THE LETTERS OF MARCEL PROUST TO LUCIEN DAUDET
At the end of 1919, three years before his death, Marcel Proust was recognised as the leading writer of his generation. In that year Du Côté de chez Swann, the first volume in the sequence of À la recherche du temps perdu, was reissued by his new publisher, Gaston Gallimard, and on the publication of the second volume, À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, he was awarded the Prix Goncourt in December. Proust spent the 5000 francs of the Prize on dinners for those who had encouraged and supported his candidature. It had taken almost thirty years for him to win recognition of his extraordinary talent, and he now received 886 congratulatory letters in three days.
During these years he had been in turn frequenter and observer of the worldly and aristocratic salons of the turn of the century, then the student of Ruskin and contributor of numerous articles and reviews to newspapers and journals, and in 1908 the author of a series of dazzlingly entertaining pastiches for Le Figaro. Meanwhile after the deaths of his parents his lamentations of ill health became increasingly frequent, and his withdrawal from society was marked by more excuses for not venturing forth from his appartment, in which the smoke from the powders burned to relieve his asthma added to the darkness of the room panelled in cork to insulate it against the noise of the street. By 1908 he was also working on the novel with which his reputation was to be assured, and a reference in an unpublished letter of September 1911 suggests that he had frequently discussed it with Lucien Daudet, his close friend and correspondent from 1895 until Proust's death in 1922. It was to Daudet that he addressed four important letters in 1913 (lots 74-77) seeking his help over small details for which he demanded the most precise and accurate information, explaining important aspects of his conception of time in the novel, and sending him the proofs of Du Côté de chez Swann which, he was later to remind Lucien on several occasions, was rejected by five publishers including Gallimard before being published by Grasset, at the author's expense. The letters in the collection offered here are from the years 1896-1922, spanning almost the entire period of their friendship.
Lucien Daudet (1878-1946), the younger son of Alphonse Daudet and his wife Julia, was seven years younger than Proust, and barely sixteen when they first met in 1894. Proust was invited to dine at the Daudets and, while greatly admiring Lucien's father, found his mother and grandmother bourgeois and materialistic (they, however, thought him charming and beautifully mannered). He soon became a regular attendant at Madame Daudet's Thursday salons, in the company of other young writers. He was then still enjoying a passionate friendship with Reynaldo Hahn, the Venezuelan musician and composer, a pupil of Massenet and once the lover of Saint Saëns. Proust's earliest known letter to Lucien Daudet was written in October 1895 from Brittany, where he was with Reynaldo. It was from the end of 1895 as his relationship with the latter became less consuming that Lucien became a frequent companion, accompanying him to exhibitions and theatres. His love affair with Reynaldo ended in 1896, giving way to an affectionate and lasting friendship. By February the following year rumours of the intimacy of his relationship with Lucien led Proust to challenge the source, the journalist Jean Lorrain, to a duel. Perhaps partly because of Lucien's frequent absences from Paris, their friendship seems soon to have become less intense, and although not without variations in the degree of its closeness, it was to continue until the end of Proust's life.
Very dark and slight in stature, Lucien Daudet was, unlike Proust, fastidious and elegant in dress. Proust once captured him in a lapidary couplet, 'Lucien comme un caniche expréssement tondu Douché, restant toujours désirable et dodu' (unpublished verses in Cahiers Marcel Proust, N.S.10, 1982). He was also highly strung, extremely sensitive and very intelligent. Proust refers often in his letters to the affinity and resonance of their thoughts and literary preferences, and also with extraordinary tenderness and sympathy to his correspondent's mysterious silences and 'zoological' disappearances. In 1896 Lucien was presented to the Empress Eugénie at Cap Martin, and became her devoted cavaliere servente. Until the outbreak of war he was frequently absent from Paris, staying at Farnborough Hill, the Empress's residence in England, and when in France at Cap Martin or sometimes at the Daudet country estates at Champrosay, and later Pray (once visited by Proust, who wrote in anticipation of his visit) and La Chargé in Touraine.
Although gifted as a painter and writer, Lucien Daudet was always overshadowed by his father and by his truculent and more forceful elder brother, Léon Daudet. Lucien was alone in his family in not holding anti-semitic views. His published works consist of a handful of novels and essays, praised by Proust in his letters, but he enjoyed a succès d'estime rather than fame. His fine review of Du Côté de chez Swann for Le Figaro, which Proust warmly acknowledges in a letter of 27 November 1913 (lot 78), and his perceptive introduction to his edition of Proust's letters to him from 1913-1918 are perhaps his most lasting and important achievements.
