Proust’s Overcoat


In the preface to his translation of John Ruskin’s Sesame and Lilies, Marcel Proust wrote that while some people decorate their rooms with things that reflect their taste, he preferred his room to be a place “where I find nothing of my conscious thoughts, where my imagination is thrilled to plunge into the heart of the not-me.” Anyone who has stood looking at Proust’s reassembled cork-lined bedroom at the Musée Carnavalet in Paris—his armchair, his pigskin cane, his brass bed—and tried, unsuccessfully, to feel kinship with his spirit would be relieved to know that he had such a desultory relationship to his personal possessions. These remnants of Proust’s physical life survive because of the obsessive quest of one man: Jacques Guérin, a perfume magnate and bibliophile who rescued Proust’s effects from a fate worse than oblivion—destruction at the hand’s of Proust’s sister-in-law, Marthe. In Lorenza Foschini’s new book, Proust’s Overcoat, the author tells the story of how Guérin discovered and claimed, piece by piece, what was left of Proust’s belongings, elegantly teasing out the relationship between family dynamics and property. Foschini also highlights the role of objects and spaces in Proust’s work, allowing us to see In Search of Lost Time through a different lens. The result is an oblique kind of literary criticism, a material commentary on one of the masterpieces of the twentieth century.

more from Lauren Elkin at Artforum here.