Auctions | September 28, 2017

Copy of "Swann's Way" Not Seen Since 1942 Heads to Sotheby's Paris

Screen Shot 2017-09-28 at 9.37.00 AM.pngParis, October 2017--One of the main events in the sale catalogue of Books and Manuscripts on 30 October is the rediscovery of one of the five very rare examples of the first edition on Japanese paper of Du côté de chez Swann (Swann’s Way) by Marcel Proust (estimate: ??400,000/600,000).

These five legendary examples are the Proustian Holy Grail. The four other known copies belonged to Lucien Daudet, Gaston Calmette (the dedicatee of Swann), Jean Béraud and Jacques de Lacretelle (plundered during the war and never reappeared). This fifth copy is a genuine rediscovery: its last public appearance was in 1942 in a sale at Drouot, where it was bought by the bibliophile Roland Saucier, manager of the Gallimard bookshop on Boulevard Raspail. He kept it until his death.

It first belonged to Louis Brun, as witnessed by this fine autograph envoi:

"A Monsieur Louis Brun

Ce livre qui passé à la N[ouve]lle

Revue française n’a pas

oublié son amitié première

pour Grasset

Affectueux souvenir

Marcel Proust"

(To Mr. Louis Brun: this book, which is moving over to the Nouvelle Revue Française, has not forgotten its first friendship for Grasset. With affectionate memories, Marcel Proust)

Eminence grise to Bernard Grasset, and general secretary of the eponymous publishing house, Louis Brun was in charge of publications. He added several letters and manuscripts received from Proust to his copy.

From Grasset to Gallimard: the envoi encapsulates the publishing adventures of La Recherche (In Search of Lost Time). For Marcel Proust was rejected several times before the right person turned up in the shape of Bernard Grasset, who agreed to publish the novel at the authors' expense. Proust also had to finance its promotion. Du côté de chez Swann, finally published on 8 November 1913, reached the bookshops on 14 November. Although it had got off to a bad start, the book was a huge success for its persevering author. Taking advantage of editorial delays, Gaston Gallimard, André Gide, Jacques Rivière and the entire Nouvelle Revue Française team launched an irresistible charm offensive to persuade Proust to join their ranks. Their efforts paid off during the spring of 1916-this was probably the point at which Proust inscribes the copy to Louis Brun, as he refers to his move from Grasset to the N.R.F.

Apart from the envoi, the book comes with several autograph documents: two manuscripts of articles to be published in the Figaro, promoting Swann's release, and six letters-one to Bernard Grasset and five to Louis Brun-describing his strategy for the promotion of Swann in the press. Louis Brun had them bound at the end of his volume, and they provide valuable evidence of the author's ‘marketing’ methods, with Proust himself writing his publicity articles.

Today, seventy-five years after its last public appearance, this precious book is poised to enter the library of another great collector. 

A separate catalogue is devoted to this extraordinary copy, with a preface by Jean-Yves Tadié. This copy is the third of the four still in circulation to be sold by Sotheby’s; the most recent was the one belonging to Lucien Daudet, which fetched ??600,000 in 2013.