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Marcel Proust (1871-1922): Correspondence

Last Updated: Apr 22, 2022 2:15 PM

 
Proust at the age of 16For a bedridden, chronically ill man who nonetheless wrote a novel of 1.3 million words, Proust was also an especially prolific correspondent. The French scholarly edition of Proust's letters, which constituted the epoch-making life's work of American scholar and textual editor Philip Kolb, runs to twenty-one volumes, and still-unpublished letters continue to be discovered. Proust's letters at times contradict, at times corroborate the image of him that we gain from his novel. A writer and thinker brimming with hard-won wisdom, forcefully insightful into the full range of human experience, and at times overflowing with a stream of the purest eloquence, Proust was at the very same time a man obsessed with social minutiae, boiling at imagined slights, aggressively pursuing his own interests and appetites, capable of stooping to the most fulsome flatteries, not to mention a man whose privilege, refinement, and delicate sensibility insulated him so completely from practical life as to render him utterly powerless before the most trivial everyday decisions. Nowhere do we perceive more clearly than in his correspondence the uncanny fusion of impotence and tyranny, wisdom and ineptitude, tenderness and fury, that ruled Proust's character and shaped the paradoxes and pleasures of his novel.
 
On this page you can discover the best contemporary editions of Proust's correspondence in French and English. Each book listed below is linked to WorldCat, where you can discover library holdings for that item in your region.
 
Left: Proust at the age of 16, photographed in 1887.
 
Image source: Wikimedia Commons. Image author: Paul Nadar. License: Public domain.

Correspondence in French

Philip Kolb's massive "edifice of memory" - twenty-one volumes of Proust's letters from 1890 to 1922, an opus that took more than twenty-five years to assemble, edit, and publish - has permanently altered how scholars and readers think about Proust the man, his time, and his work. A scholarly critical edition with authoritative texts and complete apparatus, this is a goldmine for every critic, historian, and biographer of Proust.

In the gallery of books below, you can browse the most significant collections of letters and other material in French that contributed to the creation of Kolb's edition. These are arranged alphabetically by title.

Publiée entre 1970 et 1993 chez Plon, l’édition de la Correspondance de Marcel Proust par l’universitaire américain Philip Kolb n’est pas seulement un monument éditorial (21 volumes, environ 5300 lettres), c’est un instrument de travail incomparable qui soutient depuis des années le développement des études proustiennes dans tous les domaines. Cependant, vingt-cinq ans après l’achèvement de cet ouvrage de référence, plusieurs centaines de nouvelles lettres de Proust (ou à Proust) sont déjà apparues dans des ventes publiques et des publications (revues, ouvrages) : l’édition imprimée ne peut les insérer ni les prendre en compte pour actualiser ou rectifier les données précédentes. Face à un tel corpus en extension et redéfinition permanentes, l’édition numérique est la seule réponse réaliste : Elle permet d’intégrer au fil de l’eau les lettres inédites ou nouvellement publiées, et bien souvent, par ricochet, de modifier les datations et d’enrichir l’annotation des lettres déjà accessibles en ligne. Elle permet des recherches plus rapides, plus nombreuses et plus précises à travers un corpus balisé en fonction de critères de recherche multiples : dates, lieux, personnes, personnages, titres, citations, informations codicologiques… Elle constitue enfin un espace collaboratif de travail qui donne à l’ensemble de la communauté proustienne la possibilité de participer à l’effort éditorial.

Correspondence in English Translation

The Selected Letters collates and translates the most interesting and significant pieces of Proust's correspondence for an English-speaking audience in four substantial volumes. It is the most comprehensive collection of Proust's correspondence currently available in English.

In the gallery of books directly below, you can browse the most significant collections of letters and other material existing in English translation.

Redon, Meditation

Above: Odilon Redon (1840-1916), Meditation, date unknown.
 
Image source: Wikiart. Image author: Odilon Redon. Image license: Public domain.