Marcel Proust

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Marcel Proust (around 1900), photo: Otto Wegener
Proust's signature

Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust [ pru: st ] (born July 10, 1871 in Paris , † November 18, 1922 ibid) was a French writer and social critic. His main work is the seven-volume novel In Search of Lost Time .


Marcel Proust's parents, the doctor Adrien Proust and Jeanne Weil (1849-1905), married on September 3, 1870 in a civil act . The Proust family came from Illiers ( Département Eure-et-Loir ) and was Catholic, the mother came from the Jewish banking family Weil, which came from Alsace and near Stuttgart .

Marcel Proust was born on July 10, 1871 on Rue La Fontaine in the posh Auteuil district near the Bois de Boulogne . The political situation was determined by the end of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune uprising . Marcel was baptized a Catholic in August.

Jeanne Proust gave birth to her second son, Robert, on May 24, 1873. The Proust family moved from 8 rue Roy to 9 boulevard Malesherbes in August; both apartments were in the 8th arrondissement of Paris .

Proust spent his holidays with his family in Auteuil or Illiers near Chartres (who became Combray in his novels) or in seaside resorts in Normandy with his maternal grandmother. The Rue du Docteur Proust was named after the von Illiers father . As a tribute to Marcel Proust, the place was renamed Illiers-Combray in 1971.

At the age of nine, Marcel suffered his first asthma attack . In October 1882 he entered the Lycée Condorcet ; at this school he learned a. a. Jacques Bizet , Daniel Halévy and Robert Dreyfus know. During his time at high school, he fell in love with a girl named Marie de Benardaky and through friends found access to upper class salons such as those of Geneviève Halévy and Madame Arman de Caillavet . In 1887 the first attempts at writing school magazines with flowery names such as La Revue Verte or La Revue Lilas (named after the color of their paper) were made. In 1888 he was taught by the philosophy teacher Alphonse Darlu , who had a great influence on him.

After the Lycée, Marcel Proust volunteered for one year in the military in November 1889 in order to prevent the draft for four years; he served in the 76 e régiment d'infantry , which in Orléans was stationed. There he met Robert de Billy know. A year later, Proust finished his military service and enrolled in law school. In the same year he attended lectures by Henri Bergson , with whom he was largely related and whose perception-oriented concept may have had a certain influence on Proust from time to time. In September 1891 Proust went to Cabourg for the first time . He and his parents had previously traveled to the Channel Coast several times, including Dieppe , Trouville-sur-Mer and Le Tréport .

In 1893 Proust made the acquaintance of Robert de Montesquiou , one of the most dazzling (and self-indulgent) characters in Parisian life. The Dreyfus scandal began that same year and preoccupied the French public for 13 years. In his work, this scandal became the basis of the framework for social success or failure, depending on the political trend. In 1894 Proust met the composer Reynaldo Hahn , who set Proust's poems “Portraits of Painters” to music and with whom he had a passionate love affair for two years, until Proust turned to Lucien Daudet in 1896. Hahn and Proust remained friends until Proust's death, as evidenced by a lively correspondence, almost exclusively of which Proust's part has been preserved.

His regular visits to the exclusive salons of Madame Straus, Arman de Caillavet, Aubernon and Madeleine Lemaire during his student days made Proust an astute observer of the big bourgeoisie , whose picture he drew in articles for the daily Le Figaro , which gave him the reputation of a "court reporter" entered - Proust's admiration of the haute volée has partly ironic, partly comical features (which one can only enjoy after acquaintance with the world of Guermantes).

In 1895 Proust took an unpaid position as a librarian in the Bibliothèque Mazarine ; however he was more absent than present there. Proust had previously finished his law studies without an exam, but received his License ès Lettres in a humanities course . In the same year he began work on Jean Santeuil , a novel project that remained unfinished, but later significant parts of which were used in the search for lost time .

Proust's first book, Les plaisirs et les jours , was published in June 1896 . The presentation and price were more than luxurious. In February 1897 dueled Proust with the critic Jean Lorrain , who had made an ambiguous remark about Proust's friendship with Lucien Daudet ( une amitié spéciale ). Proust's seconds were the painter Jean Béraud , who had friends with him, and the professional fencer Gustave de Borda ("Saber Borda").

The year 1898 was dominated by demands for a revision of the Dreyfus Trial; In the same year Proust worked on a translation of John Ruskin's The Bible of Amiens , with which he was assisted by Reynaldo Hahn's cousin, the art historian Marie Nordlinger. Proust was fascinated by Ruskin's enthusiasm for art. Ruskin died in January 1900; Proust published an obituary in the Mercure . His Ruskin translation did not appear until 1904, another ( Sesam und Lilien ) in 1906; this time his mother's excellent command of English was useful. In the summer of 1900 Proust traveled alone and with his mother to Venice and with Bertrand de Fénelon, whom he admired, to Flanders and Holland .

