MARCEL PROUST AS A YOUNG MAN
By Évelyne Bloch-Dano
Who hasn’t heard of Proust’s famous questionnaire? The writer’s answers have travelled across time and all around the world, but people have forgotten that they came from an album called Confessions that belonged to Antoinette Faure, daughter of the future French President.
Marcel Proust didn’t realize that, by taking part in what was a fashionable parlour game, he would be revealing clues about his teenage self. His answers have elicited commentaries but have never been contextualised or compared, never dated accurately. Where and when did he answer this questionnaire? What sort of boy was he at the time? And most significantly, how much of that period and those friendships fed into his future work? What traces are left of Gilberte on the Champs-Élysées, Albertine’s little group and the “young girls in flower”?
Évelyne Bloch-Dano conducted this enquiry over many years. Using sometimes tiny clues, she managed to identify Antoinette’s other friends, some of whom may have known Proust.
A whole world came to life, revolving around the daughters of the late nineteenth-century bourgeoisie, many of them with connections to Le Havre like the Faure family. Some boys appear too. Through their ideas, their books, their customs, what they study and what they dream of, the portrait of a whole generation emerges. Marcel Proust’s generation. Young people born to the defeat at Sedan in 1870, in a vengeful republican France. The generation of General Boulanger, of political scandal and the Dreyfus Affair, but also of schools for girls, electricity, Great Exhibitions and the Belle époque. And later the First World War.
The biographer and essayist Évelyne Bloch-Dano is the author of several prize-winning and widely translated books, including most notably biographies of Madame Zola (1997, Grand Prix of Elle readers), Madame Proust (2004, Prix Renaudot for an essay), Le Dernier Amour de George Sand (2010), but also Jardins de papier (2015), and the more personal La Biographe (2007) and Porte de Champerret (2013).