July 10, 1871 – Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust:
“Love is a striking example of how little reality means to us.”
Somehow, the above quote is better in French, but then most things are:
L’amour est un exemple frappant de la façon dont la petite réalité nous paraît.
I have often thought of my spouse’s work as rather Proustian. Like the famous French novelist, The Husband’s art always has as a main theme – Time, and like Marcel Proust, he takes a very long time to produce his work. There are twelve volumes of Proust’s novel A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu which was published over a period of 15 years. It was published in English as Remembrance Of Things Past. This monumental work changed the traditional narrative of the novel to recreate the sense of memory, the past together in thought with the present, as each moment of the present becomes the past.
It is a landmark in gay literature. Volume Four, Sodom And Gomorrah, has long sections about queerness and the entire novel contains gay characters, considerations and experiences. Proust was not really at ease with his gayness. His trysts were most often with working-class guys or with his own servants. His deepest and most satisfying relationship was with his chauffeur, who lived with his wife in Proust’s townhouse. He also had an affair with his secretary, Albert Nahmias, who brought about the name for the novel’s love interest, Albertine.
Proust was the son of a wealthy Catholic doctor and his Jewish wife. He grew up in Paris near the Champs-Elysées. He had his first asthma attack when he was nine years old and suffered from asthma for the rest of his life.
His father died in 1903, and his mother two years later. Before their deaths, Proust mixed with the richest and highest of society in France, mostly in the Paris Town Houses or at the country estates and chateaux of his wealthy friends. He based his characters on real life people. After the deaths of his parents he increasingly withdrew from social life and lived mainly in the bedroom of his apartment on the Boulevard Haussmann. When he went to male brothels and sex clubs, Proust liked to be whipped and humiliated. Who among us does not?
Wealthy from his inheritance, he typically slept during the day and wrote at night, lying in the blue bed in his bedroom, which was walled with cork for silence. The bedroom is on permanent display at Musée Carnavalet in Paris. His last public appearance was at the New Year’s Eve ball given by the discreetly gay Comte de Beaumont in 1921.
I have only read volume one: Swann’s Way, but I intend to read the entire work before I check out for good. I suppose I better get started.
Many smart people consider Remembrance Of Things Past to be the greatest novel of 20th Century. If you want to cheat, my research finds at least 10 films based on Proust’s writing. I have only seen two, both seem to have gotten it right: Swann In Love (1984) with Jeremy Irons and Time Regained (1999) with Catherine Deneuve and John Malkovich. I highly recommend the very readable Marcel Proust: A Life by Edmund White. Considering the subject, White’s biography is slender and superb.
More Proust Quotes:
“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”
“Desire makes everything blossom; possession makes everything wither and fade.”
“It is often hard to bear the tears that we ourselves have caused.”
“Love is not vain because it is frustrated, but because it is fulfilled. The people we love turn to ashes when we possess them.”
“Love is space and time measured by the heart.”
Today is Proust’s 150th birthday. He is celebrating alone with a box of