The Seventy-Five Folios and Other Unpublished Manuscripts

Image of The Seventy-Five Folios and Other Unpublished Manuscripts
Release Date: 
April 25, 2023
Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press
Reviewed by: 

"A richly rewarding book for anyone interested in Proust or the task of writing itself."

Historians have long known that Marcel Proust wrote 75 folios of rough drafts for the masterpiece that would become In Search of Lost Time. They were lost among the mountains of such material until recently discovered by editors at Le Pleiade. This book is the first English edition of these formational pages.Nathalie Mauriac Dyer does an exceptionally thorough job of introducing and commenting on the various drafts, offering a critical infrastructure for the rich material, Proust at his earliest and rawest. As Dyer describes in her preface:

"Here, the flood of childhood memories and grief is yet under control; it flows endlessly, uninterruptedly. The reason for this simple: the monologue we are reading is a form of confession, of autobiography, not a novel. This is what Proust began at the end of 1907."

The sections here are revised over and over again, changing the emphasis of a scene, simplifying in one version, more complicated in another. Here we see the raw intensity of memory for Proust, a kind of "divine reality." His focus on his childhood experiences, on how they touched him, became a life-long pursuit for perfection, something "we try so desperately later, when are artists, to discover and elucidate in our brain."

Fellow writers will be fascinated by how much Proust reworked the scenes that mattered most to him, his attention to visceral detail, to sensations, as a way to getting at reality, as in the famous madeleine passage:

"But as soon as I tasted the biscotte, it was a whole garden, until then vague and lifeless to me with its forgotten paths, which was painted flowerbed by flowerbed, with all its flowers in the little cup of tea, like those little Japanese flowers that open only in water."

One frustration for an English reader is that the difference between versions is sometimes so subtle, one wonders if the vagaries of translation can capture with precision the varying word choices made in the original French. One simply has to trust that the effect remains similar enough in a completely different language. That is, after all, the job of the translator, an especially tricky endeavor in these pages.

Still, this is a richly rewarding book for anyone interested in Proust or the task of writing itself. Proust constantly asks himself what art should strive for and then labors to get as close as he can to that ideal. Dyer greatly adds to Proust's own creative efforts by providing context for his world and work. The Seventy-five Folios provide a unique look at a literary giant and his best-known book, both through Proust's own words and Dyer's thorough research.