PROUST, Marcel. Autograph letter signed to Lucien Daudet, n.p. [Paris], n.d. [19 February 1918 ? or 1919], including a long, unpublished and dramatic account of the departure of an unidentified companion [Henri Rochat ?], followed by a sudden lapse from chastity, and describing his agitation and unhappiness; beginning by saying that he is writing after an incredible day ('Je rentrai bien triste après la plus incroyable journée'), on receiving his correspondent's book and letter; professing disbelief at Lucien's praise of his own book, 'Je crois que tu aimeras certains des volumes suivants et quelques pages de celui-ci, mais si tu es dans une partie avancée. Mais le debut ... est bien mediocre sauf peut-être l'effort de la toute première page pour marquer un intervalle et une evolution'; continuing with lavish praise for Lucien's work, 'Qu'est mon pauvre style pénible même pour moi, a côté de ta lumineuse musique', 'Tu sais bien que je suis incapable de cette maîtrise, de cette souplesse, de cette douceur et cette liberté'; describing his exhaustion while he has 17 letters awaiting his replies including one relating to the enormous sum of 24,000 francs; and confessing the reason for his having read so little of Lucien's book and for his present incapacity for reading and writing, 12 pages, 8vo (including altogether approximately 50 unpublished lines; the date '18' annotated in Lucien Daudet's hand at the head of the 1st page, cancelled and changed to '19'; written on pale grey paper).
Proust describes the departure of his companion, 'Il faut que tu saches que la personne avec qui je vis depuis six mois et à qui tu as temoigné tant de touchante bonté est partie ce soir en vacances et qu'après de longues hésitations j'ai renoncé à l'accompagner (autrement qu'à la gare)'. His exhaustion after this, he continues, was compensated by the joy of his momentarily recovered solitude, 'ce que faisait que sur le quai de la gare, je ne pouvais m'empêcher de chanter à tue tête. Mais par suite de drogues [?] excitant que j'avais pris et surtout de la chastété presque absolue à laquelle je m'étais condamné depuis si long temps, j'ai eu l'infamie de la rompre une heure après que j'ai été seul'. In his present distress and agitation ('un état de tristesse et de hébétement qui touche à la folie'), only his exhaustion prevents him from taking the train himself. He writes of the departure of this person and his ignominious evening producing in him a kind of passing distress, 'une espèce de chagrin passager, de remords absurde, presque d'amour factice'. Finally he begs Lucien not to speak of this departure which was not caused by a quarrel, as he plans to disclose it to his visitors as they appear, and so to gain some time.
All reference to this dramatic episode, which is the main subject of the letter, was suppressed by Lucien Daudet for publication. He notes that Proust had wished him to see the proofs of A l'Ombre des jeunes filles en fleur, and that his own typescript on which Proust comments was La Dimension Nouvelle, published in 1919. Kolb dates the letter (as published by Daudet) by reference to the proofs, which Proust was correcting in his letter of 13 February 1918, in which he also expressed his willingness to read a typescript of Daudet's.
After the death of Agostinelli in 1914 Proust had no protracted love-affair until his meeting with Henri Rochat, a Swiss-born employee of the Ritz Hotel where, in 1917, Proust dined several times a week. After some months he installed him in his apartment in the autumn of 1918, giving him secretarial duties, which he was incapable of fulfilling satisfactorily. He was greatly disliked by Céleste. In an attempt to resolve a situation which was causing him much distress and no small expense, Proust made several attempts to persuade Rochat to return to Switzerland. On one occasion in 1919 the young man went to the Côte d'Azur to pass the time while waiting for his papers to be ready for the journey, but ran out of funds and returned to Paris and Proust. It may be to this departure that the letter refers. On 9 July 1919, papers having been obtained by the diplomat Jacques Truelle and a situation promised in Switzerland, Proust escorted Rochat to the Gare de Lyon, but again he came back, and finally removed himself from the scene only in 1921 when he left for South America. Proust's reference to 'la chasteté presque absolue' which he has endured, recalls a remark in a letter of November 1918 to Lucien Daudet (Kolb, XVII, 466, not in the present collection), enjoining secrecy concerning 'l'incroyable "liaison chaste", absolument chaste'.
Meanwhile in 1917 Albert Le Cuziat, once footman to Prince Constantine Radziwill and already well known to Proust, had opened a male brothel in the former Hotel Marigny, not far from the Boulevard Haussmann. Proust had some time before presented him with unwanted furniture from his parent's house. It was almost certainly at the brothel in the Hotel Marigny that the lapse to which he confesses in this letter took place. Kolb, XVII, 116; Cahier, V (LIV).