Biography of Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

Poet and French Narrator, born in Paris on July 10, 1871 and died in his hometown on November 18, 1922. Author of a complex literary production, mainly characterized by its exquisite sensitivity (which resulted in, among other implications, the coining of the adjective proustian synonymously with an exquisite, decadent and refined artistic product), is considered one of the most important creators of the French lyrics of all time, as well as one of the writers has had greater influence in the contemporary universal narrative.

Marcel Proust.


Born in the bosom of a wealthy family (his father, Adrien, was a celebrated physician who was teaching as Professor of hygiene at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Paris), lived as a child wrapped by a harmonious spiritual coexistence, forged by his father (practicing Catholic) religious ideas and those of his mother, Jeanne Weil (who came from a Jewish family). Thus, according to native spiritual tradition, the young Marcel was Jewish, because he/she was descended from the Hebrews; but, under the influence of the head of the family, he/she was educated as a Catholic Christian. This diversity of beliefs that forged his spiritual mood since his childhood was, perhaps, the first link in the chain of dualities and tensions that eventually surfaced in the rich and complex diversity of his character and his work. Moreover, the influx of their parents did not stop in their religious training, already that through his mother (which felt an intense devotion) was linked to some outstanding figures of the French political and cultural spectrum (Jeanne Weil was, indeed, descendant of the politician Adolphe Crémieux, and kept family relationship with the wife of the philosopher Henri Bergson).

At the age of nine, the small Marcel began to suffer the first symptoms of the severe asthmatic condition that would accompany him, from then on, until the end of his days. Given his feeble health, soon he/she left games and entertainment occupations typical of boys his age to take refuge in an intellectual activity compatible with their frequent pulmonary ailments. Thus, he/she studied with advantage secondary education in Lycée Condorcet, where he/she began to show signs of a marked inclination towards humanistic knowledge, which was not without prejudice so that, after graduation, he/she tried to overcome the fragility of its nature getting ready as a volunteer in the French infantry.

Already by then had gained strength in the young Marcel Proust firmly devoted to the cultivation of literary creation, though, to please the father will, once licensed military obligations he/she enrolled in the Faculty of law. Soon it was learned frankly discouraged before these studies of laws, in which only discovered content worthy of your interest in the subjects dedicated to literature and philosophy. Thus, eventually leaving the classrooms of right to integrate into a group of young writers and thinkers in which, beside Daniel Halévy and Robert Dreyfus, brought forward the Foundation of the journal Le Banquet, a cultural publication which soon achieved a considerable spread between the French of the time intellectuals. It was only the first step to entering the field of journalism and literature Parisians, where then would be only too well known thanks to articles which, through Léon Blum, published in La Revue Blanche; In addition, it also sat square of acute knowledge of the literary fact through articles that left prints at the prestigious Rotary Figaro.

More and more integrated in the intellectual and artistic panorama of his time, it locked friendship - among others - with the poet Robert de Montesquiou, an elegant Aristocrat who in 1893, introduced him in the finest salons of the Parisian nobility. Proust, who was shown already in his early writings, a pointed snobbery that made him feel dazzled by the reigning exquisite artificiality in these environments, finally surrendered to the forms and manners of the sophisticated and decadent French aristocracy, which soon would find abundant material for the construction of fictional spaces and their literary characters. Dedicated determination to writing (but highly interested, at the same time, by the knowledge of other artistic and humanistic knowledge), alternated his frequent visits to these aristocratic salons with long hours of work at his residence in Paris, until the printing press gave the first volume of his prose, Les plaisirs et les jours (the pleasures and days, 1896), which appeared in the windows of the French libraries with a laudatory foreword signed by one of the outstanding figures of the galas of late 19th century letters, Anatole France, who in that same year of 1896 had become part of the immortal Académie Française.

Thanks to the fortune of his family and the intimate relationship that bound him to the aforementioned Robert de Montesquiou, Marcel Proust found open doors of all aristocratic turn Paris houses, where extracted a large amount of real construction models of Les plaisirs et les jours, work which in its time was termed too frivolous and artfully sophisticated, although none of his critics left warn it a penetrating introspective sharpness which allowed Proust to characterize splendidly the psychology of his characters. This virtue, already outlined clearly in this debut, it would become to end in one of the main hallmarks of the literary production of the Parisian author.

