Home > 20th Century, Literary Escapades, Personal Posts, Proust, Marcel > Marcel Proust & Paris Exhibition – Proust in Paris

Marcel Proust & Paris Exhibition – Proust in Paris

February 24, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

The exhibition Marcel Proust, Un roman parisien at the Musée Carnavalet shows the importance of Paris in Proust’s life and in In Search of Lost Time. (“La Recherche”). It explores Proust’s Paris and the fictional Paris of La Recherche.

Proust has lived in Paris all his life, except for his stays in Illiers-Combray or Cabourg and his travels to Venice. The exhibition traces his family’s origins, the apartments they occupied in Paris and the places they used to spend time in. There are even maps of them!

Proust was born in 1871 in Auteuil, a village incorporated to Paris in 1860 and which is now the wealthy 16th arrondissement. His great-uncle had a country house there and Proust’s parents found shelter there during the Commune. Then they moved to the 8th arrondissement, where Proust would spend all his life. This area of Paris was modeled by the Baron Haussmann: large avenues, trees, not far from the Bois de Boulogne.

Rich bourgeois had mansions built there. In today’s touristic Paris, it’s the Boulevard Haussmann and its famous department stores, the Garnier Opera, the La Madeleine Church, the Saint-Augustin Church. We have to remember that for Proust as a child, everything around him was rather new.

The exhibition shows all the places that were Proust’s quotidian in Paris, so there is nothing about Cabourg or Illiers, translated as Balbec and Combray in his novel.

Proust spent his early childhood in Auteuil. Laure Hayman, a famous cocotte of the time was his great-uncle mistress. Marcel went to play at the Champs Elysées and he had various crushes on girls. His father, Adrien Proust, was a gifted doctor who had a brilliant career fighting for hygiene and against epidemics (cholera). He studied how epidemics spread and how to prevent their spreading. I listened to a series of podcasts about his work and actions during the first lockdown and it was fascinating. Proust’s mother, Jeanne Weill, came from a rich Alsatian-Jewish family of tradesmen. They had stores in Paris. She was the one who shared Marcel’s interest for literature and the arts, and, as the Narrator’s mother, was devastated by her mother’s death.

Proust had his mother’s eyers, no? We can imagine that Proust’s younger brother, Robert, who became a doctor, was closer to their father.

Marcel Proust went to the high school at the Lycée Condorcet. The students there were mostly non-religious bourgeois as the others were in private Catholic schools. Imagine that he had Stéphane Mallarmé as a teacher! They say he was very influential in Proust’s youth. Personally, I find Mallarmé’s poetry unreadable, I tried again after reading Berthe Morisot’s biography. Proust met close friends during his formative years at Condorcet and was an active participant to the high school newspapers and started his first literary work during those years.

La sortie du Lycée Condorcet by Jean Béraud (1903)

Growing up, he met people who introduced him to the high society. I took pictures of all the key people who inspired the characters of La Recherche but that will be in another post. These are the years he spent in salons, translating Ruskin, writing articles for Le Figaro and gathering memories and material for his future masterpiece.

Une chanson de Gibert dans le salon de Madame Madeleine Lemaire
by Pierre Georges Jeanniot (1891)

Following the death of his father (1903) and his mother (1905), he had to move to a smaller apartment, still in the same neighborhood.

The exhibition shows what Paris was like for Proust at the time, knowing that he never left the very wealthy 8th arrondissement. Maps showed the places he used to go to, like shops and restaurants. Some still exist, like the bookstore Fontaine and the restaurant Maxim’s. The gay brothel he financed and frequented, the Hôtel Marigny was on the map too. There was a map of the theatres and operas he loved and out of the nineteen places, I counted that only three don’t exist anymore. They may have moved but they are still there and that, in itself, is a tribute to the vibrant Parisian theatre scene. See an illustration with this very contemporary street corner in the 10th arrondissement.

The most surprising thing was Proust’s subscription to the Théâtrophone service. It was a service you could subscribe to in order to listen to live theatre plays and operas over the phone. It started in 1890 and was in operation until 1932, replaced by the radio. Proust loved theatre and operas and he signed up for this service in 1911. He listened to Wagner’s operas and Debussy’s music. We’re talking about the first streaming service for music and theatre here. Isn’t that mind-blowing? Reading a bit about it, I discovered that this service was invented and sold by Clément Ader, who made a fortune out of it and used the money to finance his researches on aviation. From music to planes!

When we think about Proust, we picture the whirlwind of soirées, shows and salons, but Proust wasn’t disconnected from politics: he was a fervent support to Dreyfus and Zola. He followed closely the battles during WWI and stayed in Paris during the whole war. He was interested in the world’s affairs.

