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 Proust's unpublished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.
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.