Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Marcel Proust
Marcel Proust ca. 1900
The turn of the twentieth century saw emerge many writers that had great impact on modern literature. One of them was Marcel Proust who is particularly famous for the length of his sentences, something that never irritated me having read Thomas Mann already at the age of twelve or thirteen. Also his approach to writing a novel was sort of revolutionary because he preferred describing the narrator’s experiences in the world to developing an ingenious plot and action. 

Marcel Proust was born in Auteuil, France in July 1871. Already early in his life an excessive sensitivity and frail health became apparent. During a walk in the Bois de Boulogne with his family when he was nine years old, he had his first attack of asthma and it was so severe that even his father, a renowned medical doctor, believed that he was going to die. Graduated from school Marcel Proust began his military service in 1889, but after one year he was discharged because of his poor health. He then went to the Sorbonne and to the École des Sciences Politiques to study law and later philosophy. 

During his studies Marcel Proust frequented different literary salons of high society ladies in Paris which earned him the reputation of a snob and social climber. Later he was said to have been one of the last dandies of the Belle Époque (the years preceding World War I). The family fortune putting him financially at ease, the only job that he ever had was as a volunteer clerk at the Bibliothèque Mazarine where he was conspicuous by his absence. 

As a writer Marcel Proust made his first steps already while still in school. He wrote regularly for different magazines, above all criticism, short stories and poems. A collection of those writings was published in 1896 under the title Pleasures and Days (Les plaisirs et les jours). The same year he attempted at his first novel, but abandoned it in 1899. He reused parts of the novel in his later projects, though. In 1952 the unfinished novel was edited and published under the title Jean Santueil. In the early 1900s, with the help of his mother and a friend who had better command of English, Marcel Proust translated The Bible of Amiens (La Bible d'Amiens) and Sesame and Lilies (Sésame et les lys: des trésors des rois, des jardins des reines) of John Ruskin into French. 

In 1903 Marcel Proust’s father died, his beloved mother followed in 1905. The loss hit the writer so hard that he stayed in bed mourning for a whole month during which he couldn’t stop crying. Afterwards he changed his life-style staying in Paris most of the time, writing at night and sleeping during the day. In order to be able to write in complete silence, he shut out all noise having his bedroom lined with cork, the window sealed and the chimney walled up. 

After having published several pastiches in different magazines, Marcel Proust set out to write a novel again, but couldn’t convince a publisher to print it. On Art and Literature (Contre Sainte-Beuve) appeared only in 1954. Marcel Proust’s following work was the cycle of novels that created his worldwide fame as a writer: In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu, also translated as Remembrance of Things Past). It consists of seven novels. Not finding a publisher willing to take the risk, Marcel Proust had to bring out the first novel, Swann’s Way (Du côté de chez Swann, also translated as The Way by Swann’s), at his own expense. It came out in 1913. The second novel was delayed by World War I and the author’s deteriorating health. Within a Budding Grove (À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, also translated as In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower) was published in 1919. The third and fourth novel, The Guermantes Way (Le Côté de Guermantes) and Sodom and Gomorrah (Sodome et Gomorrhe, also published as Cities of the Plain), were released in two volumes each in 1920/21 and 1921/22. The final three novels The Captive (La prisonnière, also translated literally as The Prisoner), The Fugitive (La Fugitive, also published as Albertine disparue, translated as The Sweet Cheat Gone or Albertine Gone) and Time Regained (Le temps retrouvé, also translated as The Past Recaptured, Finding Time Again or Remembrance of Things Past) were edited and published posthumously by Marcel Proust’s brother Robert in 1923, 1925 and 1927 respectively. 

Malnourished and worn out Marcel Proust caught pneumonia and died from it in November 1922. His grave can be found at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

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