French Expression of the Day: Madeleine de Proust

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French Expression of the Day: Madeleine de Proust

In a poetic reference to writer Marcel Proust, every French person - and everyone in the world - has their very own 'madeleine de Proust'. The burning question is: what is yours?


Why do I need to know madeleine de Proust?

This a highly common expression in France and you will be able to let everyone notice that your French literature knowledge is on point.

What does it mean?

A madeleine de Proust is an expression used to describe smells, tastes, sounds or any sensations reminding you of your childhood or simply bringing back emotional memories from a long time ago.

You may for example hear someone say: Le parfum de la lavande, c'est ma madeleine de Proust. Ca me rappelle mes vacances de famille en Provence. - The perfume of lavender is my Proustian madeleine. It reminds me of my family vacations in Provence.

Je bois toujours un chocolat chaud quand je suis triste. C'est ma madeleine de Proust, ca me remonte le moral. - I always drink a hot chocolate when I'm sad. It is my Proustian madeleine, it makes me feel better.

Where does it come from?

The saying comes from Marcel Proust's famous novel, Du côté de chez Swann, or Swann's Way, published in 1913. It is part of his lifetime's work À la recherche du temps perdu - In Search of Lost Time or sometimes published as Remembrance of Things Past.


French literary great Marcel Proust. Photo: Dutch National Archives

In this book, Proust writes about his mother offering him tea and a madeleine to warm him up. The taste of the shell-shaped cake dipped in tea unintentionally caused him to be overwhelmed by emotion, and has him reminiscing about a time of his childhood when he was given the same snack.

Over time, the expression became so popular that neuroscience researchers have been trying to scientifically explain the idea of unwitting memory, and philosophers have associated Proust with major thinkers on time and memory.

For more French expressions you can CLICK HERE to see our full list






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