Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Proust's supplies

Céleste Albaret, Marcel Proust's housekeeper, has been describing Proust's writing posture — "more than half lying down," with knees for a desk:

It was astonishing how fast he could write in a position no one but he could have found comfortable. The pen flew along, line after line of his fine cursive writing. He always used Sergeant-Major nibs, which were plain and pointed, with a little hollow underneath to hold the ink. I never saw him use a fountain pen, though they were becoming popular at that time. I used to buy stocks of nibs, several boxes at a time. He always had fifteen or so pen holders within reach, because if he dropped the one he was using it could only be picked up when he wasn't there, because of the dust. They were just little bits of wood with a metal holder for the nib — the ordinary kind used in schools, like the inkwell, which was a glass square with four grooves to rest the pen and a little round opening with a stopper.

"Some people need a beautiful pen to write with, but all I need is ink and paper. If I didn't have a pen holder, I would manage with a stick."

Céleste Albaret, Monsieur Proust, translated by Barbara Bray (New York: New York Review Books, 2003), 270–271.
I suspect that Montblanc, the maker of this dubious tribute, has no idea how far removed its efforts are from the spirit of Proust's writing. Note in the "About the Author" sidebar the reference to In Search of Lost Time/Remembrance of Things Past as "probably [Proust's] most important work." "Probably": in other words, Montblanc's people have no idea what they're talking about. O tempora, o mores!

But all's not lost. One can still buy Sergeant-Major nibs: here, for instance.

Related reading
All Proust posts (Pinboard)

[About the title: supplies is my word, and has become my family's word, for all manner of stationery items.]

comments: 5

flexnib said...

I actually bought similar nibs (and matching pen holder) in Paris last year! I cannot imagine writing In Search of Lost Time using such pens, though. Fountain pens, maybe.

Grapeshot/Odette said...

I see Marcel in the early days at a sidewalk cafe with a cool little Montblanc. Mine was acquired in a parking lot, partially run over, but now as good as new. Well, almost.

Michael Leddy said...

I like that Proust used such a modest sort of technology, but I also like his insistence on ink. No pencil!

Ann ODyne said...

I wonder if Mont Blanc has issued 'a tribute' to HOMER ?

Michael Leddy said...

Hah. There's a list here. The Hemingway is a beautiful pen.