Proust's Overcoat: The True Story of One Man's Passion for by Lorenza Foschini

By Lorenza Foschini

“A infrequent and fantastically written ebook of literary detection that's heartbreaking in addition to thrilling.”
—Michael Ondaatje, writer of The English Patient

 

In the culture of Simon Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman comes Proust’s Overcoat by way of Lorenza Foschini—the charming, eternally fascinating tale of a collector’s obsessive look for the private results of mythical writer Marcel Proust. This interesting actual tale introduces readers to a very pleasant character—Jacques Guérin, proprietor of a fragrance corporation in France—and enthralls them together with his relentless lifelong pursuit of all issues Proustian, even the author’s so much mundane possessions.

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They wore small wax-buttoned, polished boots with white Scottish wool socks, and double-breasted jackets with beautiful silk tassel ties. Was Robert’s arm gripping his brother’s sleeve to suggest protection and support? Or was it the contrary, that Robert was clinging to Marcel, in need of his older brother’s greater authority? Another photo showed the brothers even younger, in baby gowns delicately decorated with lacework collars and wrists. Robert’s curly head lay on his brother’s shoulder as Marcel grasped his younger brother’s waist in one hand and clutched his chubby little hand in the other.

Was the distance he seemed intent on maintaining motivated by fear of getting his boots wet from the fountain, or was it more a question of autonomy, of distance from his brother? Scrutinizing the image, Guérin sought to divine the underlying nature of their relationship. How many words did the brothers speak to each other; how many did they not speak? The photo was dated 1883. Twelve at the time, Proust had been attending the Lycée Condorcet for a year, along with his friend from elementary school, Jacques Bizet, son of Georges Bizet, the composer of Carmen.

They had been carefully stashed away. A publisher had alerted their daughter Suzy to the possibility that these papers might be worth a fortune, so she had taken them and locked them away in a safe. When Marthe heard about their potential value, she stopped the burning. All the books and papers left behind had been offered to Lefebvre, who bought them all, and then Guérin had purchased everything from him. So that’s that, thought Guérin, as he listened to Werner. Treasures were spared from Marthe’s destructive folly only when she became remorseful at having destroyed things that might have been lucrative.

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