Meanwhile, in 1906, he starts writing La Recherche, as if he needed his parents gone to spend some serious time on writing. The first official recognition came with the Goncourt prize for In the Shadows of Young Girls in Flower in 1919. He finished the first draft of the whole La Recherche in 1922, and told his housekeeper Céleste that he was done and could die. He hadn’t left his bed much during the last years.

Proust’s bed, coat, cane and writing instruments

His brother Robert made publishing Marcel’s work his mission. Tough job as Proust never reviewed Time Regained and added corrections and additions with sticked bands of paper. The last volume of La Recherche, Time Regained, was published in 1927. Then, Robert published Marcel’s correspondence. Céleste Albaret’s book of souvenirs was published in 1973 and it’s a gold mine of information.

It was a fascinating exhibition with a lot of information and things on display. Paintings, posters, pictures, maps and scale models were numerous and all accompanied by useful explanations. I loved it and I’m not the only one. There were a lot of visitors, which explained the poor pictures. It wasn’t easy to take them.

I will post the pictures about people who mattered in Proust’s life and inspired characters in La Recherche and I hope I’ll have time to post about Paris in La Recherche, the second part of the exhibition.

  1. February 24, 2022 at 12:06 pm

    I did not know about the Theatrophone service – it sounds great (and especially for someone who was so often bed-ridden like Proust). How lovely to travel vicariously with you, Emma!


    • February 24, 2022 at 10:39 pm

      I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read about the Theatrophone. The phone was quite new at the time and there were already services for entertainment. We always thinkt that we have invented everything, but no!

      I’m glad you enjoyed this billet!


  2. February 24, 2022 at 2:19 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this… it’s the next best thing to being there and seeing it for myself. Is it a permanent exhibition? It would definitely be on my list of things to do if I ever get back to Paris…


    • February 24, 2022 at 10:41 pm

      Thanks Lisa for your warm message. I always wonder if these posts are of any interest and I’m always surprised to see that they are.

      It’s not a permanent exhibition, it was set up for the 150 anniversary of Proust’s birth (December 1921) and it will last until April 2022.

      That said, the Musée Carnavalet has been revamped and it’s worth the visit if you come to Paris.


      • February 25, 2022 at 1:58 am

        Oh, that’s a shame…that means I owe you even greater thanks for the post.
        I went to the Carnavalet in 2012, which must have been not far from when it closed. We planned to spend the morning there are Victor Hugo’s house, but ended up spending the day. I’d love to see it now it’s been revamped.


  3. February 24, 2022 at 6:04 pm

    What Lisa said! Such a delight to read. And I love to imagine those manuscript revisions, when I don’t have to do anything with them, but oy oy oy, what a trial that would have been to manage as an onlooker (i.e. anyone BUT the writer).


    • February 24, 2022 at 10:42 pm

      Thanks for your enthusiasm! These posts take more time to write and I’m always happy to see that other readers find them interesting.

      I imagine that putting together Proust’s manuscripts without him must have been quite the challenge.


  4. February 24, 2022 at 8:51 pm

    Thank you for this Emma – absolutely wonderful. I would love to see this but won’t be able to, so seeing it through your eyes is such a treat!


    • February 24, 2022 at 10:45 pm

      Thanks! I’m really happy with all the warm comments about this billet as I wonder if my wanderings are of any interest but you seem to enjoy them. I’ll keep writing about my literary trips, then.

      I loved this exhibition and I’m so lucky I was able to attend. They gathered quite a collection and the narration felt right. I bet it was interesting even for people who haven’t read Proust.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. February 24, 2022 at 10:08 pm

    Amazing. The Théâtrophone service sounds so advanced! Paris through the eyes of Proust…a fascinating proposition!


  6. February 24, 2022 at 10:46 pm

    This Théâtrophone service was a real surprise and yes, I thought it was very advanced.

    Great exhibition, with lots of interesting details and well explained, even for visitors had never read Proust.


    • February 25, 2022 at 3:31 pm

      One of them was definitely The City and the Mountains (1901) by Eça de Queiroz, where in the “city” part of the novel the character equips his Paris apartment with all of the latest gadgets.


      • February 26, 2022 at 6:24 pm

        Thanks. Good to know.
        It was mentioned in Paris? Since, Portugal and Belgium were the other countries where the Theatrophone was available, he might have seen it in his own country.


        • February 26, 2022 at 11:08 pm

          Yes, the city in the title is Paris. Eça de Queiroz was the Portuguese consul-general in Paris when he wrote the novel.


  7. February 25, 2022 at 12:08 am

    I have come across the Theatrophone is several books, and I always think the author has invented it as a joke. Even though I know it was real! But it sounds like fiction.

