A French publishing house has made highly anticipated unpublished texts from Marcel Proust available to the public. What are they about and why did the author never publish them?
One-hundred years ago Marcel Proust (1871-1922) was awarded the Prix Goncourt, the most important literary award in his home country France. Just in time for the anniversary, the small Parisian publishing house “Editions de Fallois” has published novels, sketches and stories by the famous author that the public has never seen before.
However, the manuscripts did not just appear now. For quite some time they had been in the collection of Bernard de Fallois, Proust specialist and founder of the publishing house. He died in January 2018 and announced in his will that there were seven boxes of Proust manuscripts in his archive. According to an interview with France Culture, literary critic Luc Fraisse was then commissioned to sort through the manuscripts.
Now the highly anticipated new Proust texts have been published and will enter French bookstores under the title Le Mystérieux Correspondant et autres nouvelles inédites (The mysterious Correspondent and other unpublished novels). The texts have been edited by Fraisse.
There is much to suggest that Marcel Proust wrote the novellas and stories for his first novel Pleasures and Days (Les Plaisirs et les Jours, 1896). He was about 20 years old at the time.
But the young author decided not to include the texts, for which editor Luc Fraisse sees two possible reasons. On one hand, it could be that Proust was simply not satisfied with the result — most of the texts are incomplete.
Another reason could be that many of the texts deal with homosexuality, and Proust might have been embarrassed. The society in which Proust lived had strictly conservative morals.
Bernard de Fallois has also suggested that the decision not to publish the texts during his lifetime might have been related to the issue of homosexuality. His thesis: If Proust had added his stories about homosexuality to Pleasures and Days, that would have become the main theme of the work.
Beginnings as a writer
Marcel Proust made no secret of his attraction to men. His letters to the composer Reynaldo Hahn are a testment to this.
But the previously unknown texts, according to the Fallois publishing house, are “a kind of diary” of the author written under the “transparent cover of fiction.” In contrast to In Search of Lost Time (1913-1927), where there are repeated comical moments, Proust’s awareness of his homosexuality here is “only experienced as something tragic, as a curse.”
What also makes the novels so special is the fact that they make the genesis of Proust as a writer comprehensible. Experimenting with diverse forms of narration, he devoted himself to topics that he later returned to and that were already very much similar in style to his later major works. In a released statement, the publishing house states: “With this novella collection we get to the origins of In Search of Lost Time.”
An author of the 20th century
The colossal seven-volume novel is one of the most comprehensive and significant works of 20th century French literature. His first-person narrator sometimes remembers minute details of his childhood. The last three volumes of In Search of Lost Time were published posthumously.
Proust’s complete works include several other literary writings and thousands of letters that he began writing from age 17.
After having suffered from health problems from childhood, the author died on November 18, 1922 at age 51.