On this day in 1912, the Parisian literary review, Nouvelle Revue Francaise, rejects an excerpt from Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust. When complete, the seven-volume novel will profoundly influence the development of the modern novel.
Marcel Proust was the first of two sons born to a well-to-do Parisian family in 1871. His father was a prominent doctor and professor of medicine from a Catholic family, and his mother was a highly educated, sensitive woman whose family was Jewish.
Proust developed asthma as a child and spent holidays at the seaside for his health. He became a great student. After graduating with honors from high school, he attended the Ecole des Science Politiques. Despite his asthma, he was able to perform his required year of military service in Orleans.
Back in Paris, Proust associated with many young writers and artists, and his social connections landed him invitations to most of Paris’ most exclusive literary and artistic salons. He published a collection of stories called Pleasures and Days in 1898. He became an active supporter of imprisoned Jewish soldier Alfred Dreyfus during the Dreyfus Affair (1897-1899).
Proust’s asthma became more severe in the early 1900s, about the same time that both his parents died. He moved into a pollen-proof, cork-lined room at 102 Boulevard de Haussman in Paris, where he lived for the next 13 years, rarely emerging except for late-night dinner parties with friends. There, he began writing his masterpiece, A La Recherche du Temps Perdu (Remembrance of Things Past), in 1909. The first volume, Swann’s Way, was finished in 1912, but was rejected not only by magazines for excerpt, but also by publishers. Proust published it at his own expense in 1913. The book was a success, but World War I postponed the publication of the novel’s further volumes. In 1919, Within a Budding Grove was published, followed by The Guermantes’ Way in 1921 and Sodom and Gomorrah in 1922. The remaining three volumes, The Prisoner (1923), The Fugitive (1925), and Time Regained (1927), were published after Proust’s death in Paris in 1922. Together, the books present an elaborate psychological study of time and identity, and deeply influenced the works of later European novelists.