France’s national library celebrates Proust 100 years after his death

France’s Marcel Proust, who died 100 years ago this week, is regarded as one of the greatest novelists of all time. To mark the anniversary, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France is hosting a major exhibition in Paris, where some of the secrets of Proust’s 2,400-page novel “In Search of Lost Time” are revealed.

In 1907 Marcel Proust, then 36 years old, embarked on what would become his masterpiece, a novel about memory and the essence of art. The project grew from one book to a second in 1912 and a third the following year.

“In Search of Lost Time” eventually grew to seven volumes – four published in Proust’s lifetime and three after his death at the age of 51 in 1922.

Unwanted masterpiece

“For a long time, I went to bed early…”, is how “In Search of Lost Time” begins, and it’s also how the story ends for many readers, who may find Proust’s prose to have soporific qualities.

Poetic and dreamy, sprinkled with dashes and parentheses, his sentences are exceptionally long – on average 30 words, twice that of most novelists.

After receiving three rejections for the first volume, “Swann’s Way”, Proust decided to self-publish.

Nobel-winning novelist André Gide, who was an editor at the time at NRF publishing house (which later became Gallimard), was among those who decided against Proust’s dense prose.

“The rejection of this book will remain the NRF’s greatest mistake,” Gide later wrote to Proust, calling it “one of the most bitter regrets of my life”.

Gallimard managed to lure Proust back for his second novel in 1916, “The Shadow of Young Girls in Flower”, which won the Goncourt Prize, France’s top literary award.

Paris exhibition

The Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BnF) in Paris is devoting a major new exhibition to Proust, which reveals the secrets of the writing of “In Search of Lost Time”.

“What will strike the visitor is the extent to which Proust works, corrects, writes in the margins, in the spaces between lines. He sticks papers in when he doesn’t have enough space. These are the famous ‘paperolles’, large strips of paper,” Nathalie Mauriac Dyer, Director of the Institute of Modern Manuscripts at CNRS, told RFI.

Small, dense, tight, crossed-out handwriting: the Marcel Proust manuscripts.
Small, dense, tight, crossed-out handwriting: the Marcel Proust manuscripts. © Isabelle Chenu / RFI

In “In Search of Lost Time”, we also find Proust’s famous madeleine – which started life as a humble piece of toast, as early drafts of the scene discovered in Proust’s notebooks reveal.

The mini sponge cake that has become the most famous detail in all seven volumes makes its appearance early in the first book.

For the protagonist, Marcel, “the taste of the madeleine dipped in lime-blossom tea that my aunt used to give me” releases a flurry of vivid memories, giving him access to the “lost time” he is searching for.

“This is the Proustian theory of involuntary memory caused by a sensation that recalls events that may have taken place years before. It brings back or recovers lost time,” explains Guillaume Fau, head of  the manuscript department at the BnF.

Severe asthma

Proust suffered most of his life with severe asthma, and although he liked to socialise – he had some torturous secret homosexual love affairs – he also spent long stretches in bed, writing with a tray on his knees.

“He was a very sick man. He often had asthma attacks that were not treated at the time. But when he worked, he worked in a Herculean, heroic, relentless way,” says Nathalie Mauriac Dyer.

His neurologist father urged his sickly son to get out in the fresh air and play sport, noting that asthma was not contagious.

But Proust’s mother was prone to mollycoddling, and from 1906 he followed her counsel, staying cloistered inside with a steady supply of caffeine and aspirin.

His respiratory problems would finally get the better of him. He died on 18 November 1922.


Source: France’s national library celebrates Proust 100 years after his death


Sir Lancelot: Exploring the History Behind the Legend

There is no doubt that most of us, in our childhoods and later in life, heard all about the stories and legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. For many, the stories of Arthur and his exploits were the integral part of growing up, and they continue to be the central aspect of what is a quintessentially British identity. But today, we won’t be focusing on King Arthur. Instead, our story shifts to one of his closest companions – a knight equally dashing and brave, whose legend is the central part of the Arthurian legend: Sir Lancelot. Depicted as one of the most gallant and brave of all the  Knights of the Round Table , Lancelot of the Lake is considered the epitome of that traditional, chivalric  romance that served as an inspiration and an ideal to many over the centuries. Continue reading “Sir Lancelot: Exploring the History Behind the Legend”

January 30: Remembering Richard Brautigan on his birthday


He was a meteor.

He was an author of such works as Trout Fishing in AmericaIn Watermelon Sugar and The Hawkline Monster, wedged between the Beat Generation and the hippie movement. He showered readers of the 1960s and ’70s with inspiring spare, proletarian ideals in his novels.

He was a poet who foreshadowed the vise-like, smothering grip that technology has over us today in the poem “All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace.”

He was, as biographer and admirer William Hjortsberg noted in Jubilee Hitchhiker, a writer who combined an “easy offhand voice” with “concern for average working-class people, his matter-of-fact treatment of death, and his often-startling juxtaposition of wildly disparate images.”   

Then he was gone. Continue reading “January 30: Remembering Richard Brautigan on his birthday”

My favorite French books of 2020

I LOVE to read. It’s a very big part of my life, and I use books to help me better understand the modern world that we live in. So far in 2020, I’ve read around 98 books (not including the stories I’ve read to my son 50+ times ;)!) I know that there are some bookworms in my community, so I thought I would share some of my favorite French books with you today. Whether you enjoy fiction or nonfiction, chick-lit or more serious subjects, I’ve got a recommendation for you! Enjoy 🙂
Take care and stay safe.

Comme une Française

😘 from Grenoble, France. Géraldine

One of the Most Iconic Bookstores in the World Is in Trouble—but You Can Help

Shakespeare and Company has weathered many storms, but the pandemic has been the most devastating of them all.

For over a century the legendary bookstore Shakespeare and Company has beamed out from the Left Bank of Paris like a lighthouse of literature.

The former 16th-century monastery on Rue de la Bûcherie, and its previous site not far away at 12 Rue de l’Odéon, has been a home away from home for the Lost Generation in the 1920s and the Beatnik generation in the 1950s, a publisher and reading resource for the likes of James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway, and shelter for the estimated 30,000 “tumbleweeds”—young writers and enthusiasts allowed to stay for free—over the years.

But the economic disaster wrought by the coronavirus pandemic has hit independent bookstores in France, including this timeless Anglophone institution, hard. Deemed “non-essential” by the government even during the country’s second lockdown, they were forced to close to in-person customers, while commerce for online behemoths like Amazon has soared. Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo herself warned city-goers: “Don’t buy on Amazon. Amazon is the death of our bookshops and our neighborhood life.”

Continue reading “One of the Most Iconic Bookstores in the World Is in Trouble—but You Can Help”