Selected Letters of Marcel Proust, Vol. 4, 1918-1921

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9780002570329: Selected Letters of Marcel Proust, Vol. 4, 1918-1921
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The final, moving volume of one of the greatest collections of correspondence in world literature. Foreword by Alain de Botton, author of How Proust Can Change your Life.

This final volume of the selected letters of Marcel Proust brings to an end one of the greatest and most moving collections of correspondence in world literature. It opens a few months before the last campaigns of the First World War and ends with Proust’s premature death, at the age of fifty-two, in November 1922.

In his last years, ill and aware that death was fast approaching, Proust seldom left his apartment, working desperately to revise and complete his great novel, In Search of Lost Time, and to oversee the tortuous publication of its first volumes. Yet, although his illness and his absolute dedication to his work meant that his range of human contacts – previously so broad – became increasingly constricted, Proust remained a prolific and brilliant correspondent until the very end. Through his letters he reached out to his wide circle of friends and acquaintances, to critics and fellow writers, and those letters vividly demonstrate that his great humanity, wit and linguistic virtuosity remained undimmed by his isolation and his failing health. They provide an unrivalled picture of post-war French society by an enlightened an often prophetic observer, and reveal, among other things, why Proust was such a great comic writer.

As Joanna Kilmartin observes in her introduction to this volume, ‘Proust is as good company in his letters as he was in life: droll, mischievous, mercurial, his self-deprecation and ceremonious manners masking a formidable erudition.’ In these letters, no less than in his fiction, the complexity and richness of Proust’s character are explored and laid bare to a degree that few artists in any age have ever achieved. The publication of his selected letters in English completes the remarkable self-portrait provided by In Search of Lost Time.

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Marcel Proust: Selected Letters, Volume 4 (Four): 1918-1922

Review:

In November 1920, Marcel Proust wrote to Paul Sonday: "Let us not confuse life", he opened, "with literature". Some hope. Ever since he started to publish, Proust's life has been mercilessly plundered for the detail it might throw on his massive Remembrance of Things Past. Every character, every scene, every conversation has been tracked down to some putative real-life source by Proust fanatics. 80 years after his death, filmmaker Raoul Ruiz took this pastime to its logical conclusion and wrote Proust back into his own Time Regained. But Proust's "life" writings, in the form of his voluminous correspondence, deserve to be read in their own right, not merely as a study-aid to Proust the novel but as an introduction to the fascinating, obstreperous, obnoxious and beguiling Proust the man. This, the fourth and final volume, comprises 271 letters from January 1918 to his death in November 1922. By this point in his life, Proust was consumed by his masterwork, desperate to finish before mortality caught up with him, which it did, tragically early, at the age of 52. His letters are, as ever, pitched at a high level of emotion: many of them begin with the complaint that the correspondent's previous missive had been "painful", "negative", leaving him "dismayed". But amidst the pain of the chronic bronchitis and asthma, there's sometimes unalloyed joy at receiving the compliments of his peers--André Gide, Gaston Gallimard, Léon Daudet, Wyndham Lewis. But the overwhelming sense is of a genius painfully fading, perhaps at greater length than he expected: "I've just passed through yet another period of death", he reported in March, 1921. "I'm aware that if it's tedious for the patient--it's no less so for those exasperated by these announcements of death postponed, the postponement moreover being of little benefit to a man who is no better than a corpse". 160 further letters prove there was life in the corpse yet. --Alan Stewart

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