Proust wrote himself glowing reviews

This original Marcel Proust edition of Du Cote De Chez Swann (Swann's Way) is one of the few to be printed on Japanese paper. It will go under the hammer next month.
This original Marcel Proust edition of Du Cote De Chez Swann (Swann's Way) is one of the few to be printed on Japanese paper. It will go under the hammer next month.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS • The reviews for French writer Marcel Proust's work were glowing in their praise.

Of course - they had actually been written by the author himself.

The revelations are contained in letters that are set to hit the auction block.

In the letters, Proust spoke about the need to get reviews of the first volume of his Remembrance Of Things Past to be put in newspapers.

He wrote the notices himself and sent them to be typed up by his publisher "so there is no trace of my handwriting".

The letters have come to light with an extremely rare copy of Swann's Way, which is expected to go for about US$580,000 (S$790,000) when it goes under the hammer in Paris next month.

Proust paid 300 francs - around US$1,175 today - for a flattering reference to Swann's Way to appear on the front page of the Figaro - then, as now, one of France's leading newspapers.

He paid a further 660 francs for another much larger summary of a glowing review by a friend of his to similarly appear on the front page of the Journal des Debats.

The letters to his editor Louis Brun show that marketing hucksters had little to teach Proust when it came to the dark arts of hype and selective editing.

Swann's Way, he wrote, is a "little masterpiece" which "like a gust of wind blows away the soporific vapours" of everything else on sale.

Proust tried to get three other publications to carry the highlights of his friend's review, although he was prepared to offer money to sweeten their passage to only one of them, the Gil Blas daily.

His desperation for publicity by fair means or foul was partly because he had to pay for the book's publication himself, experts said.

A string of publishing houses had turned it down before Mr Brun persuaded his boss Bernard Grasset to take it in 1913 - but only if the author paid all the costs.

Even so, Mr Grasset had no great hopes for it, telling a friend to whom he gave an advance copy: "It's unreadable."

But within weeks of its publication, some critics saw it as a work of genius even though others remained puzzled by it.

"The publisher Gaston Gallimard would later write to Proust saying that turning it down was the biggest mistake of his career," said Mr Benoit Puttemans of auctioneers Sotheby's.

Ever the aesthete, Proust had a special edition done to celebrate in expensive "Japan tissue" made from the bark of mulberry trees.

Only four copies still exist - one of which he gifted to Mr Brun for the delicate operations he undertook on the author's behalf.

It will now go under the hammer with the letters on Oct 30.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2017, with the headline 'Proust wrote himself glowing reviews'. Print Edition | Subscribe