Academic journal article Shofar

Madame Proust: A Biography

Academic journal article Shofar

Madame Proust: A Biography

Article excerpt

Madame Proust: A Biography, by Evelyne Bloch-Dano, translated by Alice Kaplan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. 310 pp. $35.00.

Proust has become a larger-than-life icon. His readers, like those of Joyce, can hardly learn enough about him. George Painter, Jean-Yves Tadié, William C. Carter, and their numerous predecessors have demonstrated adequately that there is a creative mismatch between Marcel Proust's actual experiences and those of "Marcel" of In Search for Lost Time. Yet the fascination grows. BlochDano's 2004 biography of Proust's mother bears out what many Proustians had long suspected: Proust's parents found in each other the petfect trophy. Adrien Proust (1834-1903), who rose through his leadership in public health, had roots too humble for a Catholic heiress; he needed a beautiful, wealthy, cultivated wife for a truly brilliant career. Jeanne Weil (1849-1905) could not have achieved such protective security in the Jewish upper middle class, and she had resisted arranged marriages still typical in it.

(It must be particularly gratifying for Kate Taylor, Madame Proust and the Kosher Kitchen, 2002, to find that the verifiable facts fit her speculations so well.)

Religion was not an issue for either of them personally. Neithet Adrien nor Jeanne believed in God. Only her family attended the wedding ceremony. Their marriage on September 3, 1870, was the day of the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, and Jeanne became pregnant a month after her marriage. The harsh conditions in Paris after the armistice and during the Commune are considered to have played a nefarious role in the gestation of the novelist.

The Dreyfus Case, a major mobile for the novel In Search for Lost Time, played out in a muted fashion in the Proust household. (Adrien's relatives at Illiers-Combray were another matter.) Dr. Proust sided with Felix Faure, who upheld the army and the government; Madame Proust and her two sons, properly baptized and confirmed as Roman Catholics, sided with Dreyfus. When identified as Jews, Robert and Marcel thought it poor form to deny it. …

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