A prolific French writer, Marcel Proust, has had a lasting influential effect on literature. His stream-of-consciousness writing style proved that the author never found his place in literature or in the world. His writing style introduced a new depth of character analysis that had not yet been discovered.
Marcel Proust (born Valentin Louis Georges Eugene Marcel Proust) was born July 10, 1871 to bourgeois parents. He was born in Auteuil, France at the home of his great uncle. His father, Adrien Proust, was a doctor and his mother, Jeanne Weil, came from a rich Jewish family. From the time Marcel was born, he suffered severe asthma attacks that plagued his health for life. At age nine, Proust suffered a severe asthma attack and was know as a “sickly child”. He spent his holidays in the village of Illers. This village and his great uncles home became the setting for important scenes of In Search of Lost Time.
During his high school years, his writing began to take form and he wrote frequent short stories and poems. In 1889, Proust enlisted in the French army and served for one year stationed at Coligny Caserne in Orleans. This experience compelled him to write The Guermantes Way. Proust had a reputation for being a snob and an amateur.
In September 1905, Proust’s mother died and left him a wealthy inheritance. His health continued to decline during this time. Proust openly declared he was a homosexual and discussed it openly and at length. It was rumored he often visited Le Cuziat’s male brothel, a trait that has fascinated his biographers. Among his lovers was Alfred Agostelli, who was married and was killed in an air accident.
In Search of Lost Time
Perhaps known as Proust’s greatest achievement, In Search of Lost Time, was begun in 1909. It consists of seven volumes spanning 3,200 pages. Unfortunately, Proust died before he was able to complete the series. His brother, Robert, edited and published the last three volumes and completed the series in 1927.
In 1895, Proust spent several years reading the works of Carlyle, Emerson and Ruskin. Proust was an avid follower of Ruskin and claimed to know several of his book’s by heart. Ruskin’s influence on Proust inspired Time Regained, to which Proust says he was translating Ruskin’s Sesame and Lillies. Proust translated two of Ruskin’s works into French, he responded to critics, “I don’t claim to know English; I claim to know Ruskin.”
During this time, he also worked on an auto-biography that remains unfinished.
In 1907 he published Le Figaro in which he attempted to analyze memory and guilt. In 1908, his development as a writer continued to catch fire. He began work on several different essays that were later combined into the title of Contre Saint-Beuve. He continued to write this novel for the rest of his life. It analyzed women, stained-glass windows, tombstones, and a study of the novel itself. The conclusion of this important novel was to make a point that “biography was the most important tool for understanding an artist’s work.”
Marcel Proust’s strange behaviors made him socially inept. He withdrew from high society after the death of his mother and moved into a soundproof flat. He slept during the day and did all of his writing at night.
On November 18, 1922, Proust died of pneumonia. His brother Robert took an active role in the completion of his remaining novels and most were completed by 1927. During his lifetime, Proust was not hailed as a brilliant writer and the French claimed his works were simply, unreadable. However, modern society hails him as one of the major literary genius of French literature.