Joyeux Anniversaire, Monsieur Proust!

Today, July 10, 2013, is the anniversary of Marcel Proust’s birthday; he would have been 142 years old, had he managed to hang on for this long. Not that he probably would have wanted to; in ill health since childhood, in pain and and frequently unable to breathe to the point where he thought he would suffocate to death, when he wrote the ending to his magnum opus, In Search of Lost Time, he told his companion Celeste, “Now I can die”.  He was only 51 when he died in 1922, but today, we will celebrate his birth and his life. Bon Anniversaire, Marcel.

Marcel Proust by Nadar

Marcel Proust by Nadar

Marcel Proust, the greatest novelist of the 20th century, was as great a reader. He read, among many others, Balzac, Ruskin, Baudelaire, Shakespeare…and his French counterpart and alter-ego, Colette. He said that reading was “…that fruitful miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude.” Anyone who has ever lost themselves in a book, letting pots boil over and the madeleines in the oven burn while they wander the halls of Tara or the hills and hollows of Middle Earth, only coming back to the “real” world dragged by the smell of smoke or the sirens of the fire engine, will nod their heads in agreement with Marcel. A good book speaks directly to our souls, bypassing our ears, and we listen with every part and fiber of our selves, the madeleines be damned.


Madeleines, unburnt

Parisian by Heart, my first novel, was written out of my love for Marcel and the work of his life. To honor Marcel, who features prominently in my novel, on his birthday, I have two signed copies of Parisian by Heart to give away. Just leave a comment here on this post, or like this Facebook page.  The giveaway will end at midnight on July 12, 2013.

“There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.”     Marcel Proust

May those fully-lived days of your childhood continue throughout your life.


Beaucoup Proust Sightings

It seems that in this, the 100th year anniversary of the publication of Swann’s Way, you can hardly turn over a page without finding Marcel Proust hiding within it. And that’s not even counting the sightings found in the New Yorker magazine, every week, any year. I keep little sticky notes nearby when I am reading, so that whenever Marcel jumps out from a page, yelling “boo!” and laughing maniacally, I can write his name on the sticky note and slap it on the page, thereby quieting Marcel and my own fears that I will lose the sighting if I don’t mark it’s place. Or that maybe, the whole thing was a hallucination…

Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks

Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks

Non, I was not hallucinating the not one but two sightings of Marcel in Oliver Sacks’ book Hallucinations, unless they are unusually persistent hallucinations. On page 9, writing about a patient of his experiencing hallucinations, Dr. Sacks says: “Her hallucinations had become ‘shyer’, she said, and now occurred only in the evening, if she sat quietly. I thought of the passage in Remembrance of Things Past where Proust speaks of the church bells at Combray, how their sound seemed muted in the daytime, only to be heard when the hubbub and blare of the day had died down.”

And on page 154, while writing about how the brain stores and retrieves memories, he tells us: “We now know that memories are not fixed or frozen, like Proust’s jars of preserves in a larder, but are transformed, disassembled, reassembled, and re-categorized with every act of recollection.”

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

I actually thought, as I was reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, that it was In Search of Lost Time as told by a 12 year-old girl and a middle-aged Parisian concierge. The literary allusions and themes were all there, including Vermeer’s View of Delft. This sighting is “spoken” by Paloma, the 12 year-old: “But then another idea surfaced thanks to these mirror neurons. A disturbing idea, moreover, and vaguely Proustian, no doubt (which annoys me.) What if literature were a television we gaze into in order to activate our mirror neurons and give ourselves some action-packed cheap thrills? And even worse, what if literature were a television showing us all the things we have missed?”

Speaking of action-packed cheap thrills…

Custer by Larry McMurtry

Custer by Larry McMurtry

One wonders what Marcel would have thought about being found in a book about the long-haired Golden Boy of the West. After all, Proust was in the military too, albeit just for the one year of his mandatory service.

Larry McMurtry’s Custer is a coffee-table type book, more a series of essays on Custer, his life and the Battle of Little Bighorn, with many photographs and pictures to augment the text. McMurtry says, on page 8: “I was attracted to the notion of a short life of Custer in part because the short life is itself a lovely form, a form that once was common in English letters: there’s Henry James on Hawthorne, Rebecca West on Augustine, Nabokov on Gogol, Edmund White on Proust, and myself on Crazy Horse.”

