Proust at the Majestic: The Last Days of the Author Whose Book Changed Paris

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9781582344713: Proust at the Majestic: The Last Days of the Author Whose Book Changed Paris

A vivid portrait of the early impact of In Search of Lost Time―and of the last months of Proust in a city where he had become an unlikely star.

On a May evening in 1922, the English arts lovers Violet and Sydney Schiff convened a grand dinner at the Majestic Hotel in Paris, following the premiere of a Stravinsky ballet. In addition to guests of honor Stravinsky and Diaghilev, the dinner was attended by Picasso, James Joyce, and finally, arriving around 2:30 in the morning, one more artist at the peak of his fame: Marcel Proust. Sodom and Gomorrah, the fourth and most shocking volume of Proust's monumental work In Search of Lost Time, had just appeared, transfixing readers with its finely detailed observations on themes of Jewishness and anti-Semitism, the interplay across social classes, and all manner of sexual expression. The book's eccentric, ailing author had become a celebrity to French and English-language readers alike, and his presence at the dinner was all the more unusual since Proust rarely went out. In fact, he would be dead only six months later.

Acclaimed historian and biographer Davenport-Hines takes the dinner at the Majestic as the leaping-off point for an examination of Proust's last days, and the enormous reaction his novel garnered from its first years of publication. Using accounts by Proust's contemporaries, including other modernist stars, Proust's dazzled readers, and wealthy patrons such as the Schiffs, Davenport-Hines illuminates the Paris of the author's last days.

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About the Author :

Richard Davenport-Hines is an author and journalist who lives in London. His books include The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Global History of Narcotics, Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin, and a major biography of Auden. A recipient of the Wolfson Prize for History and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he writes for the New York Times, the Times Literary Supplement, the Sunday Times, and the Independent

From Publishers Weekly :

Despite the promise of the subtitle, Davenport-Hines has a problem in that Marcel Proust's last days don't lend themselves to a dramatic narrative: the writer spent his final months mostly secluded in his famous cork-lined sickroom, working furiously to finish In Search of Lost Time before his death in 1922. Further, as the author himself makes clear, Proust's groundbreaking novel didn't change Paris: WWI did. So what Davenport-Hines (Auden) gives us is long disquisitions on the frenzied postwar Paris scene (in which he strains to make references to Proust) and on the modernism that flourished there, along with pointless lengthy excerpts from Wyndham Lewis's bilious attacks on Paris, modernism and Proust. And we get an interminable chapter on Sydney and Violet Schiff, British art patrons who idolized Proust and tried to monopolize him in his last months. Davenport-Hines does offer a good primer on Proust's great work, and focuses on the novelist's fears over how Sodome et Gomorrhe, with its graphic explorations of homosexuality, would be received. But despite Davenport-Hines's occasional nice insights, William Carter, in his new Proust in Love, touches on many of the same points and tells many of the same anecdotes with more grace, human sympathy and a greater command of the sources. (June)
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