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LITERATURE

Proust’s personal archives to go under the hammer in Paris

Intimate letters, personal photographs and rare manuscripts that once belonged to French writer Marcel Proust will go under the hammer in Paris.

Proust's personal archives to go under the hammer in Paris
Photo: AFP

The collection of some 120 items from the “Remembrance of Things Past” author's personal archives even includes a hand-corrected proof of one of his well-known works.

The trove of artefacts, being sold by the writer's 41-year-old great-grand-niece Patricia Mante-Proust, is to be auctioned on May 31.

Experts estimate the entire collection will sell for €520,000 to €740,000 ($600,000 to 850,000).

Included are several photos of the author, his family and close male friends Lucien Daudet and Reynaldo Hahn who were also his lovers.

One image shows Daudet casting a dreamy gaze at Proust, while leaning an arm on the writer as another friend stands off to one side.

Proust, on the orders of his parents, was supposed to get back any prints of that photo in circulation because the 1896 picture was deemed compromising.

Also in the collection is one of the most famous portraits of the writer, taken when he was about 17, and which bears an inscription on its back from Daudet that reads: “to my dear Marcel.”

Proust fans will have an opportunity to get their hands on a set of proofs of “In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower”, the second part of Remembrance, that includes crossed out passages and corrections.

The book, which was supposed to be published in 1914, was delayed by the outbreak of World War I and left the author with time to make changes to the manuscript.

An original edition of “Swann's Way”, the first volume of Remembrance and which was published in 1913, will also go up for sale.

Among the most moving items being put up for auction are two of the three known letters from Proust to his father, who did not see literature as a proper profession.

In a September 1893 missive Proust appears to submit to parental authority by saying he wanted to “seriously” study for foreign service entrance exam.

In another letter, which is from Proust to Hahn, the author says his friend is “truly the person, along with mother, that I love most in the world,” or Daudet.

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HISTORY

‘Lost’ manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

A book by one of France's most celebrated and controversial literary figures arrives in bookstores this week, 78 years after the manuscript disappeared

'Lost' manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

It is a rare thing when the story of a book’s publication is even more mysterious than the plot of the novel itself.

But that might be said of Guerre (War) by one of France’s most celebrated and controversial literary figures, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, which arrives in bookstores on Thursday, some 78 years after its manuscript disappeared.

Celine’s reputation has somehow survived the fact that he was one of France’s most eager collaborators with the Nazis.

Already a superstar thanks to his debut novel Journey to the End of the Night (1932), Celine became one of the most ardent anti-Semitic propagandists even before France’s occupation.

In June 1944, with the Allies advancing on Paris, the writer abandoned a pile of his manuscripts in his Montmartre apartment.

Celine feared rough treatment from authorities in liberated France, having spent the war carousing with the Gestapo, and giving up Jews and foreigners to the Nazi regime and publishing racist pamphlets about Jewish world conspiracies.

For decades, no one knew what happened to his papers, and he accused resistance fighters of burning them. But at some point in the 2000s, they ended up with retired journalist Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, who passed them – completely out of the blue – to Celine’s heirs last summer.

‘A miracle’
Despite the author’s history, reviews of the 150-page novel, published by Gallimard, have been unanimous in their praise.

“The end of a mystery, the discovery of a great text,” writes Le Point; a “miracle,” says Le Monde; “breathtaking,” gushes Journal du Dimanche.

Gallimard has yet to say whether the novel will be translated.

Like much of Celine’s work, Guerre is deeply autobiographical, recounting his experiences during World War I.

It opens with 20-year-old Brigadier Ferdinand finding himself miraculously alive after waking up on a Belgian battlefield, follows his treatment and hasty departure for England – all based on Celine’s real experiences.

His time across the Channel is the subject of another newly discovered novel, Londres (London), to be published this autumn.

If French reviewers seem reluctant to focus on Celine’s rampant World War II anti-Semitism, it is partly because his early writings (Guerre is thought to date from 1934) show little sign of it.

Journey to the End of the Night was a hit among progressives for its anti-war message, as well as a raw, slang-filled style that stuck two fingers up at bourgeois sensibilities.

Celine’s attitude to the Jews only revealed itself in 1937 with the publication of a pamphlet, Trifles for a Massacre, which set him on a new path of racial hatred and conspiracy-mongering.

He never back-tracked. After the war, he launched a campaign of Holocaust-denial and sought to muddy the waters around his own war-time exploits – allowing him to worm his way back into France without repercussions.

‘Divine surprise’
Many in the French literary scene seem keen to separate early and late Celine.

“These manuscripts come at the right time – they are a divine surprise – for Celine to become a writer again: the one who matters, from 1932 to 1936,” literary historian Philippe Roussin told AFP.

Other critics say the early Celine was just hiding his true feelings.

They highlight a quote that may explain the gap between his progressive novels and reactionary feelings: “Knowing what the reader wants, following fashions like a shopgirl, is the job of any writer who is very financially constrained,” Celine wrote to a friend.

Despite his descent into Nazism, he was one of the great chroniclers of the trauma of World War I and the malaise of the inter-war years.

An exhibition about the discovery of the manuscripts opens on Thursday at the Gallimard Gallery and includes the original, hand-written sheets of Guerre.

They end with a line that is typical of Celine: “I caught the war in my head. It is locked in my head.”

In the final years before his death in 1961, Celine endlessly bemoaned the loss of his manuscripts.

The exhibition has a quote from him on the wall: “They burned them, almost three manuscripts, the pest-purging vigilantes!”

This was one occasion – not the only one – where he was proved wrong.

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