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28.6.13

'For a long time, I went to bed early'

This year is also the centenary of the publication of Du côté de chez Swann, the first volume of Marcel Proust's landmark roman-fleuve À la recherche du temps perdu. In June 1913 Proust was correcting the proofs, making significant changes, and the book would finally appear that November. The following year, the love of Proust's life, his one-time taxi driver and then secretary, Alfred Agostinelli, would die in a plane accident, to be resurrected as Albertine, the (female) love interest of the book's narrator. Edouard Launet wrote an article about the anniversary (L’atelier d’écriture de Proust, June 26) for Libération (my translation):
In September an avalanche of books analyzing and commemorating the anniversary will sweep into libraries. An avalanche, it must be said, that began at the beginning of this year. The most unusual of these works, and most certainly the most expensive (189 euros), is a large coffee-table book published by Gallimard and edited by Jean-Yves Tadié, who traces one of the most unbelievable literary paths of the 20th century. At the beginning of the month of April 1913, Proust received from his editor, Grasset, the first proofs of Swann, which he would completely rewrite in two months. "There is only one line out of every twenty in the original text that remains unchanged," the pale writer confided to his friend, the art historian Jean-Louis Vaudoyer, in a letter dated April 12. "It is striped with words, corrections in all the white space I could find, and I glued papers to the top, bottom, right, left, etc." In April and May, the amount of text would double, characters would be redefined, the famous opening phrase («Longtemps je me suis couché…») would be the object of much indecision, and most importantly the title of the novel sequence would change: goodbye, Les Intermittences du Cœur; hello, A la Recherche du temps perdu. That is, the work was truly born during these few weeks of almost hieroglyphic scratching, between the sound-proofed walls of a bedroom at no. 102, Boulevard Haussmann, in Paris.
These first galley proofs, which so altered the identity of the book, were for many years in private hands and largely impossible to consult. Shortly before the death of their owner, collector Jacques Guérin, they were sold at auction for a large sum, and the book includes a facsimile of the first 29 pages of the proofs.

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