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PROUST, Marcel

À la recherche du temps perdu. Tome I. Du côté de chez Swann. Deuxième édition

Paris, La Nouvelle Revue Française, 1919


Second edition

12mo (186 x 138mm)


Madame, je sens que je ne serai pas en état de venir demain soir. Je tâcherai, après dîner, d'aller vous dire bonsoir. Je trouve votre théorie bien audacieuse. 1er point on ne sait rien de l'insomnie. 2e point. L'insomnie provient de la déminéralisation des cellules nerveuses. (Comment pouvez-vous passer du 1er point au 2e). 3e point pour dormir il faut [ici le texte reprend en haut de page] commencer à supprimer le véronal etc. qui déminéralisait. Qu'en sait-on ?
– Je reconnais que ma façon d'user du véronal est absurde. Mais c'est un médicament utile en tant qu'entraîneur, par le sommeil artificiel préalable, au sommeil naturel. Demandez à Bergson s'il ne me sait pas gré du Trional. Votre respectueux admirateur, Marcel Proust.

[Madame, I feel that I will be in no state to come tomorrow evening. I will try, after dinner, to stop by and wish you good evening. I find your theory very daring. 1st point we know nothing on insomnia. 2nd point. Insomnia comes from the demineralization of nerve cells. (How can you go from the 1st point to the 2nd). 3rd point to sleep one must [here the text resumes at the top of the page] begin by removing the Veronal etc. that demineralizes. What do we know of it ?
– I acknowledge that my way of using Veronal is absurd. But it is a useful drug as a leader, from prior artificial sleep, to natural sleep. Ask Bergson if he doesn't know my gratitude to Trional. Your respectful admirer, Marcel Proust]

BINDING SIGNED BY CREUZEVAULT. Half yellow morocco, painted boards, gilt spine, upper edge gilt
PROVENANCE : Pierre Berès (cat. 70, 1979, n° 707).
EXHIBITION : Marcel Proust et son temps, Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André, 1971, lot 352

This remarkable dedication is actually a letter which serves as an epigraph to the most “mesmerizing” volume in La Recherche. In a few feverish and convulsive lines, it summarizes the different aspects of Proust’s universe : society life, insomnia, the use of narcotics, the clinical precision of Proust’s writing style and his relations with Henri Bergson.

“Throughout his lifetime, Proust suffered from insomnia, just like aunt Léonie, who never sleeps but ‘rests.’ (I, 50). He used narcotics to excess to alleviate it, as a ‘man who could only sleep with the help of drugs.’ (III, 631) Besides Legras powder, which he used in fumigation against his asthma and contained both belladonna and datura, he also took Trional and Veronal and even opium. (Corr., X, 51) He was worried about the potential consequences of those ‘intoxications.’” (XVIII, 122) (Dictionnaire Marcel Proust, art. “insomnie”)

In La Recherche, Proust transposes a conversation he supposedly had with Bergson (in the novel, the conversation happens between the author of Rire and Emile Boutroux, Marcel’s professor at the Sorbonne). The narrator’s observations constitute a reply to a conference given by Bergson and titled “Le Rêve” (cf. L'Énergie spirituelle, Paris, Alcan, 1919).

“Besides Bergson’s definition of dreams, which he disagreed with in several respects, Proust also rejected the notion that narcotics only had deleterious effects on “elevated ideas.” According to him, on the contrary, narcotics caused memory problems in everyday life.” In the novel, Bergotte happily uses all kinds of narcotics to excess, and Proust himself would “overdose” in the fall of 1921, falling into a state of quasi-narcosis. La Recherche also includes “several specific and suggestive descriptions of the different types of sleep induced by the use of barbiturates… Proust never stopped using drugs, sometimes Trional, sometimes caffeine. This gradually upset his biological clock, until he started living in reverse to all other humans, working during the night and sleeping during the day.” (Ibid.).

The marquise de René de Ludre-Frolois, née Solange Bianchi, was “a most charming woman, who combined this trait with the sharpest intelligence.” She and her husband often had guests over, such as politicians from both left- and right-wing parties. Proust viewed her as “a kind of psychiatrist,” and often saw her between 1917 and 1918. He had dinner at her house on June 27, 1918, in spite of his grief over Professor Pozzi’s death. On July 1, 1907, she participated in the supper thrown by Proust at the Ritz, thus fully entering “the real life that is literature.” Madame de Ludre is quoted in several letters written by Proust : in July 1919, she gave the writer some earplugs so he would not be bothered by noise (Kolb, XVIII, p. 356). She should not be confused with the comtesse Ferri de Ludre, née Louise de Maillé, another of Marcel Proust’s social acquaintances.

This dedication was listed by Kolb (XVIII, no. 133, in which he dates the dedication to a little after June 21, 1919).

REFERENCES : Dictionnaire Marcel Proust, article « Insomnie », 2004, pp. 508-509 -- Emily Eells, "Proust et Wilde", in Le Cercle de Marcel Proust (sous la dir. de Jean-Yves Tadié), Paris, 2013, pp. 225-236