Marcel Proust

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Marcel Proust

Marcel Proust, in full, Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust (10 July 1871 – 18 November 1922) was a French novelist, literary critic, and essayist who wrote the monumental novel In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu; with the previous English title translation of Remembrance of Things Past), originally written in French and published in seven volumes between 1913 and 1927. He is considered by critics and writers to be one of the most influential authors of the 20th century.

Proust's weitings were influential for many French thinkers including Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze. His first known poem, written when he was 17, was titled "Pederasty." The poem shows him struggling with his homosexual feelings. Dedicated to his friend Daniel Halévy, he wrote to him in a letter: “Don’t treat me as a pederast, that wounds me. Morally I’m trying, if only out of a sense of elegance, to remain pure.” The poem reads:

Pederasty (estimated date: November 1888).

Translated by Richard Howard

To Daniel Halévy

If I had money from a boundless mintand sinew enough in hands, lips, loins, I’d shun the vanity of politics and print, and leave — tomorrow? No, tonight! — for lawns luminous with artificial green (without the rustic flaws of frost and vermin), where I’d forever be sleeping with one warm child or other: François? Firmin? . . .For what is manly mockery to me? Let Sodom’s apples burn, acre by acre, I’d savor still the sweat of those sweet limbs! Beneath a solar gold, a lunar nacre, I’d... languish (an ars moriendi of my own), deaf to the knell of dreary Decency!

Proust writes to Halévy later in 1888, “You think me jaded and effete. You are mistaken. If you are delicious, if you have lovely eyes which reflect the grace and refinement of your mind with such purity that I feel I cannot fully love your mind without kissing your eyes, if your body and mind, like your thoughts, are so lithe and slender that I feel I could mingle more intimately with your thoughts by sitting on your lap, if, finally, I feel that the charm of your person, in which I cannot separate your keen mind from your agile body, would refine and enhance ‘the sweet joy of love’ for me, there is nothing in all that to deserve your contemptuous words, which would have been more fittingly addressed to someone surfeited with women and seeking new pleasures in pederasty.” (Letter translated by Terrence Kilmartin.) At about that time, Halévy wrote in his journal, “Take Proust. As talented as they come and yet look at how he overdoes it. Weak, young, he screws, he masturbates, maybe he even pederasts! But maybe in his life he’ll show flashes of hidden genius.”[1]

In his journal, Halévy recorded his envy for Proust’s talent as well as his fears for him: "This deranged creature is extremely talented, and I know nothing that is sadder and more marvelously written than these two pages," referring to a love letter from Proust to Bizet. "...More talented than anyone else. He overexerts himself. Weak, young, he fornicates, he masturbates, he engages, perhaps, in pederasty! He will perhaps show in his life flashes of genius that will be wasted."

According to Proust in Love by William C. Carter, Proust’s father caught Marcel masturbating during his adolescence. Proust's father feared for his son’s health and morality, as such a pastime was believed to drain men of their willpower and even lead to homosexuality.