Proust's father died in November 1903 and Proust's mother just under two years later. Proust then fell into a deep depression . He took a room in Versailles and did not leave it for five months. Since he had inherited a small fortune from his mother, he was largely financially independent.

On December 6, 1905, on the recommendation of his doctor Édouard Brissaud , Proust went to the sanatorium of Boulogne-Billancourt for six weeks to treat his neurasthenia . There he was treated by the Charcot student Paul Sollier with isolation and the induction of “involuntary memories”. Sollier had analyzed the phenomenon of “involuntary memory” mainly in his book Le Problème de la Mémoire and worked it out into a therapeutic approach.

From December 27, 1906, Proust lived at 102, Boulevard Haussmann . Summer stays in Cabourg and Trouville-sur-Mer followed , which helped him to get rid of his grief. In 1907 he hired Alfred Agostinelli as a chauffeur. In July 1909 Proust withdrew from the world and began work on his main work À la recherche du temps perdu ( In search of lost time (SvZ) ). In 1912 Agostinelli became Proust's secretary and their relationship became more intimate. Proust fell unhappily in love with him - the already engaged one.

Pages from A la recherche du temps perdu with Proust's handwritten corrections

On November 13, 1913, Du côté de chez Swann appeared as the first volume of the novel A la recherche du temps perdu by Grasset at Proust's own expense, after the novel was published by publishers and others. a. had been rejected by André Gide , the editor at the Gallimard publishing house at the time. Gide would later regret this as the greatest mistake of his life. In this edition Combray was still in the Beauce ; in the editions of Gallimard from 1919 onwards, the scene was moved to Champagne in order to be able to include Combray in the events of the First World War . Proust's publisher Grasset had ensured that the first volume of the SvZ was widely and positively discussed; In addition, in some cases Proust paid for the printing of positive “echoes” of these reviews, which he then wrote himself.

In May 1914, Agostinelli was killed in a plane crash, whereupon Proust fell again into a deep depression. The housekeeper Céleste Albaret joined Proust in 1914. She not only helped him with the housekeeping, but also became his closest confidante and collaborator who organized his manuscripts for him.

In 1916 the publisher Gallimard succeeded in getting Proust off the publisher Grasset and winning them over for his literary magazine La Nouvelle Revue Française (NRF). After the end of the First World War, the second volume of the research appeared there in November 1918 À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs and in 1919 a new edition by Du côté de chez Swann .

Proust moved one last time in 1919: his residence was 44, Rue de l'Amiral Hamelin, until his death. In the same year Pastiches et mélanges appeared . In December Proust received the Prix ​​Goncourt , the highest French award for literature, for the second volume of his research . A year later he received another extraordinary award: he was made a Knight of the Legion of Honor .

From 1920 to 1922 four further volumes of the research appeared , namely Du côté des Guermantes I and II and Sodome et Gomorrhe I and II.

In May 1921 Proust visited an exhibition of Dutch painting in the Jeu de Paume . When he wanted to look at the view of Delft by Jan Vermeer , he suffered a fit of weakness similar to the fictional character Bergotte in volume V of the SvZ .

In March 1922, Proust began an exchange of letters with Ernst Robert Curtius , a German Romanist, who was one of the first in Germany to point out Proust's outstanding position in modern literature.

Marcel Proust died on November 18, 1922, and on November 22, as a Knight of the Legion of Honor, he was buried with military honors in the Père-Lachaise cemetery next to his parents. The last volumes of the research appeared posthumously : La Prisonnière , La Fugitive and Le temps retrouvé . After the Second World War , the novel fragments Jean Santeuil and Contre Sainte-Beuve were edited.

