Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Évelyne Bloch-Dano on Mme Proust

Biographer Évelyne Bloch-Dano spoke yesterday at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Jeanne Weil Proust, Marcel's mother. Bloch-Dano is an engaging speaker; her affection for Mme Proust and her son was especially evident in the passages from family correspondence and In Search of Lost Time that served as stopping points in her talk.

Here's one such stopping point, a note in which Marcel gives his mother instructions for the next day's work on translating John Ruskin's Seven Lamps of Architecture. I love the final sentence:

My dearest Mama,

From midnight to 12:15 I stood guard at the door, hearing papa blow his nose but not reading the paper, so I didn't dare come in.

Tomorrow morning, will you be good enough to translate for me on the large format paper I've left you, without writing on the back; without leaving any blank space, tightening up what I showed you from Seven Lamps . . .

Also, I'd appreciate it if you could copy the attached page circled in blue pencil (I started to circle the back of it in blue pencil, but that doesn't count). Start with the first word (which is: in our view), finish with the last word (which is: to find you, for) without worrying that the meaning is cut off; don't copy anything from the back. But keep your copy as well as the attached page for me, which I will need to consult.

I have the feeling I'm doing better and in any case I'm smoking a good deal less. I'm getting to sleep without taking anything. I'm the one who opened the bottle of Vichy water.

A thousand tender kisses,


[October 1899 (?), quoted in Madame Proust: A Biography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 207-208. Translation by Alice Kaplan.]
Something that surprised me in this talk: the details of a notebook in which Jeanne Proust chronicled the deaths of her mother, father, and husband. In a 1912 letter, Marcel mentions his finding the notebook. Philip Kolb, who edited Proust's correspondence while teaching at Illinois, made reference to the notebook in 1953, and one of its pages was reproduced at some later point in the catalogue of a Proust exhibition. The notebook is now lost.

Évelyne Bloch-Dano is visiting several American cities to talk about Madame Proust. I can't find a full schedule, not even at the author's website. But via Google, I've found announcements of talks at Berkeley (October 23) , Duke (October 25), and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (October 27).
Related post
Madame Proust

All Proust posts (Pinboard)

comments: 2

John Guzlowski said...

Hi, Michael, I enjoyed the post -- especially the letter. I don't know much about Proust beyond the novels, but the letter tells me a lot.

Imagine a life that sweet and fulfilling!

About that last sentence, it reminded me of W C Williams' poem "This is just to say":

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast.

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.

Michael Leddy said...

Nice, John! — I wish I'd thought of the WCW connection. Thanks for sharing it.