Marcel Proust was born in Auteuil as the son of an eminent doctor, Adrien Proust, and his wife, Jeanne Weil, who was from an Alsatian Jewish family. He attended the Lycée Condorcet (1882-1889) and in spite of his severe asthma did his one year military service at Orléans. He then studied law at the Sorbonne and the École des Sciences Politiques. He published his first works, Portraits de Peintres and Plaisirs et les Jours, in 1896. Proust's unpublished works from this period, Jean Santeuil, (an autobiographical work which was never finished) and Contre Sainte-Beuve, (the latter an attack of the criticism of Sainte-Beuve), were discovered in the 1950s. 
       His earliest love affairs, which had been heterosexual, changed later into homosexual affairs. Among them was Alfred Agostelli, who was married and was killed in an air accident. To the age of 35 Proust lived the life of a social climber in the Paris salons, although he worked for a short time as a lawyer and was also active in the Dreyfuss affair (of which he wrote extensively in A la Recherché) like Émile Zola and other artists and intellectuals. 

       When Proust's father died in 1903 and his mother in 1905, he withdrew gradually from society, lived in a sound-proof flat devoted himself on the Boulevard Haussmann; there he chiefly to writing and introspection. From 1910 he spent much time in his cork-lined bedroom, often sleeping in the day and working in the night. In 1912 Proust produced the first volume of his seven part major work, Remembrance of Things Past. The second book, which was delayed by the WW I, appeared in 1919, and the next parts made him internationally famous. The massive work occupied the last decade of his life. 

         The novel begins with Marcel's childhood recollections, which come to the writer stilted and distant. The form of remembrance which he seeks, finally begins to blossom with the  wanted warmth and intimacy of authenticity, when he tastes a madeleine cake dipped in linden tea such as he was given as a child. He returns via this precious flavour, and the reader embarks on a sumptuous journey with Marcel into the heart and mind of a precocious aesthete of turn of the century France.
    Superficially, the narration follows the lives of three families, Marcel's own, the aristocratic de Guermantes and the family of the Jewish bohemian dilettante Swann. Among the characters are faithless coquette Odette, whom Swann marries, Baron de Charlus (with a fetish for Balzac and Latin quotes), Duchess de Guermantes, Mme de Villeparisis, Robert Saint-Loup and Marcel's great love Albertine. 

      The book follows Marcel through his experiences and his singular personality - a journey rife with a colorful agglomeration of dreams which are constantly thwarted by the inevitable disillusion of encounter with real life. The narrator's vision, both neurotic and exceedingly perspicacious, make this journey a compelling and unique one, bristling with humor, irony, pathos, charm, and infinite beauty.  Remembrance remains a singular work in reference to this would-be hackneyed theme. This singularity resides in the fact that the cynicism garnered via age which casts its ominous shadow over most beings in the guise of severe negativity or inertia, never overtakes Marcel; he never stops searching and longing, is curiosity and love remarkably boundless  ...

        Although the narrator of Remembrance of Things Past is named Marcel, he is not actually Proust. Nonetheless, like Proust, throughout his life he is haunted by the constant desire to write a 'great' work. Towards the end of the Remembrance, the narrator  is  preparing, finally,  to write this elusive novel, yet it has only been the actual experience of living, of life itself, which has prepared him for this act. A la Recherché du Temps Perdu is, essentially, the final fruition of both Proust's and the narrators dream, and that presented here to the reader. It is considered to be one of the great paradigms of the modern literature, one whose influence and wisdom has been, and is, profound.

      Marcel Proust: A short literary biography

       Proust 's literary talent became evident during his high school years. He began to frequent salons such as that of Mme Arman, a friend of Anatole France. Under the patronage of the latter, Proust published in 1896 his first book, Les Plaisirs et les Jours, a collection of short stories, essays and poems. It was not very successful. 
       Proust had begun in autumn 1895 a novel which he later abandoned in autumn 1899 and never finished. It was finally published in 1952 as Jean Santeuil; it contains many of the themes to be fully explored later in Á la Rechere du Temps Perdu.

       After this second setback, Proust devoted several years to translating and annotating the works of the English art historian John Ruskin. He published a number of articles on Ruskin, as well as two translations: La Bible d'Amiens in 1904 and Sésame et les Lys in 1906. The prefaces to these early works anticipate Proust's subsequent stylistic and esthetic development. "Sur la Lecture," the preface to Sésame, contains themes which recur in Du Côté de chez Swann. 

       Articles which appeared during the period 1907-1908 are considered to be preliminary to his novel, into which they were later incorporated. 

       Early in 1908 Proust wrote for Le Figaro a series of pastiches in which he imitated the style of Balzac, Michelet, Flaubert, Sainte-Beuve and other prose writers of the nineteenth century. During this time he began he also began his major novel, although he fully intended to continue to write essays of  literary, artistic and sociological criticism. Gradually, however, all of his planned projects became part of a single larger work. During the summer of 1909 Proust developed the essay entitled "Contre  Sainte-Beuve" (translated as: On Art and Literature) into a novel which he would continue to write for the rest of his life. In May of 1913 he adopted for this novel the title Á  la recherché du temps perdu

       The first part, Du Côté chez Swann, was published in November 1913. War delayed  Á  l'ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleurs until June 1919, but it won the Prix Goncourt in December of that year. For the last three years of his life Proust never stopped working on the novel, and it was during these years that three more volumes appeared: Le Côté de Guermantes I  (October 1920), Le Côté de Guermantes II - Sodome et Gomorrhe I (May 1921), Sodome et Gomorrhe II (April 1922). 

       Proust died of pneumonia on November 18, 1922. The remaining  volumes of his novel, which he had finished but not completely revised, were published by his brother Robert, with the help of Jacques Rivière and Jean Paulhan, directors of La Nouvelle Revue Française. These volumes were La Prisonnière (1923), Albertine Disparue (1925),and Le Temps Retrouvé (1927).  In his own lifetime the merit of Proust's novel was debated by those who perceived  its brilliance and those who claimed it was unreadable. Today it is recognized as one of the major literary works of the Western canon.


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