Somehow I don’t see Proust riding hell-bent for leather across the Southwestern plains after a band of Sioux and Cheyennes. But wait, no, there I see him, in his uniform, on a dashing black stallion, trailing madeleines and a white silk scarf behind him as he rides…..mais non. Je suis halluciné

Proust in his military uniform

Proust in his military uniform


Thank you to everyone who participated in my anniversary contest (; for your comments on that post and your ‘likes’ on Facebook. You are all winners in my book, I wish I could give you all prizes, but alas, names must be tossed into the hat and winners chosen, so…..drum roll please!

The two winners of the two sets of postcards are: Dorothy Randall and inksterpop!

The winner of the set of postcards and the button is: David Tripp!

And the winner of the Grand Prize, the set of postcards, button and signed copy of Parisian by Heart, is: Sheila Dalton!

Congratulations to all, and please, winners, send me an email to marimann (at) cox (dot) net with your mailing address so I can send out your prizes. And Sheila, also let me know to whom you want your copy signed (to you, or to someone else, if you wish to give it as a gift).

And congratulations, Monsieur Proust, on your 100th year anniversary of Swann’s Way, and congrats to me, on my 6th year anniversary of this blog.

Now, Calm Down and Read Proust.

In Search of Lost Time for 100 Years

One hundred years ago, in 1913, the first of Marcel Proust’s seven novels that would become A La Recherche du Temps Perdu, was published. At that time, the title was translated in English as Remembrance of Things Past; now, in a better translation, it is known as In Search of Lost Time.

A La Recherche du Temps Perdu

A La Recherche du Temps Perdu

Six years ago, on February 18, 2007, I began the Madeleine Moments blog, as a way to share my love of Proust and his work, which I had just finished reading for the first time. I also created this website.

Marcel Proust

Marcel Proust

There are many events and activities going on around the world to honor the 100th anniversary of the publication of the first of In Search of Lost Time’s seven novels, entitled Swann’s Way. One of the best ways to find out about these activities is to follow this Pinterest board.

Not on Pinterest? Then here’s a couple of links to follow: The Morgan Library has an upcoming exhibition, described here- “Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time is one of the most influential and ambitious literary works of all time. The Morgan celebrates the 1913 publication of the first of its seven volumes, Swann’s Way, with a fascinating selection of the author’s notebooks, preliminary drafts, galley-proofs, and other documents from the collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.” (Click here for link)

Here is a great website by one of Proust’s biographers, William C. Carter:

Marcel Proust by Nadar

Marcel Proust by Nadar

Always wanted to read Proust but need a support group? Join this group on Goodreads (I belong to this group for my second reading).

Or go to Etsy and buy a Mini Marcel to watch over you while you read.

What events and activities are going on all over the world to celebrate this 6th anniversary of the Madeleine Moments blog? Glad you asked, let me go look…..well, okay, there aren’t any, so how about I have a giveaway? Prizes, anyone?

My novel featuring Marcel Proust

My novel featuring Marcel Proust

Leave a comment, and you’ll be entered in the giveaway. I have two of these Year of Reading Proust buttons, and several sets of postcards featuring the first page of Time Regained (the last of the seven novels) and the final page. So here’s the prizes: two lucky winners will receive a set of the two postcards. One lucky winner will receive the set of postcards and a button. And one incredibly lucky winner will receive the set of postcards, the button and a signed copy of Parisian by Heart. You can also enter the giveaway by liking my Facebook page or leaving a comment.

What could be better than prizes? Haiku!

“Proust lures the waves, then

Sends them out again, and we

Lie, awash in words.”

Don’t forget to leave your comment, and the contest will end on February 18th, 2013, on my 6 year anniversary.

Marcel Proust est mort aujourd’hui en 1922

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 Au revoir, Monsieur Proust.

