France's national library celebrates Proust 100 years after his death

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France's Marcel Proust, who died 100 years ago this week, is regarded as one of the greatest novelists of all time. To mark the anniversary, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France is hosting a major exhibition in Paris, where some of the secrets of Proust's 2,400-page novel "In Search of Lost Time" are revealed.

In 1907 Marcel Proust, then 36 years old, embarked on what would become his masterpiece, a novel about memory and the essence of art. The project grew from one book to a second in 1912 and a third the following year.

"In Search of Lost Time" eventually grew to seven volumes – four published in Proust's lifetime and three after his death at the age of 51 in 1922.

Unwanted masterpiece

"For a long time, I went to bed early...", is how "In Search of Lost Time" begins, and it's also how the story ends for many readers, who may find Proust's prose to have soporific qualities.

Poetic and dreamy, sprinkled with dashes and parentheses, his sentences are exceptionally long – on average 30 words, twice that of most novelists.

After receiving three rejections for the first volume, "Swann's Way", Proust decided to self-publish.

Nobel-winning novelist André Gide, who was an editor at the time at NRF publishing house (which later became Gallimard), was among those who decided against Proust's dense prose.

"The rejection of this book will remain the NRF's greatest mistake," Gide later wrote to Proust, calling it "one of the most bitter regrets of my life".

His respiratory problems would finally get the better of him. He died on 18 November 1922.


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