    I visited the “old” Carnavalet in 2011, and a return is high on my list for my next visit to Paris.


    • February 25, 2022 at 9:36 am

      Do you remember in which books you came across the Théâtrophone? It does sound like fiction, doesn’t it? It’s so modern that it sounds like science fiction at the time.
      The sound must have been very poor.

      I hope you’ll be able to come soon and that you’ll have the opportunity to visit the Musée Carnavalet again.


  8. February 25, 2022 at 4:14 am

    It sounds such a great exhibit. Thanks, like many others here, I had never heard of the théâtrophone. Je viens de regarder un court reportage d’Arte dessus, vraiment incroyable. Le streaming avant le 21e siècle


    • February 25, 2022 at 9:38 am

      It’s a wonderful exhibit: well-done, with spot-on explanations and it gives a good idea of Proust’s Paris. Of course, it’s all about the high society classes and there’s nothing about common people.

      Je vais rechercher ce reportage d’Arte, c’est incroyable ce Théâtrophone.


    • February 25, 2022 at 9:44 am

      PS : Have you heard of the French-patterned hotel in Chicago that Dorothy writes about in her comment?


  9. Dorothy Willis
    February 25, 2022 at 4:29 am

    My daughter returned from a trip to Chicago and showed me pictures one of which was a large brass piece with quotations from Proust! She stayed in a boutique hotel which was patterned after French establishments. (I think!) Now she is very interested in reading Proust.


  10. February 25, 2022 at 3:29 pm

    I attend no theatre and very few exhibitions. Like all your other readers I am always grateful for the vicarious attendance I get through your write ups.


    • February 26, 2022 at 6:25 pm

      Thanks, Bill, for your kind comment. More exhibition and theatre posts will come.


  11. February 25, 2022 at 11:46 pm

    Fascinating write-up, Emma – thanks! As your readers are all scattered across the world and most of us won’t be able to see the exhibition, we’re lucky to have you as our correspondent. Like the other commenters, I had no idea about the Théâtrophone service and am amazed that it happened so early. What a great use for a new technology!


    • February 26, 2022 at 6:28 pm

      Thanks Andrew!
      Since you read La Recherche last year (or the year before?) I imagine it speaks to you.

      The Théâtrophone is really incredible. I tend to think that our time is devoted to free time and entertainment but actually, the entertainment industry started a long time ago. The phone was quite young when they had the idea to use it to broadcast live shows.

      Liked by 1 person

      • February 26, 2022 at 6:59 pm

        Yes, it was early last year, and it was such a memorable, immersive experience to read all seven volumes from start to finish. I would have loved to see the exhibition in person, but your post took me there. I think you mentioned that there are various Proust events happening this year – do you plan to visit any others?


        • February 26, 2022 at 8:02 pm

          I will post about characters vs real life persons soon.

          There are other events but the ones I’ve seen are all in Paris or in Illiers-Combray at what used to be Aunt Léonie’s house. I’m not sure I’ll have the opportunity to go to anything else but who knows?


          • February 26, 2022 at 8:08 pm

            I’ll be interested to see that post! I wondered as I was reading about the boundary between fact and fiction in his work.

            Liked by 1 person

  12. February 27, 2022 at 3:49 am

    It’s been a pleasure to finally have the time today to sit down and read your lovely post carefully. What a wonderful exhibition! Thank you for the background information and detail on Proust’s life. Recently I’ve been feeling a little bit of a pull towards picking up La Recherche again, but maybe I’ll explore other books about Proust, which I haven’t done before.


    • February 27, 2022 at 10:12 pm

      Thanks for the time you give me, I appreciate it as I know we’re all busy.

      If you want to read something about Proust that will be easy and entertaining, there’s Monsieur Proust’s Library by Anka Mulhstein and Monsieur Proust by Céleste Albaret.


      • February 28, 2022 at 3:05 am

        Thank you for the recommendations!

        Too true and I didn’t want to feel hurried when reading the post as it’s such an interesting subject.


        • February 28, 2022 at 7:29 am

          I’m looking forward to reading your review of them or one of them.

          Life is going to get busy again for me tomorrow, February was a nice interlude.

          Liked by 1 person

  13. March 1, 2022 at 11:43 pm

    I loved this post Emma, thank you so much for sharing! It’s wonderful to hear about the théâtrophone, I had no idea!

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 5, 2022 at 9:37 pm

      Thanks for reading it! The théâtrophone is a surprise to almost everyone. We always think that we are so clever and innovative and then bam, you discover the Théâtrophone.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. February 28, 2022 at 2:16 pm
  2. July 24, 2022 at 5:18 pm
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