Auctions | May 2, 2018

The Collection of Proust's Great-Niece, Marie-Claude Mante, at Sotheby's Paris

proust-2.jpgParis--It is always a remarkable event when the archives of the great writer appear on the market. On 24 May at Sotheby’s in Paris, there will be a sale of the collection of Marie-Claude Mante, Marcel Proust's great-niece and daughter of the writer's only niece, Suzy. 

After the library of Stéphane Mallarmé* and the collection of Proust's great-great niece, Patricia Mante-Proust*, this sale is a literary red-letter day, once again inviting literature lovers and bibliophiles to see Proust's work in a new light through 70 lots of literary manuscripts, letters and books with envois.

Guardian of the Proustian temple

The adored niece of her writer uncle, whom she saw as a "kind of magician", Suzy Proust (1903-1986) fell heir to a huge literary heritage on her father's death. A cultivated woman and music lover, and a keen reader of La Recherche, she worked throughout her life to perpetuate the memory of the man she affectionately called "Uncle Marcel". 

She retained the main part of his manuscripts, and encouraged the publication of his work and correspondence, though sometimes hiding passages referring to his homosexuality. Though the guardian of the temple, she willingly allowed publishers and researchers to study it, fostering the discovery and publication of whole sections of Proust's early writings, like Jean Santeuil and Contre Sainte-Beuve. 

She wanted her uncle's work to be accessible to as many people as possible, and generously lent the family's collections of books, manuscripts and photographs to numerous exhibitions throughout the world. In the early 1960s, she sold many exceptional manuscripts she inherited to the Bibliothèque nationale, and instructed Gallimard to publish ? la recherche du temps perdu in paperback. 

On her death in 1986, her three children shared the documents she had not sold to the Bibliothèque nationale and others, including her uncle's letters and books, which then appeared on the market.

A literary adventure

Marie-Claude Mante's collection casts fresh light on the work of Marcel Proust as a writer and translator.

One of the most eagerly awaited lots is a large collection of 138 letters from Gaston Gallimard to Marcel Proust (lot 183, estimate: ??100,000-150,000). These letters from one of the most prominent 20th century publishers to one of the greatest figures in French literature give us an almost daily picture of Gallimard's editorial strategy and the publication of the Recherche for a decade. Proust carefully kept his letters from Gaston Gallimard, which reveal him in his everyday work as a publisher, and show how keen he was to satisfy Proust.

A rough draft of Swann. The collection also contains a rare draft of a passage from Du côté de chez Swann. This is one of the last rough versions of the novel still in private hands; the rest is now in the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Entitled "Les Sources du Loir à Illiers (lot 160, estimate: ??30,000-50,000), this manuscript foreshadows one of the finest passages in Swann: the walk taken on fine days by the young hero of the Recherche on the Guermantes Way, along the Loir as it becomes the Vivonne, whenever he does not take Swann's Way in cloudier weather.

Another fine group is devoted to the translation of Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies. In a rough draft of one of his famous footnotes (lot 153, estimate: ??10,000-15,000), Proust explains the purpose of these notes, and describes his disagreements with Ruskin.

A decidedly iconoclastic translator, he also pastiches the author in a first edition of his translation of Sesame and Lilies, which he dedicated to Jean Sardou (lot 154, estimate: ??7,000-10,000). He plays around for three pages writing an "excerpt from Ruskin" to his friend, where he imagines a commentary by Ruskin on a Turner painting, the chief subject being Jean Sardou himself. Hitherto unpublished, this pastiche is one of the discoveries in this catalogue.

Two remarkable unpublished proofs, one entirely handwritten, for ? l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, provide fascinating information that sheds light on the novel. With impulsively penned crossings-out and corrections, this galley shows the author writing on the spur of the moment, and all his successive changes of mind. In 1914, after the publication of Du côté de chez Swann in 1913, Grasset had begun that of ? l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, but this was delayed by the war. Proust used the time to correct his text in the printed proofs, revising and adding to it considerably. ? l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs was awarded the Prix Goncourt, and Proust soon suggested publishing a deluxe edition of the novel, perhaps for financial reasons (lots 181 and 182; estimates: ??15,000-20,000 and ??10,000-15,000).

Between love and friendship

In his correspondence, a group of 10 letters stands out, written by Proust to his first great love, Reynaldo Hahn, a popular composer at Paris salons. Their relationship rapidly took on a passionate note, and Proust even included him as a character in Jean Santeuil. "I want you to be here all the time, "he wrote to Hahn in an autograph letter of late March 1896, "but as a god in disguise, whom no mortal would recognise." (lot 142, estimate: ??7,000 -10,000).

In an amusing pen drawing, Marcel Proust also drew a portrait of Reynaldo Hahn (lot 156, estimate: ??7,000-10,000). The composer is also present through a copy of Plaisirs et Les Jours, which he dedicated to Pierre Loti (lot 144, estimate: ??8,000-12,000).

Letters from Reynaldo Hahn to Proust are very rare: nine of those kept by Proust are presented in this collection (lot 141, estimate: ??10,000-15,000).

In 1908, Marcel Proust met a young writer in Cabourg, Max Daireaux, who became one of his loyal friends. The collection includes a group of 10 signed autograph letters (lot 165, estimate: ??20,000-30,000) in which he writes a lot of pleasant banter, dotted with advice for the man thirteen years his younger. An autograph letter of 1913 (lot 175, estimate: ??5,000-8,000) shows a meticulous Proust asking his friend, a qualified civil engineer, to confirm the scientific accuracy of certain descriptions while he was revising the proofs of Swann.

Friendship and admiration are also evident in the 17 books dedicated to Proust by Robert de Montesquiou, Maurice Maeterlinck, Léon Daudet and, more surprisingly, writers of the younger generation: the Surrealists André Breton and Philippe Soupault dedicated their Champs Magnétiques to him (lot 186, estimate: ??10,000-15,000) and Blaise Cendrars Du monde entier (lot 184, estimate: ??3,000-5,000).

The collection ends with the first-time appearance of a moving drawing by Jean-Bernard Eschemann of Marcel Proust on his deathbed (lot 196, estimate: ??1,000-1,500). Numerous artists, including Man Ray, came to pay their respects to the dead author, bearing witness to his contemporaries' admiration for him right to the end. 

Designed as a reference work, the richly documented and illustrated catalogue, with a preface by Jean-Yves Tadié, presents all the lots in chronological order, and is a genuine biography of the writer.

Livres et Manuscrits

Auction: 24 May 2018 

Preview: 18, 21, 22 & 23 May