Despite these accusations of dilettantism by critics, the stories of Les plaisirs et les jours were well received in the stately halls frequented Proust, who continued coming with regularity during the decade after the appearance of this work (i.e., until their health problems worsened), and which found consolation for two irreparable misfortunes: the loss of his father (which occurred in 1902) and his mother (happened in 1905). Her death was one of hits hardest in the life of the writer, since he/she had always remained attached to her by ties of affection that, on many occasions, they outdid the usual field of the materno-filial love to achieve the levels of an almost morbid passion.

However, these losses not interrupted his tenacious dedication to writing; rather, they caused that this would become the main reason for the existence of Marcel Proust, who, between 1896 and 1904, worked with burning in the development of the novel Jean Santeuil, work which, although he/she saw the posthumous light, constitutes the initial of his monumental literary legacy then published under sketch the title of A la recherche du temps perdu (in search of lost time). While still attending regularly the finest lounges (especially to the of madame Straus-Bizet, the most glittering of the Paris of the time), he/she perfected his knowledge of architecture, painting and sculpture, created new texts or reforming with amazing attention to detail the already written, and was delivered to the reading and translation of some foreign authors (in those years, was evident admiration for the work and figure of the philosopherart critic and English historian John Ruskin, who translated into French the Bible of Amiens and Sesame and lilies).

Towards the thirty-five years of age, coinciding with the pain that was causing the recent loss of his mother, he/she suffered a serious worsening of asthmatic ailments that had been suffering since childhood, which thereafter became a chronic disease that accompanied him until the end of his days. It began, then, to move discreetly of the worldly life that had been taking for more than ten years, and was detained in a small apartment on Boulevard Haussmann, in where an effort to concentrate only on the wording of his great project literary urged you, even ordered that the walls of his room were covered Cork, to achieve a full isolation from the outside world. It was then when actually undertook the complex construction of his monumental narrative cycle, A la recherche du temps perdu, composed of seven novels in a total of fifteen volumes of splendid impressionistic prose, whose very nature subjective and dynamic introduced a violent break with the realistic and naturalistic techniques in force until then, to raise the memory to the highest category of knowledge and interpretation of reality.

During more than three decades, Marcel Proust worked carefully and rigorously in the preparation of this complex narrative framework of strong autobiographical dyes, whose latest deliveries came to light between 1923 and 1927, when its author had disappeared. Since then, their influence has become a universal scope, both in the evolution of contemporary fiction and reflections that have taken place in the field of theory of the literature about this. The figure of Proust claimed as well the historical and emblematic dimension of the creator, desolate to the emptiness of the world that surrounds him, takes refuge in his own work to pursue, through the unique art, that longing for absolute purity that can give purpose to their existence.


The emergence, in 1896, of stories and short stories that formed Les plaisirs et les jours (the pleasures and days) revealed not only the existence of an author with an extraordinary sensitivity to penetrate the psychological character of his characters, but also the promising irruption of a young writer who, by means of a complex prose with acuityelegant and sophisticated, it intended to - at the time putting in accordance their environments and characters with formal expressions that reflected - move consciously from the realistic and naturalistic narrative formulas that, already by the late 19th century, offered their first symptoms of lag and exhaustion. In spite of the criticism the snobbery and appreciable dilettantism in this opera prima of Marcel Proust, the truth is that most attentive French readers were able to discover in it not only the newly targeted stylistic virtues, but also other qualities, such as acuity in the exercise of criticism, the firmness in the judgment and originality in intuition, they would have to succeed then fully in A la recherche du temps perdu, as well as in other "minor works" of the Parisian writer, as Pastiches et Mélanges (Pastiches and sundries, 1919), posthumous recoveries of Chroniques (Chronicles, 1927), Contre Sainte-Beuve (against Sainte-Beuve, 1954) and his poetic writings published under the generic title of Textes poètiques proustiens (texts poetic proustianos, 1979). But despite the intrinsic values of all these works, Marcel Proust would not never reached the category of writer universal if it had not built and published his monumental narrative cycle À la recherche du temps perdu.

