By Dennis Abrams
We will, of course, be discussing the life and times of Marcel Proust in much greater detail as we proceed through the text, but I thought it might be useful at this stage to give you a short chronology of his life, while trying to put it into some sort of historic context. (The main source of much of this timeline is the website http://www.tempsperdu.com)
1871: With Paris in turmoil following the siege by the Prussians in 1870 and the brutal repression of the Paris Commune in May 1871, Mme. Proust left the city for the relative security of her uncle’s home in the Paris suburb of Auteuil, where she gave birth to her first child, Marcel, on July 10, 1871.
1873: Robert Proust, Marcel’s brother, is born on May 24.
1880: By the age of nine, Marcel has had his first asthma attack. He will forever be known as and treated as a sickly child, and later as a sickly adult.
1882: Enters the Lycee Condorcet, known until 1883 as the Lycee Fontanes.
1887-1888: Collaborates with schoolmates to publish a series of literary and artistic reviews.
1889: In November, perhaps shattering every stereotypical image you have of him, Proust enlists for a year of military service.
1890: Marcel enrolls in the Faculte de deroit and the Ecole libres des sciences politiques to prepare for a possible future as a diplomat, as his father, Dr. Adrien Proust, wished.
1893: Marcel publishes stories in the journal the Revue blanche. Urged by his father to settle on a career, Marcel decides to study to become a librarian.
1895: Begins work on his first novel. The work is never completed, and will be published posthumously as Jean Santeuil.
1896: A collection of his early pieces, with a preface by Anatole France, is published.
1897: Reads the works of John Ruskin for the first time. And, perhaps shattering whatever remaining preconceived image you may have of Marcel Proust, he engages in a loaded pistol duel with novelist Jean Lorrain.
1898: As the Dreyfus Affair escalates, Proust comes out strongly on the side of Dreyfus, writing “I was the first dreyfusard.”
1899: Work on Jean Santeuil stops as Marcel immerses himself in the work of John Ruskin. Begins translating (with the assistance of his mother) Ruskin’s The Bible of Amiens.
1903: La Bible d’Amiens is published Proust’s father dies on November 24.
1904: Begins work on the translation of Ruskin’s Sesame and Lillies.
1905: Publishes his most important work to date, his preface to Ruskin’s Sesame and Lillies, entitled “Sur la lecture.”
1907: Begins to outline the work that will become known as Contre Saint-Beuve.
1909: Contre Saint-Beuve, a work that combines essay, autobiography, and fiction, evolves into the first and last parts of what will eventually become In Search of Lost Time.
1910-11: Work continues on what will become the first and last parts of In Search of Lost Time. At this point, Proust sees the novel as two volumes: Time Lost and Time Regained.
1912: Proust now sees his work expanding to three volumes. The Nouvelle revue francaise (N.R.F.), on the advice of Andre Gide, refuses to publish the novel.
1913: A la recherche du temps perdu, Du cote de chez Swann is published by Grasset on November 14. Celeste Albaret enters Proust’s household, and quickly becomes his housekeeper and confidante. She will remain with him until his death. At this point of his life, Proust is largely a shut-in, living largely in his cork-lined bedroom and writing constantly, working against time to finish his book before his health gives out.
1914: Marcel begins to work on the material that will be found in A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (Within a Budding Grove). Andre Gide changes his mind, and urges that N.R.F. publish the rest of the novel. However, World War I breaks out, and most publishing in France comes to a halt.
1917: N.R.F. publishes A’Lombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, a new edition of Swann, and a collection of Proust’s short pieces entitled Pastiches et melanges. In December, Proust receives the Prix Goncourt.
1920: Publication of Le cote de Guermantes I.
1921: Publication of Le cote de Guermantes II and Sodome et Gomorrhe I.
1922: Proust finishes his work. Sodome et Gomorrhe II is published in May. That same month, Proust attends a supper party at the Majestic Hotel, also attended by James Joyce, Igor Stravinsky, Serge Diaghliev, and Pablo Picasso. In September, Swann’s Way, the first translation of Proust’s work, is published in England. On November 18, Marcel Proust dies of pneumonia and is buried in Pere Lachaise.
1923: Le Prisonniere is published.
1925: Le fugitive is published as Albertine disparue to avoid confusion with a work of the same name by Rabindranath Tagore.
1927: Le temps retrouve is published.