Proust Archives to be Auctioned at Sotheby’s
Archives of ‘world’s longest novel’s’ author, including letters, photos, and proofs, to be auctioned in Paris.
Nowadays, reading Marcel Proust is usually seen as some sort of literary milestone – another mark to tick off on the must-read classics checklist (and something that this writer admits he has yet to achieve). That’s one of the downsides of having your novel be widely known as the ‘longest novel in the world’. Of course, anyone who takes a peek into the one-million-words-plus of Remembrance of Things Past knows that the writer holds much more than that mere record.
Arguably, this mammoth work is the most important single novel ever published in the Western world. To honor the writer’s legacy, Sotheby’s announced that it will be holding a sale of some 120 items from Proust’s personal archives in Paris (sold by the writer’s 41-year-old great-grand-niece Patricia Mante-Proust) – including a hand-corrected proof, photographs, and letters. The auction will commence May 31.
Remembrance of Things Past stands as a gigantic tome that defies any genre classification or convention, being partially autobiographical, though also fictional, and collecting together memories, dreams, events, and philosophical ideas into one great tapestry. Scholars have been excavating the book for ages, trying to track down the real life analogues to the characters, places, and works of art that Proust describes. Thus, pieces from the archives will probably be of great interest to any serious fan.
Some of the notable items are the photos, which depict Proust, his family, and close friends Lucien Daudet and Reynaldo Hahn, who were also his lovers. These hold special literary interest as well, since Proust’s sexuality was only revealed after his death, and it is widely speculated that the author hid traits of his lovers within some of the main female characters of the book. One of the images shows Daudet casting a dreamy gaze at Proust, while leaning an arm on the writer as another friend stands off to one side. The 1896 picture was deemed compromising, and the writer was ordered by his parents to get back any prints of it in circulation.
Also of literary note in the sale are letters from Proust to his father, who did not accept literature as a proper profession. The narrator’s relationship with his parents is also a theme in the novel, which famously opens with a description of his night terrors as a child and his dependence on his mother for comfort.
The crown jewel of the sale will most likely be the actual handwritten proofs for “In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower”, the second part of Remembrance, that includes crossed out passages and corrections. An original edition of “Swann’s Way”, the first volume of Remembrance, which was published in 1913, will also go up for sale. Experts estimate the entire collection will go for 520,000 to 740,000 euros ($600,000 to $850,000).
The daunting Proust has held a certain appeal for decades, and will probably continue to do so until someone churns out the next humongous tome worth looking at (though, the contender for the Proust of this century is the Norwegian Karl Ove Knausgård and his six-novel long autobiography). And for those who haven’t poked at it yet, perhaps it’s time to take a dip into “Swann’s Way”…
This story was written in-house, with an AFP report as background and multiple sources. Image courtesy of Gallimard