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Literature: when Marcel Proust was made press secretary of himself

Ⓒ AFP – Thomas Samson – | Extremely rare edition of the book “On the side of chez Swann” by Marcel Proust, put on sale by Sotheby’s and exhibited on September 28, 2017 in Paris

This is an extremely rare edition of “On the side of Swann” that the Sotheby’s house goes on sale Monday in Paris with, along with this treasure for bibliophiles, some letters from Marcel Proust in which the writer is revealed as the best press officer of himself.

The book, estimated between 400,000 and 600,000 euros, is one of five numbered copies of “On Swann’s Side” on what some consider the most beautiful paper in the world: the “imperial japan” or “washi” .

Three copies of these rare and precious books are sheltered by their owners and a fourth has disappeared during the Second World War without ever reappearing. The book put up for sale at Sotheby’s had meanwhile not reappeared publicly since 1942, at the time of an auction at Drouot. It was originally offered by Marcel Proust to Louis Brun, a leader of the Grasset House, in recognition of his support, as the writer recalls in his dedication.

A great bibliophile, Louis Brun added to his copy handwritten documents by Marcel Proust, which he had linked at the end of the volume.

– All means are good –

These documents, eight in total, reveal an unexpected Marcel Proust. To defend his book, the writer suggests to friends of the Parisian press to have published in their respective newspapers rave reviews of his novel.

All means are good for the writer. He offers money to newspapers, writes himself the articles he wants to see published.

At the same time, the novelist is careful not to be discovered. The echoes he writes must remain anonymous, he insists.

In a letter, he explains to Louis Brun that it must be said that “it is the publisher who wrote this and if we consulted the manuscript in the newspaper, it is better that it is not my writing.”

He asks Louis Brun to send the newspapers a typed version of his writings, so that no one can recognize his writing. He also suggests sending invoices to Grasset with the understanding that he will pay “in full” at the end of the day.

When he speaks of his book, Proust writes that “On the side of Swann’s house” is “a little masterpiece”. He speaks of him in the third person: “What Mr. Proust sees, smells, is completely original” …

– ‘Active Corruption’ –

This flattering and unsigned eulogy will be published on the front page of the Journal des Débats in April 1914. It will cost the writer 660 francs at the time, about 2,000 euros. A short, published on the front page of the French daily Le Figaro, April 18, 1914, will be charged 300 francs (1,000 euros) to the writer. In a letter to Brun, Proust complains bitterly that the newspaper has removed the adjective “eminent” which he qualified.

Jean-Yves Tadié, a great Proust specialist who directed the edition of “In Search of Lost Time” in the Pleiades, explains that the writer “understood first of all the importance of communication, advertising, relations with the media “.

“He spares neither his time nor his money, not shrinking from what would appear to us today as active corruption, since he pays the newspapers to talk about his book and he writes to them what ‘they must be published,’ says Tadié in the preface of the catalog devoted to the sale.

For Benoît Puttemans, a manuscript specialist at Sotheby’s, interviewed by AFP, paying for rave reviews was “a common practice at the time”.

In the name of Proust, we must remember that he had to fight hard to find a publisher.

He was subjected to numerous refusals before Bernard Grasset agreed to publish it, at cost, in November 1913.

Surprised by the success of the book, Gaston Gallimard managed to convince Proust to join his house. It will be with the NRF of Gallimard that Proust will get the Goncourt in 1919.

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