Biography of French Novelist Marcel Proust Part 1

About the famous French writer Marcel Proust, biography and history of the author.


MARCEL PROUST (1871-1922)

A literary genius of the 20th century, French novelist Marcel Proust dedicated his life to one major multivolumed masterpiece, entitled Remembrance of Things Past. Twice the length of War and Peace, Remembrance is a fictionalized autobiographical account of Proust's life within Parisian society before W.W.I. Proust spent 13 years writing, editing, enriching, and expanding Remembrance--a monument to detail and mental analysis. At his death he was still meticulously reworking the novel.

Born at Auteuil, a rural suburb of Paris, Proust was the son of a noted French physician and his extraordinarily beautiful Jewish wife. A frail, asthmatic child, he was spoiled by his overprotective mother. Proust attended school erratically because of his constant ill health. He spent many childhood summers in the country at the village of Illiers and, after it was discovered that the flowers of the region aggravated his allergies, at various oceanside resorts in Normandy. During these vacations, Proust developed a love for nature which he later exhibited in his writing.

After high school Proust served briefly in the army, but because of his poor health he was exempted from any strenuous duty. When he returned home, his father tried to force him into a diplomatic career. The pale, white-skinned youth, with his shag of deep black hair and slight body, compromised by studying law. He completed courses in philosophy and psychology at the Sorbonne and decided, against his father's wishes, to pursue a literary career. Proust was entranced with literature. His other obsession was Paris's flamboyant aristocratic and literary high society. For the middle-class Proust, entry into the famous salons of this social elite had become his goal in life.

An amusing and ingratiating conversationalist, Proust set out earnestly on his prolonged social climb. His ascent was a calculated undertaking in which he manipulated and fawned on important personages. They included Princess Mathilde, the niece of Napoleon Bonaparte, whose feet Proust would regularly kneel to kiss, and Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac, a blue-blooded snob, who became Proust's patron and the model for his sexually kinky character the Baron de Charlus.

Proust reached the social pinnacle that he had so desired to attain only to find that the people there were not the mental and cultural giants he had imagined them to be. Disillusioned, he suddenly changed his life completely in 1906 and became a near hermit in his apartment at 102 Boulevard Haussmann, where he dedicated his hours to writing about the elite society that had disappointed him. Over the next six years he wrote Remembrance and refined its first volume, Swann's Way, which was published at his own expense, after several rejections from publishers, in 1913.

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