Home > 1910, 20th Century, French Literature, Literary Escapades, Proust, Marcel > Literary escapade: Proust and the centennial of his Prix Goncourt

Literary escapade: Proust and the centennial of his Prix Goncourt

September 29, 2019 Leave a comment Go to comments

In 1919, Proust won the most prestigious French literary prize, the Prix Goncourt for the second volume of In Search of Lost Time, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. Gallimard was Proust’s publisher.

To celebrate this centenary, the Gallerie Gallimard in Paris set up an exhibition around this event. Did you know that Proust’s win was a scandal at the time?

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower was in competition with Wooden Crosses by Roland Dorgelès, a book about the trenches and WWI. The public was in favor of Mr Dorgelès and his patriotic novel. (I’ve never read it, I can’t tell anything about it)

Proust was considered too old for the prize. There have been arguments about the Goncourt brothers’ intentions when they made the prize for a “young talent”. Who’s young, the writer or the talent? Proust was too rich and the 5000 francs of the prize would have been better spent on a poor writer. Proust was too involved in the high society, even if at the time he wrote In Search in Lost Time, he was mostly living in solitude. Proust was too odd with his strange living habits, his book was too verbose and he did not fight in the war.

There were a lot of arguments against his winning but none of them were about the literary quality of his novel. And the Académie Goncourt, in charge of picking the winner, concentrated on the literary aspects of the book.

After the 1919 Prix Goncourt was awarded, the press went wild against Proust. The exhibition shows a collage of press articles of the time, all coming from Proust’s own collection.

According to Thierry Laget, who wrote Proust, Prix Goncourt, une émeute littéraire, (Proust, Goncourt Prize, a literary scandal), the violence and the form of the attacks against Proust were like a campaign on social networks today. I might read his book, I’m curious about the atmosphere of the time and what Laget captures about it.

There was a wall about Gaston Gallimard who founded what would become the Gallimard publishing house in 1911. Gallimard convinced Proust to let them publish In Search of Lost Time and In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower was Gallimard’s first Prix Goncourt.

The exhibition displays the letter that the Académie Goncourt sent to Proust to officially inform him that he won. I found it simple, unofficial looking.

There were two previously unreleased drawings of Proust like this one by Paul Morand in 1917. It was made at the Ritz and it represents Proust, Morand and Laure de Chévigné, one of the women who inspired the Duchesse de Guermantes.

And the other one was of Proust on his death bed in 1921.

It’s a small exhibition that lasts only until October 23rd, rush for it if you’re a Proust fan and are in Paris during that time.

  1. September 29, 2019 at 11:49 am

    Thanks for sharing this, Emma, I didn’t realise Proust had won the prize nor anything about the objections to it.


    • September 29, 2019 at 7:04 pm

      I’d say that the Académie Goncourt is rather proud not to have missed the opportunity to award him the prize.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. September 29, 2019 at 3:58 pm

    Very surprised to see the signature of Léon Daudet on the letter sent to Proust. Thank you very much for sharing this; I’m always fascinated by such relics. I wonder how Proust interpreted the emotions of the jury behind such a sober letter.


    • September 29, 2019 at 7:10 pm

      Well, Proust was good friends with Lucien Daudet. Proust and Léon Daudet knew each other well and Léon championed Proust and pushed for his winning the Goncourt Prize.
      I think that reading Laget’s essay could be fascinating.


  3. Vishy
    September 29, 2019 at 5:26 pm

    Wonderful post, Emma! I didn’t know that there was a scandal because Proust had win the Prix Goncourt! Very fascinating! Looking at it a hundred years later, it feels that the critics got it wrong, doesn’t it? Makes us think of what are things that critics at getting wrong today. Thanks for this post, Emma! Learnt a fascinating new thing about Proust today!


    • September 29, 2019 at 7:13 pm

      Yes, exactly, Vishy. When you look at the list of the Goncourt prizes from the beginning you realize that only a few of them became actual classics. The rest, they just reflect their time, which is interesting in itself.

      I think that it’s hard for us to imagine the aftermath of WWI on people’s everyday life in 1919. It must have weighed on people’s minds in a way we cannot fathom because it was such a horrible war with so many casualties.


  4. September 29, 2019 at 6:32 pm

    That is so interesting: I had no idea what a scandal this caused back in the day! Well, where would we be without our Prix Goncourt controversies nearly every year?


    • September 29, 2019 at 7:17 pm


      The theme of In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower must have seemed shallow compared to writing a book about WWI. But if literature doesn’t bring light, lightness, what will?
      I’m glad that the Goncourt jury chose Proust anyway and like I said, I’m rather curious about Laget’s book.
      I guess that there are always controversies about literary prizes. And now, there’s so much money at stake for publishers, for a shot at being translated…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. September 29, 2019 at 6:39 pm

    Thank you. I do indeed wish I was in Paris to see this…


    • September 29, 2019 at 7:19 pm

      I was lucky to have the chance to go.
      It’s such a shame that there’s no Literature Museum in Paris. The city and its writers deserve one.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. October 1, 2019 at 3:36 am

    It is hard to believe such a beautiful novel would create the controversy that you describe. Although considering critics it is not surprising. If they only could read with pleasure beyond their critical blinders they might fall in love with Proust.


    • October 1, 2019 at 6:58 am

      Try to be in the shoes of someone who lived in 1919.
      Proust’s style was innovative and that only must have divided people.
      Then his novel seemed futile in the wake of all the deaths of WWI.
      I understand his contemporaries. I’m happy that the Académie Goncourt didn’t bend to pressure and gave the award to a true literary genius.


  7. October 1, 2019 at 12:15 pm

    A lovely post Emma, almost as good as being at the exhibition. Jingoism was rife everywhere after the Great War and frankly I’m amazed Proust won. And then there’s the ease with which popular opinion may be inflamed against new art which ‘people’ cannot readily comprehend. Reminds of the uproar in Australia in the 1970s when the government purchased Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles for the National Gallery.


    • October 1, 2019 at 8:05 pm

      Thanks Bill.
      The country was traumatized by the war and I can understand it. It reminds me about the controversy about a literary prize (the Booker, maybe?), requesting that the book winning the prize be “readable”.
      I’m not sure that Proust was considered “readable” at the time. We can thank Gide and Daudet for recognizing the literary genius behind the dandy.


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  1. October 5, 2019 at 4:56 pm

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