Father We Go…

…is the title of my second novel, which I have just finished on May 28, 2012. This book required lots more research than my first one, Parisian by Heart, even though, like that novel, it is a work of fiction. But also like that first book, it is based on historical events. In Father We Go, I have written about the early attempts at colonization, from the first failed English attempts at Roanoke to the eventually successful one at Jamestown, to attempts by French Huguenots and the Spanish. The time period spans from the 1500’s and 1600’s to the Depression years to the present, in a bit of time-skipping. The voices of the narrative include colonists, lost and otherwise,  a few of the multitudes already living on this coast before the colonists arrived, Native Americans, the man who named Knotts Island, Eleanor Dare’s daughter Agnes, and stones that sing.

Here’s a snippet:

His wife woke again when she heard the trunk open. She got out of the car and walked around to the back. Louis was there, pulling a wire brush out of a toolkit they had back there in the trunk. At his feet on the ground was a dirty brown-ish rock. He gave her a quick look, his eyes shifting away from hers quickly as he bent and picked up the rock and carried it and the brush over to the bank of the river. She stood with her hands on her hips, waiting for him to speak and give her some sort of explanation, but when none came she let her breath out in a whoosh, yanked her purse off the car seat and headed into the woods. Regardless of whatever tomfoolery Louis was up to now, she had to pee. When she came back out of the woods, he was back at the trunk of the car. He’d wrapped the stone in that burlap bag he kept for gathering what he called “specimens” and was placing it carefully in the trunk, making room for it among their one suitcase that they shared, the toolbox, and the other junk he’d picked up on this trip. Well, if he wasn’t going to speak, she was.

“What is that, and what do you think you’re doing with it?”

That glancing look again.

“Can’t look me in the eye, huh?”

Now he turned to look her in the face, his eyes on hers for so long that she almost spoke again before he did. But then he spoke.

“It’s a rock. It’s got some kind of writing on it. I’m taking it because it might have some kind of value, maybe we can find someone who can read the writing. It might be Indian.”

“Louis Hammond, you listen to me. That there rock is a tombstone, and what you’re doing is illegal. You put that rock right back where you found it and let’s get moving.”

“It’s not a gravestone, it’s too small and why would there be a graveyard out here? There’s nothing else out here and there’s no other gravestones.” He slammed the lid of the trunk closed and moved toward the driver’s door and got in. She stared after him for a moment, then went to her side of the car and yanked the door open.

“I’m warning you, Louis, if you take that rock you’re going to be in trouble. If you show it to anyone, they’re going to call the police and you’ll go to jail. And I’ll tell you another thing, I’m not going to get in trouble with you. Do you hear me, Louis?”

She straightened up from settling her purse on the car floor at her feet and looked at Louis. He was just sitting there, staring out the windshield of the car at the river.

“Louis, I said, do you hear me?”

He turned his eyes toward and gave her that long stare again. What is the matter with him? She shivered a little, despite the heat inside the closed car.

“I’m taking the rock and I’m going to find someone who can read it. If you don’t want to do this with me, you can go home, we’ll call your folks next town we get to and get them to cable some money for you to take the train home.”

Now it was her turn to stare at him, her mouth open.

“You would do that? You would send me home and go on without me, over some stupid rock? Why, Louis?”

He looked back at the river and leaned forward to turn the key in the car’s ignition. The car started up but Louis didn’t put it in drive and begin to move. He just sat there, staring at the river.

“Because the rock told me to.”

Now the hard part begins; editing, proofing, formatting…it took us nearly two years to do these things for Parisian by Heart,  I hope it won’t take that long for Father We Go!

My thanks to Patricia Herlevi for her review of Parisian by Heart.


Book Review

Parisian by Heart

Mari Mann

(Kindle & Amazon)

In turns delightful, witty, clever and intriguing, Mari Mann’s novel “Parisian by Heart” reminded me of the absurd Kafka at times, and at other times, a modern magic realism novel. At the heart the novel, told in a first person voice, we meet a woman with a mystery to solve. She gazes through the looking glass of her past to uncover when she developed an obsession for everything Parisian. Even more fascinating, this character, Suzy dabbles in the metaphysical world, bringing up soul travel, lucid dreaming and past lives. However, I don’t want to give the entire story away.

Mari Mann structures her chapters after the tarot deck Major Arcana cards. Then she provides readers with a puzzle made up of tarot card themes, histories of famous literary and arts figures, not to mention a cameo appearance by Julia Childs who shows…

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