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Saturday, November 16, 2013

November 16 - Day that "In Search of Lost Time" Was First Self-Published

Madeleines de Commercy
Today in 1913, 100 years ago, the first volume of a novel by Marcel Proust (1871-1922), "A la recherche du temps perdu" ("In Search of Lost Time", aka, before 1992, "Remembrance of Things Past"), was published.

Proust began it in 1909, after eating a piece of a madeleine dipped in tea. He uses this experience as a central theme of his book, describing the involuntary remembrances he had of eating madeleines with his aunt in his childhood. (Julia Childs's recipe for them is here.)

Proust's book was turned down by several publishers. Garrison Keillor says that the editor of a prestigious French literary magazine advised Proust that it not be published because of syntactical errors, and he quotes another editor as responding to Proust:
My dear fellow, I may be dead from the neck up, but rack my brains as I may I can't see why a chap should need 30 pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep.
Proust put up his own money to self-publish the book, paying Grasset to print it. He worked on the subsequent six volumes the rest of his life, 1.5 million words, until he succumbed to a fatal illness. His brother published the final volumes based on manuscripts Marcel left behind.

Edmund White says that the book is "the most respected novel of the 20th century."

Justice Stephen Breyer
Associate Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has an interesting interview in the latest (November 7) New York Review of Books. It is an English translation of an interview in La Revue des Deux Mondes that he had with a French journalist.

Breyer says he used Proust to learn French when he was a legal intern in Paris for an American law firm, and the Recherche was the first book he read in French.  He describes Proust as "the Shakespeare of the inner mind".

The interviewer asks Breyer why he likes Proust so much. Here is his answer:
It’s all there in Proust—all mankind! Not only all the different character types, but also every emotion, every imaginable situation. Proust is a universal author: he can touch anyone, for different reasons; each of us can find some piece of himself in Proust, at different ages. For instance, the narrator of the Recherche is obsessed with the Duchesse de Guermantes. To him, Oriane embodies a slice of the history of France and glows like a stained-glass window, wreathed in the aura of her aristocratic lineage. Now, however different the situations may be, we have all of us—in our childhood, our adolescence, or later in life—admired from afar someone who has dazzled us for this reason or that. And when we read Proust, we get a glimpse of ourselves.
For more comments by Justice Breyer, click on this link.