PROUST, Marcel (1871-1922). Autograph letter signed ('Marcel Proust') to 'Madame', [Madame Anatole Catusse], n.p. [102 boulevard Haussmann], n.d. [23 November 1917], written on 3 bifolia, 12 pages, 8vo.
A letter to his mother's oldest friend, which Proust describes as written not for friendship but purely in self-interest ('pas une lettre d'amitié mais un mot purement interessé'), seeking her advice on the disposal of furniture, tapestries and carpets, by which he hopes to raise money to assist another friend ('une grande infortuné'). He recalls that Madame Catusse told him that four fauteuils and a canapé which are at present merely being eaten by mites would sell well, and proposes to sell these and not the tapestries of foliage ('verdures'), relics of the Boulevard Malesherbes which are dear to him, although this is not an absolute objection, for it is only in parting with something that he really comes to know it ('Car je conserve mieux par le souvenir et par le coeur ce que j'ai perdu, et je ne fais presque la connaissance d'un objet que quand je m'en separe'). He continues with questions about a carpet, about his mirrored cupboard, the light-fittings in the dining-room where he has never eaten and where it is impossible to move, the dining-room chairs, 'un exces de lustres' and 'l'affreuse pendule du petit salon'. The recollection of a magnificent umbrella stand 'en boiseries dignes de celles du lycée de Caen' reminds him of other 'boiseries' which he cannot now find but remembers in the rue de Courcelles.
Proust's request for help in finding an expert, or indeed a buyer, is complicated by his characteristic anxiety that if he were to approach one previously recommended by Madame Catusse his recent letter of condolence to him might seem to have been designed to further a sale. Apologising for such a boring letter, in which his poor sight, made worse by proof-correcting, must have made his writing more illegible, he says that it was to Madame Catusse that his mother would have turned, and he has done the same.
He continues with news of his brother Robert, asking Madame Catusse not to mention this to his sister-in-law. In a postscript, he speculates that Walter Berry, president of the American Chamber of Commerce, and 'homme d'un goût raffiné', might be able to place the furniture, for he knows all the rich Americans, finally reminding her that the whole letter is confidential.
The letter was written while Proust was revising the proofs of A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs ('des milliers de pages d'épreuves à renvoyer à la Nouvelle Revue Francaise').
Madame Anatole Catusse, whose husband was Prefect of Nice, after Madame Proust's death in 1905 was the only person apart from his brother with whom he could speak of his family and their life together, confident that she was entirely familiar with their world. In May 1915 he wrote to ask her to assist him in arranging for flowers to be placed on a grave in the cemetery at Nice (on the first anniversary of the death of Alfred Agostinelli). He relied on her completely for advice about domestic matters, and consulted her on innumerable occasions about his apartments and their furnishing, and the disposal of the objects he had inherited. At first reluctant to part with anything associated with his family, he later developed a taste for selling, and valuations and prices are a frequent topic in his correspondence with her.
The friend with whom Proust generously intended to share the proceeds of the sale of the furniture was Madame Scheikevitch, whose fortune had been lost in the Russian revolution and who had disclosed her plight to him at a dinner two days earlier. She wrote to Proust on November 26th that, while greatly touched by his offer, it was impossible for her to accept. By revealing his proposal to other friends she annoyed him considerably.