Proust's homosexuality first becomes understandable in his letters to his classmates Jacques Bizet and Daniel Halévy, who leave nothing to be desired in terms of openness, but also show that Proust didn't seem to have a big problem with his disposition from a young age - this will then also clear in Proust's later examination of homosexuality in Sodom and Gomorrah I , which is characterized by a sensitivity that a person who is not affected could hardly muster, but differs pleasantly from "defensive writings" such as André Gide's simultaneous Corydon through a neutral observer's point of view . The fact that Proust's friendship with the two letter recipients did not suffer from his stormy advertising also shows that his social circle dealt with homosexuality in an astonishingly relaxed manner. Proust seems to have had his first love experience with Willy Heath, whom he met in spring 1893 and who died of typhus six months later . Proust dedicated his debut Les Plaisirs et les jours (Eng. Joys and days ) to him. In 1894, Proust met the composer Reynaldo Hahn in Madeleine Lemaire's salon, who is generally regarded as Proust's first great love affair, even if the evidence is extremely thin - Proust stormed Hahn in his letters, but nothing is known about his attitude. (Hahn was close friends with the pianist Eugène Risler, but the correspondence has not yet been published.) The affair with Hahn ended in 1896 when Proust turned to the 17-year-old son Lucien of the poet Alphonse Daudet, who soon turned to Jean Cocteau defected.

In 1906 Proust went on a trip through Holland and Belgium with his adored friend Bertrand de Fénelon, from which he had apparently expected more than Bertrand was willing to give, and after which the friendship was over. Bertrand's death in the first day of the First World War plunged Proust into a deep depression; in the fourth volume of the SvZ he set a monument by name to Bertrand : “the smartest, best and bravest being”. Until the death of his parents, Proust kept a low profile as far as his love life was concerned, but then began to frequent Le Cuziat's men's brothel "Hôtel Marigny" in the Rue de l'Arcade, which is his literary image in Jupien's brothel in Volume VII of the SvZ finds.

In 1913 the chauffeur Alfred Agostinelli reappeared at Proust's and moved in with his fiancée. Despite or precisely because of the hopelessness, Proust fell in love with Agostinelli, as is clear from the letters Proust wrote after Agostinelli "fled" to his family in Nice in the spring of 1914 and died shortly afterwards in a plane crash. The Agostinelli affair coined large parts of the volumes Die Gefangene and Die Esflohene der SvZ .

Probably Proust's first female childhood sweetheart was Marie de Bénardaky, a daughter of Russian parents who ran a musical salon on Rue de Chaillot. Along with her sister Hélène (called Nelly) and the two sisters Antoinette and Lucie Faure, she belonged to the circle of barlauf players in the Champs-Élysées, which the young Proust joined in the summer of 1886. In a letter to Princess Soutzo from 1918, he described her as "the intoxication and despair of my young years". Apparently she served in large parts as a model for the first love of the SvZ protagonist , Gilberte Swann.

Proust also had relationships with women. Above all, he had an exuberant admiration for the all too feminine, to which he gave himself especially when the woman was already engaged or married, like Laure de Chévigné nee. de Sade, whom he ambushed on their morning walks, Jeanne Pouquet, who was engaged to his friend Gaston Arman de Caillavet, or Louisa de Mornand, actress and lover of Proust's friend Marquis d'Albufera and also of Proust himself. In an interview from 1928 with the weekly newspaper Candide she confirmed her relationship with Proust.

Classification in literary history

Proust's main work is In Search of Lost Time ( À la recherche du temps perdu ) in seven volumes. This monumental novel is one of the most important narrative works of the 20th century.

In search of lost time is a fictional autobiography with a sophisticated structure: A largely anonymous "I", but possibly called "Marcel", tells of his sometimes unsuccessful attempts to remember his childhood and youth.

What he deliberately fails to achieve is finally made possible by a series of “involuntary memories” - sensory associations that intensely visualize past experiences and thus make them memorable; the most famous example is the taste of a dipped in tea Madeleine , who resurrects the place of his childhood, Combray, in all its fullness. At the end of the novel, the “I” decides to capture the time that has been re-experienced in this way and thus “rediscovered” in a novel.

While the first and final parts of the novel, which were originally created historically, mainly deal with memory and remembering, in the middle part, for example from the beginning of the girl's bloom , the "tremendous building of memory", which was already in prospect, is represented by precise, perspective-changing, sometimes ironic descriptions the sophisticated decadent society of the turn of the century and the inner workings of the viewer (the narrator) built up like a mosaic from the smallest of observation atoms. Proust's technique of assigning function to even the tiniest details simply through their excessive description was later further perfected by the Nouveau Roman .

Proust's novel is significant from a literary-historical point of view primarily because it stages the subjectivity of human perception with a hitherto unknown consistency, with all its disadvantages and possibilities: On the one hand, it shows that no one can recognize reality or truth as such, but at most has a subjective idea of ​​truth. On the other hand, every person unfolds a unique world in their subjective truth, every person is a separate cosmos.

Proust discovered narration, and thus literature, as a way of making at least parts of this unique, subjective world of an “I” accessible to other people.

