PROUST, Marcel. Unpublished autograph letter signed to Lucien Daudet ('Rat chéri'), n.p. [Paris], n.d. [1898?], describing himself as bereaved [by Lucien's absence, at Pray], and 'renfermé dans mon veuvage dans ma chambre', seeing no one, and afflicted with asthma; he has received an invitation from 'Madame "de" Benardaky', and criticises her spelling of her name, further elaborating on the use of the particle 'de' and of titles, recalling the comments of Roche [the coachman], quoting from La Presse a long list of titled persons reported to have attended a soirée, and planning to make Roche learn 'le catechisme mondain' of Montesquiou, that only seven or eight families count; he is quite unable to reply to Madame de Benardaky, ending the letter with a page of love-sick nonsense, 11¼ pages, 8vo (a few ink blots, slight smudges at signature).
'Mon rat chéri je suis comme un homme qui aurait perdu une Sirène, une Licorne ou une Panthère qui serait venue vivre avec lui puis serait parti à Pray fonder un monastère ... Êtes vous mon "cygne aimé", une levrette que j'ai perdue, une rose, La Princesse de Chine...'
Madame de Benardaky (née Esther Leibrok) was the wife of a Russian official at the Imperial Court who, because of this misalliance, was obliged to move to Paris. It was their 15 year old daughter, Marie de Benardaky, whom Proust met in the Champs Elysée after school, around 1886, and thought of as one of his great loves, taking her as his inspiration for the character of Gilberte Swann. Madame Proust disapproved of his friendship with the Benardaky family, on account of Marie's mother's reputation.
The reference to Pray, the country estate near Amboise which Madame Daudet acquired after her husband's death in December 1897, suggests that the letter was written in 1898.