Neuroscientist? Yes. Next president? Yes. Marcel Proust was a soldier too. He enlisted at the age of 18, in 1889, for one year of service, joining an infantry regiment at Orléans.
William Carter calls Proust a "strange but zealous private." Private Proust was permitted to live in a room in a private house because his coughing kept his fellow soldiers awake at night. He was excused from morning parades and jumping ditches on horseback. He went home on Sundays. He never learned to swim. After finishing his service as 63rd (of 64) in his class, Proust applied to reënlist and was turned down.
In the early sketch "Memory's Genre Paintings," Proust writes of his "regimental life" as "a series of small paintings," "filled with happy truth and magic over which time has spread its sweet sadness and its poetry." Évelyne Bloch-Dano reports that Proust "always had excellent memories" of his army days. His service is of course the background for the narrator's visit to Robert de Saint-Loup in The Guermantes Way.
Ghislain de Diesbach, quoted in Bloch-Dano's Madame Proust, likens Proust in the above photograph to "a clown disguised as a municipal security guard and a sultan's page trying out a dance step."
Bloch-Dano, Évelyne. Madame Proust: A Biography. Trans. Alice Kaplan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.
Carter, William C. Proust: A Life. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.
Proust, Marcel. Complete Short Stories. Trans. Joachim Neugroschel. New York: Cooper Square, 2001.
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Wednesday, February 20, 2008
By Michael Leddy at 12:53 PM