Monday, November 19, 2007

A visit to the Kolb-Proust Archive

I had the great privilege to see some items from the Kolb-Proust Archive at the University of Illinois today. Philip Kolb (1907-1992), professor of French at the university, edited Proust's correspondence and in so doing assembled an extraordinary archive for the university library. Caroline Szylowicz, the Kolb-Proust librarian, put together a sampling of materials for my visit — a tremendously generous gesture, as I'm just a dedicated reader, not a Proust scholar. Arrayed on a massive library table were letters to and from Proust, early editions of Du côté de chez Swann, an unbound limited edition of À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, and manuscript excerpts revealing Proust's capacity for endless revision by accretion, with galley passages and handwritten scraps pasted onto poster-sized sheets.

One highlight: a letter from Marcel, aged eight, to his grandfather, signed "Marcel Proust." Another: a lithograph of Jacques-Émile Blanche's portrait of Proust, accompanying the unbound pages of À l'ombre. Another: a letter from Proust to his former chauffeur Alfred Agostinelli. Parts of this letter surface in the narrator's letter to Albertine in The Fugitive. Another: a letter from Proust biographer George Painter to Philip Kolb, which I found by chance when I opened a copy of Du côté de chez Swann to read the last paragraph.

And one more: a letter from Jacques Rivière, editor of La Nouvelle Revue Française, dated October 12, 1922. Suffering from pneumonia, coughing constantly, Proust was communicating with his housekeeper Céleste Albaret at this time by writing notes on stray pieces of paper. He wrote several such notes on this letter, in a labored script that makes a poignant contrast to Rivière's elegant letterhead and confidently slanting signature. I copied one of Proust's notes:

faut-il être à jeun pour
prendre l'aspirine
William C. Carter's biography Marcel Proust gives a good translation: "Should aspirin be taken on an empty stomach?" Proust died on November 18, 1922.
Related post
Philip Kolb on Proust

All Proust posts (Pinboard)

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