The motif of the failing memory, with which an “I” torments itself and through which it experiences the fundamental inaccessibility of reality, is mainly taken up and reworked in French literature by Claude Simon , now with reference to the wars of the 20th century .

Works in German translation

Proust's grave ( Père Lachaise )
  1. Combray. ISBN 3-935890-06-0 .
  2. A love of Swann. ISBN 3-935890-22-2 .
  1. On the way to Swann. ISBN 978-3-15-010900-7 .
  2. In the shadow of a young girl's blossom. ISBN 978-3-15-010901-4 .
  3. The way to Guermantes. ISBN 978-3-15-010902-1 .
  4. Sodom and Gomorrah. ISBN 978-3-15-010903-8 .
  5. The prisoner. ISBN 978-3-15-010904-5 .
  6. The escaped. ISBN 978-3-15-010905-2 .
  7. The time found again. ISBN 978-3-15-010906-9 .
Bilingual editions
  • The indifferent / L'Indifférent. Translated by Elisabeth Borchers. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main, ISBN 3-518-37504-0 .
  • Les Poèmes / The Poems. Translated by Bernd-Jürgen Fischer. Reclam, Stuttgart ISBN 978-3-15-011158-1

Letters (selection)

Since his youth, Marcel Proust has written daily letters to various correspondents, which have been published since 1926 and which meanwhile comprise many volumes.

  • Robert de Billy, Marcel Proust. Lettres et conversations. Éditions des Portiques, Paris 1930.
  • Correspondance générale (1930–1936). 6 volumes.
A first edition of an exchange of letters with various correspondents, in alphabetical order, published by Robert Proust and Paul Brach.
  • Correspondance. 21 volumes. Plon, Paris 1971-1993.
This chronologically ordered edition, ed. by Philip Kolb, also contains the letters of the five-volume edition from 1930, as well as an extensive appendix with notes.
  • Marcel Proust. Lettres. Plon, Paris 2004.
A selection of letters from the 21-volume edition from 1971–1993, supplemented by unpublished letters, reviewed a. ed. by Françoise Leriche.
  • Marcel Proust: Correspondence with the mother. Issued u. translated by Helga Rieger. 4th edition. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 3-518-01239-8 .
  • Letters about the work. Ed. Walter Boehlich . Translated from Wolfgang A. Peters. 2 volumes. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1964.
  • Letters 1879–1922. Edited by Jürgen Ritte . From d. Franz. By Jürgen Ritte, Achim Risser a. Bernd Schwibs. 2 volumes. Suhrkamp, ​​Berlin 2016, ISBN 978-3-518-42540-4 .
  • Marcel Proust - Reynaldo Hahn / The correspondence . Edited and translated by Bernd-Jürgen Fischer. Reclam, Stuttgart 2018, ISBN 978-3-15-011170-3 .


  • La Bible d'Amiens . Translation of John Ruskin's The Bible of Amiens . 1896. (full text)
  • Sésame et les lys: des trésors, des jardins des reines. Translation of John Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies . 1906. (full text)


Reference books:

Monographs: (alphabetically)

See also:

  • Proustiana. Communications from the Marcel Proust Society. Insel Verlag. overview



Web links

Commons : Marcel Proust  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Marcel Proust  - Sources and full texts (French)

Proust societies


  1. ^ FemBio by Jeanne Proust
  2. Madame Proust: A Biography. In: Literary Review , Internet Archive
  3. George D. Painter : Marcel Proust. In: Encyclopædia Britannica .
  4. ^ William C. Carter: Marcel Proust: A Life. 2000, p. 33.
  5. As an introduction to the topic “Proust and the comic” see z. B. Hippolyte Wouters: L'humour du côté de chez Proust. Poche, 2016.
  6. Julien Bogousslavsky, Olivier Walusinski: Marcel Proust and Paul Sollier. The Involuntary Memory Connection. In: Swiss Archive for Neurology and Psychiatry. Volume 160, No. 4, 2009, pp. 130-136. ( PDF, 540.9 kB)
  7. Marcel Proust paid for positive reviews in newspapers. ORF website.
  8. (Corr. XVII, p. 175).
  9. The translation was controversial, it was heavily criticized, u. a. by Ernst Robert Curtius . The publisher then changed translators, see the following. The differences in the editions, also in the presentation, always in the book design of Georg Salter , form a broad field of work for antiquarians to this day.
  10. The cover story is also published as Days of Joy , e.g. B. Ullstein 1960 and copyright-free reprints
  11. Review of Tadié's Proust biography: Gerrit Bartels: The inside of the outside world. In: Tagesspiegel . December 29, 2008.