabory’s Essai sur Marcel Proust (1926), in quarter green Morocco, #12 of 20 on lavender paper known as ‘violettes de parma”. Also on colored paper, green, in a fine Morocco binding from the venerable hands of Paul Affolter, who worked in the basement of his brother’s bookshop, where Proust often sent Celeste to buy the books he wanted. It is Robert Dreyfus’ Souvenirs sur Marcel Proust (1926). (This is the rarer of two copies in my archive.)  My copy of Charles Briand’s scurrilous Le Secret de Marcel Proust (1950) #240 of 260 copies in a fine gray moiré folder in a slipcase is possibly from the bindery of Alain Devauchelle. These two volumes that comprise Le Secret, of dubious academic distinction since the first contains questionable scholarship and the latter is undoubtedly a tissue of lies and aspersions, are nonetheless rarities as well as items of beauty.

Today and in closing

In our day it seems the Proust Industry pumps our more and more academic treatises on Proust and the Recherche. (Yet, with all that, no up to date bibliography has appeared since V. E. Grahams in 1975.) With a few exceptions, such as the comic book versions, The Lemoine Affair, Proust and America, Proust’s English, Proust As Interpreter of Ruskin, etc., I have tried with less than perfect success to steer clear of current publications. This decision is subject to revision and as time passes I am certain to add recent and future publications. For example, I hope and expect that before 2022 some of the earlier works on Proust, published in German (Curtius) and in French (Proust’s letters to Reynaldo Hahn) will appear in English for the first time and I will add those to my collection.

Question? Comment? Newsletter? Send us an email. -- Stephen Fall

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