Marcel Proust self-published his often-rejected masterpiece “Swann’s Way” 100 years ago, a major literary event celebrated in an exhibit of his drafts, edits, and notebooks at New York’s Morgan Library & Museum through Apr. 28.
Imagine, Proust paid to publish his “Swann’s Way” (Du côté de chez Swann), the first of his seven-volume “In Search of Lost Time” (À la recherche du temps perdu), one of the most influential literary works of all time.
In “Marcel Proust and ‘Swann’s Way’: 100th Anniversary”, The Morgan presents a selection of the renowned author’s
- Notebooks — “Am I a novelist?” he wonders. He notes memories (“involuntarily memory” as well as voluntary), which appear somewhat disguised in his novel.
- Preliminary drafts, handwritten and typed, of his long intricate sentences, cross-outs, numerous rewrites… In his first corrected typescript copy of its first chapter, Proust crossed out his original opening passage, and replaced it with what would become one of the most memorable opening lines in literature: “For a long time, I went to bed early.”
- Galley proofs with his extensive edits. Click here for a video and album of his heavily corrected galley sheets from a volume included in the exhibition. Guest curator, the Proust scholar Antoine Compagnon, provides commentary.
- Photographs and period postcards depicting people and places that greatly affected the author’s life and work.
- Several letters between Proust and his adored mother, Jeanne, from The Morgan’s collection, are included in the intimate exhibit. His mother’s death, which Proust grieved deeply for the rest of his life, was a key motivation for writing “In Search of Lost Time”.
- In his letter to composer Gabriel Fauré admiring “Le parfume impérissable“, Proust says he finds the piece “intoxicating”. He uses it as a model for the musical phrase that wafts through this work.
It’s thrilling to see the master’s thoughts. These rare items, most from the Bibliothèque nationale de France (National Library of France), provide intriguing insight into Proust’s creative process, and the birth of his extraordinary work that had a profound impact on modern literature.
For all writers in search of publishers, remember that even Proust suffered three rejections.
“It was so easy to write these volumes,” he noted. “But trying to get into print, dealing with publishers, seem to be overwhelming tasks.”
So Proust himself self-published. He paid to have “Swann’s Way” published — with the condition that it appear exactly as he had written it.
“This decision, reached after so much difficulty and so many disappointments, turned out to be the right decision for his book, which was to go through one of the most unusual protracted, and expensive productions in the history of publishing,” wrote William C. Carter in “Marcel Proust: A Life” (Yale University Press). “But once ‘Swann’s Way’ was in print, Proust would never again have to justify his enterprise or go begging for a publisher.”
So, on the actual 100th anniversary of the pub date, Nov. 8, (re-)read “Swann’s Way” in the best way, with Proust’s favorite treat, a madeleine soaked in tea.
For more info: “Marcel Proust and ‘Swann’s Way’: 100th Anniversary” through Apr. 28. The Morgan Library & Museum, www.themorgan.org, 225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street, New York, N.Y., 212-685-0008. See also its two other exhibitions, “Drawing Surrealism” through Apr. 21, and “Degas, Miss La La, and the Cirque Fernando” through May 12. The Morgan Library & Museum began in 1906 as the private library of financier and collector Pierpont Morgan. In 2010, the Morgan completed the first-ever restoration of its original Charles Follen McKim building and Morgan’s private library. The 2006 expansion was designed by architect Renzo Piano.