In search of lost time.

Of the seven titles that make up this great tribute to memory as a way of knowledge, the first of them was born in 1913 at the expense of the author, under the heading of Du Côté de chez Swann (by Swann road). Several years later, before the impact achieved by this first installment, the famous Publisher Gallimard took charge of the publication and dissemination of the three episodes following, appeared between 1919 and 1922 under the titles of A L'ombre des jeunes filles in fleur (in the shadow of the girls in flower) - work awarded the prestigious Goncourt-, Le Côté de Guermantes (the world of Guermantes) and Sodome et Gomorrhe (Sodom and Gomorrah). Posthumously, saw the light between 1923 and 1927 the three latest deliveries of the cycle, presented under the headings of the prisonniere (the prisoner), the fugitive (the fugitive) and Le temps retrouve (time regained). By way of introduction, here is a concise outline argument of each of these parts of the cycle:

By the way of Swann (1913).

This first installment opens with the most famous passage of those who wrote Marcel Proust (and, no doubt, one of the best-known texts of world literature): evocation, through a fortuitous memory Association, children of the narrator in Combray. Indeed, a fact so trivial as the tasting of a cupcake that the Narrator had not returned to try from their childhood days allows you to recover the figures of a series of characters that filled its first years of existence (his mother, his grandmother, aunt Léonide, etc.), as well as the geographical space where he/she spent that period. Soon charge sharpness in the evocation of the Narrator two opposite directions that ran daily walks of the child: the Meseglise (which back him, in turn, to the memory of the characters that populated it, as Swann, Gilberte daughter and musician Vinteuil), and the road of the Guermantes (which leads to an area inhabited by a few aristocrats whose lives seem too unrealistic for the knowledge of the world that that child had). The novel continues with a kind of self-contained story which, under the heading of a love of Swann, reminisces about the love affair between this character and his future wife, Odette de Crecy. The bad reputation it enjoyed among high society forced Swann to attend other environments, like the House of the Verdurin, a few new rich who embody the aspirations of upward mobility, by means of the intellectual and artistic development of the bourgeois class. In the third and last part of this first installment, the Narrator already remembers himself as that teen distressed by their loving passion towards Gilberte, daughter of Swann.

In the shadow of the girls in flower (1919).

Some time has passed, and the Narrator, still in his early youth, has seen how faded the love felt by Gilberte, at the time that have been coming into his life other characters that expand their vision of the world, as the writer Bergotte and the actress Berne. Also they grow their spatial references, that, in this second installment, lead you to the trendy beach of Balbec, where he/she meets the young Robert de Saint-Loup, a relative of the mysterious Guermantes. His new friend introduced him in aristocratic circles and presents to his uncle, the baron de Charlus; However, the young protagonist is more impressed by the small group of "girls in flower" that just met (Andrée, Albertine, Rosamonde, etc.).

The world of Guermantes (1920-1921).

Integration, finally, in the desired space of the Guermantes takes place in Paris, where the Narrator manages to settle a depending on the residence of aristocrats. Now, his restless passion of love has led him to put eyes on Duchess, an unattainable ideal, nevertheless, followed until his retirement of Doncières, which is paying his military service the young Robert de Saint-Loup. From here, the events occur rapidly in the memory of the Narrator, who strikes up a friendship with the actress Rachel (lover of Robert), loses to her maternal grandmother and falls in love with Albertine, one of the "girls in flower". By that time (which goes regularly to the elegant salon of Mme. de Villeparisis), the protagonist discovers the status of homosexual of the baron de Charlus.

Sodom and Gomorrah (1922).

Again in the refined coast of Balbec, the narrative cycle continues delayed analysis of the amorous passions of the characters, now focused on the love of the baron de Charlus by violinist Morel, and the attraction he/she feels the Narrator to Albertine. Subsequently, the plot leads to the characters of the Verdurin village, where the Narrator feels about "intermittences du Cœur" that lead him to ask about the love that professes to Albertine. It is then when he/she discovers that it has been lesbian contacts with Mme. from Villeparisis, so he/she decides to take her urgently to Paris. In this fourth installment appears for the last time Swann, affected by an incurable disease.

