Book Fairs | April 10, 2018

Major Proust Find Revealed at Paris International Rare Book Fair

p1canfig4712k01snvt7c1ggq8g35.001.jpegIn a document presented at the most important annual rare book sale in Paris this week, April 13-15 we discover a fifteen-year-old Marcel Proust, in love with a 13-year-old Russian girl, torn between feelings, dreams and intelligence.

The teen-aged Proust condemns narrow-mindedness and wants to understand everything and read everything. He did not omit any answer when filling in a personality game questionnaire popular at the time. 

For many of the questions asked Proust finds the space provided too limited and his writing, already ‘Proustian’, overflows into the margin. The questionnaire was an English designed personality game that became very popular in Britain and France.

According to Proust’s biographer, Jean-Yves Tadié, the future writer was nearly 16 when he answered this questionnaire and he was in love with a young girl, aged 13 whom he used to meet every day on the Champs-Elysées. Marie Benardaky was the daughter of Nicolas de Benardaky, former master of ceremonies at Russia’s Court. The family lived at 65 rue de Chaillot in Paris. Hence Proust’s reference, in the Questionnaire, to Russian people, the nicest, and to his favorite activity: to love. The significance of the questionnaire is that it offers the earliest insight into his double inclination of the romantic and the intellectual.

This is a major discovery for all Proust fans and the academic community. It is being shown in public for the first time at the Paris International Rare Book and Fine Art Fair on April 13-15.

The Fair is one of the most important international gatherings in the field of written heritage. It is also the only salon in the world that brings together experts in objets d’art in 40 subjects from archaeology to contemporary art through jewellery, haute époque, tribal art, antique weapons and clockmaking .

Beneath the nave of the Grand Palais it gathers 150 booksellers and 50 experts, receives 20,000 visitors in three days and presents some 100,000 documents and objects.

This year sees the 30th edition of the International Rare Book Fair organized by SLAM, the Syndicat national de la Librairie Ancienne et Moderne (National Union of Old and Modern Bookshops). In April 2017 it was joined by the CNES, Chambre Nationale des Experts Spécialisés (National Chamber of Specialist Experts), to create the Rare Book and Fine Art Fair, an event uniting French expertise at its highest level! 

Exhibitors save their best discoveries for this salon. This is evidenced by Laurent Coulet, Parisian bookseller, who will exhibit a totally unknown Proust questionnaire that he has just discovered, the first completed by Marcel Proust, on 25 June 1887, the year he turned fifteen.

The questionnaire was a game aimed at revealing one’s personality. It originated in 19th century England and was made famous by the witty replies of universally recognized writer Marcel Proust. For sale in stationary shops, in English or French, these worldly questionnaires were full of indiscreet questions. 

There are two other questionnaires known to be filled out by the hand of Proust before Laurent Coulet discovered this latest one, which is the first to be fully completed by the author, and also the one with the most abundant answers, undoubtedly the one in which he confided the most.

Another, dated 4 September 1887, filled in at the request of his friend Antoinette Faure, comprised 24 questions printed in English on an A4 page; it was acquired at auction in 2003 by the Gérard Darel Company for the sum of ??120,000. The other questionnaire known to date, comprising 31 questions in French, had appeared in 1936, published in a catalogue of Galerie Pierre Bérès, and then seen in 1965 for the last time, on the occasion of an exhibition at the Bibliothèque Nationale, France’s national library.

This is, of course, a major discovery, which will be shown for the first time at the Paris International Rare Book and Fine Art Fair.

The Fine Art Fair is the only expert fair in the world and is gaining momentum. By creating this fair in 2017, the CNES, Chambre Nationale des Experts Spécialisés en objets d’art et de collection (National Chamber of Experts Specialising in Objets d’Art and Collectible art) intended to show the public the role of the expert in discoveries, advice and heritage protection. 50 experts (compared to 40 last year) will show their latest discoveries and expertise in objects in all domains: from jewellery to furniture to twentieth century art, modern paintings, clockmaking, silverware, archaeology, tribal art and military memorabilia. 

Throughout the show you can attend a guided tour and conferences, participate in the manufacture of special paper and in bookbinding workshops, learn about bibliophilia, and meet artists, experts and Maîtres d'art (Masters of Art, awarded this title by the French Ministry of Culture to distinguished arts and crafts professionals, for their exceptional expertise and ability to pass on their knowledge).

Image: An unknown Proust questionnaire dated 27 June 1887 ©Librairie Laurent Coulet