Post-Proustian Sighting

Every now and then I see Marcel Proust mentioned or referenced somewhere and I post them here as sightings.  Sometimes the connections are uncommon or a little hard to see, as in this naming of  an “antioxidant skin-care product” called Combray.  Maybe someone can get back to me on why a product made of grapeseed oil would be named Combray?

Anyhow, other sightings are much more common or, shall we say, the connections are easy to make.  These sightings usually involve madeleines, as in this post by my favorite ex-pat food blogger David Liebowitz.  Not only does he seem to be a great cook, he’s a great read as well.  And he lives in Paris…sigh.  Here’s the link:

And here’s a challenge: Go read David’s post and find his Proust reference.  Then come back here and tell us about it in a comment.  Your prize will be a (used) copy of Paris Requiem by Lisa Appignanesi.   What’s this book’s connection with Proust? It takes place where and when Marcel lived and worked.  No, not Combray.  That’s an antioxidant skin-care product.


12 comments on “Post-Proustian Sighting

  1. Michael L. says:

    Mari, is there something here beyond the madeleines themselves?

  2. marimann says:

    Hi Michael~
    Yes, there’s one line in which David mentions Proust in connection with long-windedness (hint!); the title of this post (mine) is also a hint. But don’t make this harder than it is, I’m just looking for the two-line reference with Proust’s name in it.

  3. Michael L. says:

    Oh, now I see what you mean. Given that he was writing about madeleines, I figured the whole thing is Proustian. : )

    Speaking of madeleines, how would you say the ones from Starbucks compare the real thing? (I assume the ones from Starbucks are by definition are not the real thing.)

  4. marimann says:

    Is anything at Starbucks the real thing? 🙂 I have only had the ones from Starbucks once and didn’t think much of them, but the only other ones I’ve had were ones we bought in Paris and the ones I make myself. Not a fair comparison. I do know there’s plenty of argument over how the madeleine Marcel ate was made and how it tasted, everything from dry and dusty to crisp and crumby. I would say the Starbucks ones are on the dry and tasteless side, the ones I had in Paris were a bit sticky and eggy, and mine are lemony (or chocolate) and cakelike. Have you had the Starbucks ones?

  5. Michael L. says:

    I’d call the Starbucks madeleines “pretty good,” as Larry David would say. Eh. Not bad. Slightly spongy, not too sweet. It occurs to me that I know of a bakery (within an hour’s drive) where I might be able to get the real thing. If I do, I’ll let you know!

    (Just saw the typos in my previous comment — so I took more care with this one.)

  6. marimann says:

    Yes, let me know if you can find some at a real bakery. Of course we could probably order some from Paris- ha.

    Are you a member of the Yahoo Proust group? I am and there’s some pretty interesting discussions going on over there. Here’s a link (you have to sign up):

  7. Michael L. says:

    I’ll have to look at that group (which I didn’t know about). Thanks, Mari.

  8. marimann says:

    I am declaring you the winner of my challenge because you tried the hardest AND followed my instructions to come back here to answer in a comment. If you’ll send your physical address to, I’ll send you the book I mentioned. Congratulations! 🙂

  9. Hi – Your post came up on a Google alert I have set up, and I thought I would comment on our product and why it is named Combray. In a year, I can count on one hand how many comments I have had (and from 2,000 or more customers, plus talking to others, etc.) where people recognize the name.

    Somehow it came about as an association with the product for me. We didn’t hire branding consultants, etc., and we’re not a big corporation. I can’t remember the moment when it came to me, but when it did it just seemed to fit. I wasn’t reading Proust at the time either. The product does inspire warm and comforting feelings, so I guess this is what brought it up as an association. Then, when you look at the word Combray, it is easy to read and say if you’ve never seen it, relatively easy to remember, and it looks good when written. Plus, it has the C A R B O of carbon, which is what the antioxidant is based on.

    I liked it when I thought of it, then much later (a couple of years), when the product was ready and ready to be named, we went through a whole cycle of names, and at one point everything reverted back to Combray.

    So, it really is not a literal reference or connection, we just though it fit.

    Now, I have never heard once from anyone who knows the Proust reference that they were offended by it. Everyone who recognizes it likes it. I was worried that perhaps a Proust scholar would be offended, etc. for using a Proust reference in a commercial setting. Then, I realized, the net result would have to be more positive for the recognition and appreciation of Proust, since Proust is so underappreciated in the US. So, I don’t think we can be accused of cashing in on Proust’s popularity. But, maybe more people would become just a little acquainted with his work. This is borne out after a year or so – an extremely low number of people in the general population recognize it.

    In the end, I look at it as an homage to Proust and Swann’s Way, and I hope you feel the same way.

    If you would like, you can email me your contact info and I will send a sample to you (david at

    • marimann says:


      Your reply is a wonderful surprise, and I am heartened to hear of the responses you have gotten to using the word Combray. Your story of how you came about naming the product, the warm and comforting associations, the cycle of names and the eventual coming back to Combray, is so Proustian in itself that Marcel himself might have been pleased. I can’t imagine that he would have been offended with your use of the word, although he might have wanted a little mention of himself and the novel somewhere as well?

      My grandmother, who is dead now, used to use a product that is still on the market and when I smell it, I am taken back to her time and place. Maybe someday, if your product is successful, it will inspire a similar involuntary memory in someone who will then be grateful to you for returning to them, if only briefly, their loved one. That, I am sure, would please Marcel.

      My sincere thanks to you for taking the time to share this with me and my readers and I do hope that your product and it’s name will help foster recognition and appreciation of Proust and his work, which is my hope for this blog as well.


  10. P.S. Mari, the free samples apply also to any other Proust lovers out there who comment on your blog or at your yahoo forum.

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