The prisoner (1923).

In Paris, with Albertine retained by the Narrator waiting to marry her, again look the amorous torments of the protagonists. The baron de Charlus has been betrayed by her beloved Morel, circumstance that accentuates the jealousy, anguish and fears of the protagonist about the woman having per prisoner, which create continue to love. On the other hand, continues the adventures of the various characters, including the death of the writer Bergotte.

The fugitive (1925).

The musician Vinteuil, one of the distant inhabitants of Meseglise road, has emerged as a true genius, especially as a result of the composition of its Grand Septet. While you remember Charlus increasingly degraded by their loving vicissitudes, the Narrator is convinced that all these tribulations of life can only be overcome by the ideal of absolute that contains art, as in the example provided by Vinteuil. In line with these considerations, also warns that already does not feel love for Albertine, so it is preparing to release; but the young person leaks out before news of his imminent release, circumstance that returns to ignite the passion of the Narrator. Subsequently, the accidental death of the old "girl in flower" increases this passion of the love - already definitely useless - the protagonist. Confusion grows - both the readers and the own character - when the Narrator falls again for a young man does not identify which initially, but that turns out to be Gilberte, daughter of Swann; but this he/she married Robert de Saint-Loup, which at this point in the cycle converge, finally, the roads of Meseglise and Guermantes. In the line of so many other surprises as he/she has received throughout his tortuous love adventure, the Narrator will be soon know that Robert is homosexual, as his uncle Charlus.

Time regained (1927).

In the final installment of the cycle, the Narrator now appears in house of an unhappy Gilberte suffering because of the infidelity of her husband (who advanced the novel, lost his life). In the middle of World War II, the baron de Charlus continues lovers under enemy fire that falls on Paris, while the protagonist and Gilberte recall episodes of his childhood. The ancient splendour of the aristocracy has been thwarted by the emerging strength of the high bourgeoisie, as in the triumph of the Verdurin. After the war, the Narrator recognizes Mme. Verdurin as the current Princess of Guermantes, title to which has promoted after being widowed and contracted new nuptials. In his mansion, the protagonist takes to recognize his former colleagues of vital activity, since the weather has been distorting them to pathetic extremes. But new everyday events (like the sound of a spoon on the dishes and utensils) serve to wake up the echoes of the past, in its memory resulting in an ineffable sense of well-being. These happy memories will definitely drive to reconstruct the past of all the characters who have been crossing in his life, in an exercise of artistic production which, as in the case of the Vinteuil musician, serves to find a meaning to their existence.

Apparently, according to this hasty x-ray of its storyline, in search of lost time could be considered a memory cycle, since the actor is expressed in the first person and, in its reconstruction of a life, is identified on numerous occasions with the author. In addition, appear throughout the extensive text numerous characters that are not but the transcript of other real subjects that were present in the life of Marcel Proust, as Robert de Montesquiou (disguised behind the character of the baron de Charlus), or the aforementioned prologue of Les plaisirs et les jours Anatole France (easily identifiable after the fictitious figure of the writer Bergotte). However, the clear will to literary - and even philosophical - Proust, striving to raise the memory category of knowledge, and consecrating artistic creation as a supreme human activity, give a creative power that is rarely achieved in contemporary letters to in search of lost time. To this should be added of the French Narrator clear stylistic will, embodied in a subtle and elaborate language, as well as complex syntactic structures reflecting brilliantly, at the level of expression, irregular flow (sometimes labored, and sometimes overflowing) the evocaciones and memories.

It should be finally, influencing the philosophical dimension of the monumental work of Marcel Proust, directly related to the ideas of Bergson relating to time. As it can be seen from his literary legacy, only memory is able to offer the man a complex vision of the different States that the passage of time has left printed in reality, at events, in subjects who star in them, and even in the feelings of these (not in vain has been identified also this conception of memory which postulates Marcel Proust with the coetaneous theory of relativity by Albert Einstein).