PROUST, Marcel. Autograph letter signed to Lucien Daudet, n.p. [Paris], n.d. [shortly after 21 November 1914], INCLUDING APPROXIMATELY 43 UNPUBLISHED LINES ABOUT THE DEATH OF ALFRED AGOSTINELLI, and other unpublished references, the letter beginning in acknowledgement of a letter from Lucien, 'J'ai pris froid, j'ai de la fièvre, aussi peu de courage pour repondre à votre merveilleuse lettre'; writing first of the deaths of [Ernest] Psichari and of Charles Péguy, whose work Proust did not admire, describing the Cahiers de la Quinzaine as an unbearable hotchpotch, ('fatras insupportable qui m'avait mis en mauvais disposition'); then recalling the Hinnisdaels who so impress him ('Vous m'avez presenté à l'une dans des conditions qui m'ont fait mourir de honte'), and lamenting the destruction of their chateau; also mentioning that he would like to know [Ramon] Fernandez to whom Maurice Rostand briefly introduced him, 'mais vous avez souvent eu l'air de croire que j'avais le mauvais oeil pour vos amitiés. D'où mon abstention par tendresse'. Finally, in explanation of his present wretchedness, he unburdens himself of his grief at the death of Agostinelli, describing his love for him, his death, his possible mistake in showing his unhappiness so publicly, and his problems with Agostinelli's family, 12 pages, 8vo.
'Mon cher petit depuis la mort déjà ancienne de la personne dont il est un peu question dans le volume de mon livre qui s'appelle À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs - j'avais un ami, un frère, un enfant, je ne sais comment dire. Il habitait chez moi, aussi sa femme. Je ne peux pas vous dire ce qu'il était pour moi. Le passé ne se reconstituera pas en quelques lignes. Au printemps dernier on m'a appelé au telephone ... mon ami venait d'avoir un accident d'aviation à Antibes. J'ai fait preparer ma malle, j'ai télégraphié toute la nuit; il était tombé dans la mer et était mort noyé. Ce n'est qu'à bout de quinze jours malgré des récherches que j'ai fait par le Prince de Monaco, qu'on a retrouvé son pauvre corps à moitié mangé par les requins. Alors moi qui avais si bien supporté d'être malade, qui ne me trouvais nullement à plaindre, j'ai su ce que c'était chaque fois que je montais en taxi d'espérer de tout mon coeur que l'autobus qui venait allait m'écraser. Comme ce garçon était un ancien chauffeur et que personne ne comprend rien à rien, j'ai peut-être eu tort de rendre ma peine si publique'.
Proust writes of Agostinelli's family including his mistress [Anna] 'J'ai repris sa femme (qui était sa maitresse mais enfin comme sa femme) chez moi', who dislike each other intensely. 'Tous m'aiment mais pour me dire du mal les uns des autres, si bien que célà ne peut pas durer'; also of his weariness, and again of his grief which he recognises is futile; and that he has been to Cabourg but finding that his grief began to fade, feared that he would forget; returning to Paris, he has discovered that it is not so.
Proust first discovered Alfred Agostinelli as a 19-year-old taxi-driver in Cabourg, in 1907. Of Italian extraction, dark in appearance, heterosexual, and of considerable if rather ingratiating charm, he was to cause Proust intense suffering. His passionate, doomed and obsessive love for Agostinelli, who was immortalised in the character of Albertine in La Prisonnière and Albertine Disparue, provided him with much material for his novel. It was not until 1913 that he engaged Agostinelli to return to Paris with him and appointed him his secretary. Alfred was accompanied by Anna Agostinelli, described then as his wife. She and Proust disliked each other, and each suffered acute jealousy and distress from Alfred's frequent infidelities with women. This unbearable situation was concealed from Proust's friends, who wondered only at his unexplained distress.
The Agostinellis spent money recklessly, constantly making new demands, until they decided there was no future in their luxurious servitude. Addicted to speed, and seduced by the glamourous new world of the aviator, Alfred abandoned Proust and Paris, taking himself to the South, where he enrolled himself, using Proust's money (and even sometimes his name), in a flying school at Antibes. Proust was persuaded to contemplate purchasing an aeroplane for him, at the considerable cost of 27,000 francs. The news that he had drowned in a flying accident in the Bay of Antibes arrived by telegram on 30 May 1914. Proust engaged divers from Toulon to search for his body which was recovered only on 7 June, having been, as his horrified account describes, half-eaten by sharks. The grasping Agostinelli family soon fell out with one another, but for the rest of his life on the anniversary of Alfred's death Marcel Proust arranged for a wreath to be laid on his grave in the cemetery at Nice.
The reference in the letter to an earlier death of an unidentified person who appears in the novel ('Depuis la mort déjà ancienne'), suggests an allusion to one of Agostinelli's - or Albertine's - unknown predecessors. Kolb, XIII, 353; Cahiers, V (XI).