First a few facts about Proust’s life and a few about the novel, and then to his death. Perhaps Proust got the idea that his one self was actually many selves because of the name his parents gave him: Marcel-Valentin-Louis-Eugene-Georges Proust. He was born on July 10th, 1871, in Auteuil, France, just outside of Paris and will live all of his life in Paris, with occasional vacations by the sea, until his death in 1922. His father (Adrien) was a doctor and his mother (Jeanne) was from a wealthy family, so Marcel will grow up knowing he’ll never have to really earn a sou. A brother, Robert, is born two years after Marcel and will become a doctor like their father, get married, have children and live a “normal” life. Marcel will never have a paying job, his serious relationships are with men, and he’ll spend most of the early years of his life as a social-climbing, party-going dilettante who occasionally writes fluffy pieces about parties or plays or concerts for local papers. This worries his parents, particularly his father, who pushes him to get a “real” job (Marcel will get a job, for one year, but it doesn’t actually pay anything which works out well because Marcel, through repeated requests for leave, will never actually work) while at the same time his mother, feeling guilty that it’s her fault that Marcel was such a sickly child, coddles him and encourages his “dream” of becoming a writer. Marcel will eventually begin to sleep for most of the day and write at night, having had the walls of his bedroom lined with cork to keep out light and noise, as well as dust and pollen and anything else that might aggravate his asthma. His health is also used by Marcel as an excuse when he begins to withdraw from the society life he’d worked so hard to enter. It is true that his illness did force him to make choices in his life that might seem odd, but it’s hard to say how much his illness really forced these choices, or if he just used the excuse of his ill health to live the way he wanted to live without having people (parents included) be too critical of him. Illness may be the excuse he used to those who might be critical, but Marcel reveals the truth behind the excuse to his housekeeper, Celeste Albaret. The reversal of night and day, the soundproofed room, the retreat into seclusion, are, in a way, Marcel’s 19th century version of the 20th century’s sensory deprivation tank, all done in service to the writing of the novel. Celeste says: “Now I realize M. Proust’s whole object, his whole great sacrifice for his work, was to set himself outside of time in order to rediscover it. When there is no more time, there is silence. He needed that silence in order to hear only the voices he wanted to hear, the voices that are in his books”.
The voice that Marcel most wanted to hear, the voice of his mother, is silenced in 1905. His father had died two years earlier, and while Marcel would always mourn his mother’s death as the greatest tragedy of his life, her death also makes him a very rich man, and free to live as he pleases. But perhaps to live up to her expectations, or perhaps to prove to himself (and his father, albeit posthumously) he really could make something of himself, or perhaps because his struggles to breathe kept death constantly before him, Marcel was determined to use the remaining years of his life to produce a great work of art. And so in 1910, Marcel begins work on what will become the first volume of the novel, Du cote de chez Swann (Swann’s Way). Published in 1913, its success validates Marcel’s choices and proves his worth and talent not only in his own eyes but also in the eyes of the literary world. Over the next twelve years, what Marcel had envisioned as a three volume novel will eventually become seven volumes, and Marcel’s greatest fear is that he will not live long enough to finish. Proust died on November 18, 1922, having written the final words of the novel in the spring of that year. His brother, Robert, helps edit the final three volumes after Marcel’s death, and with the publication of the final volume in 1927, Marcel-Valentin-Louis-Eugene-Georges Proust will take his place among the pantheon of the world’s greatest writers, for all time, lost time and time regained.
The above is from my website madeleinemoments.com. Au revoir, Monsieur Proust.