Proust's early letters to Lucien from his 'salon period' are affectionate and humourous, sometimes using badinage to excuse misunderstandings, tiffs or moments of jealousy. A number of letters record his investigations into society, and his Balzacian enjoyment of the intricate webs of relationships. The years 1913-1918 were among the most significant in Proust's life, encompassing the completion and publication of the first volume of the novel and the outbreak of war which, by delaying the publication of the second volume, allowed him to double the length of the work in its final form. The war, the progress of which he followed intently, also brought him intense grief at the loss of so many of those known to him who died in action. Meanwhile, he deplored the attitude of his contemporaries to German music and literature and their references to 'Boches'. In 1913-1914 he was also suffering from his mysterious, painful and obsessive love for Alfred Agostinelli, revealed to Lucien Daudet in an anguished unpublished passage describing Agostinelli's death in a letter of November 1914 (lot 83). Another unpublished passage in a letter of 1919 describes with a mixture of confusion and defiance the effect of the departure of Henri Rochat, a protegé for whom he experienced a briefer but also unsatisfactory passion (lot 113). In the wartime letters, literary matters - the relationship of life to the novel, the importance of the writer's standing apart, requests for information about fashions, or about the Narrator's gifts for Albertine - are mingled with news of visitors, despairing reports of his health, of visits to Larue or the Ritz and praise, to the extent of flattery, for Lucien's own writings. From 1918 Proust was increasingly absorbed in the continuation of his novel, the completion of Le Côté de Guermantes and Le Temps retrouvé and also the publication of Pastiches et Mélanges, his introduction to Jacques Emile Blanche's Propos de peintre, the unending task of proof reading and the demands of new friends. He continued to write to Lucien Daudet, though less frequently, still giving his thoughts on literary style and structure, and showing his pessimism about contemporary writers. Lucien attributed the distance that had arisen between them to Proust's new celebrity, but Proust, in the last letter present here (lot 118), recognising the alteration of their friendship, writes of his health. Proust died on 18 November 1922.
Many of the letters in the collection, particularly the earlier ones, include examples of the private language which Proust used with Lucien Daudet. It was with the Daudets that he met Edmond de Goncourt, and his pastiche of the Goncourt style, referring with comic horror to the manners and conceit of the Journal des Goncourt, is particularly associated with Lucien. Many absurdities are 'très Journal de Goncourt'. As young men they indulged together in 'fou rire', outbursts of hysterical mirth at the ridiculousness of others. Secrets are 'tombeau', and Proust delights in 'louchonneries', meaning clichés, or that which grates or irritates ('ce qu'un louchon de goût appelerait "des perles" '). 'Roumestanerie', derived from the title of Alphonse Daudet's novel, Numa Roumestan (1880), is used to mean a promise which will not be kept or an offer made in the hope that it will be refused. 'Mauvais genre', abbreviated to 'm.g.' sometimes means 'bad form', but more often indicates suspicion of homosexuality, and was invariably suppressed by Lucien Daudet for publication of the letters.
Proust addressed Lucien most frequently as 'Mon cher Petit', but in the early unpublished letters also as 'Cher Lucien', 'Mon petit Lucien' and sometimes 'Mon petit rat' or 'Rat chéri'. The letters are signed 'Marcel', and occasionally 'Marcel Proust'. Almost all of them are written on bifolia and subscriptions, signatures and postscripts are sometimes written at the head of the first page, occasionally almost covering the salutation. None of the letters is dated by Proust, but some of the published letters have been annotated with the year (in pencil) by Lucien Daudet, presumably in the course of arranging them for publication. His dates do not always correspond with those given by Kolb.
The one hundred letters offered here are from the years 1896-1922. They include all but one of those published by Lucien Daudet in Autour de Soixante Lettres de Marcel Proust (Les Cahiers Marcel Proust, V, 1929), and forty unpublished letters. The texts of the published letters are also given in Philip Kolb's edition of the Correspondance (which contains other letters from Proust to Lucien Daudet from different collections). The originals, which were never seen by Kolb, reveal that Daudet, discreet by nature and writing only six years after Proust's death, suppressed for publication not only names, references to himself, and all allusions to homosexuality, but also substantial passages, sometimes discussing and gossiping about mutual acquaintances, or criticising Proust's younger brother, Dr. Robert Proust. He also omitted long and important accounts of events that were of traumatic significance such as Proust's anguished description in November 1914 of the death of Alfred Agostinelli, and the dramatic account of the effect on him of the departure of Henri Rochat in 1919.
The sixty published letters, for the period August 1913 - February [?] 1919 are lots 74-113. The forty unpublished letters are lots 59-73 and 114-118.
The references to the published letters in the Correspondance and in Cahiers V are given at the end of the description of each lot. (The letter published by Lucien Daudet as no.XXXIV is not present).
Philip Kolb. La Correspondance de Marcel Proust, I-XXI (1970-1993)
Philip Kolb and Terence Kilmartin. Selected Letters, III (1992)
Lucien Daudet. Autour de Soixante Lettres de Marcel Proust (Les Cahiers Marcel Proust, V, 1929)
Michel Bonduelle. Mon Cher Petit. Lettres de Marcel Proust à Lucien Daudet (1991)
George Painter. Marcel Proust, I and II (1989)
Ghislain de Diesbach. Proust (1991)
Antoine Bibesco. Marcel Proust and the Heartlessness of Friendship (Cornhill Magazine, no.983, 1950)
Jean Paul Clébert. Les Daudets (1988)
Léon Guichard. Introduction à la lecture de Marcel Proust (1956)
Marcel Proust. À la recherche du temps perdu (I-III, Pléiade, 1954)
THE PROPERTY OF AN EUROPEAN COLLECTOR