Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Marcel Proust, Writing In Search of Lost Time: Proust's Notebooks and Paperoles

In his ordered, cork-lined bedroom in 102 Boulevard Haussmann, Marcel Proust wrote In Search of Lost Time from his bed, on notebooks resting on his knees. "Never saw him write even the shortest note standing up", wrote his housekeeper Albaret. He wrote "from a semi-recumbent position, suspended mid-way between the realms of sleeping and waking using his knees as a desk", writes Diana Fuss.

Proust sought to eliminate all sensory distractions from his writing environment and regulated the latter with obsessive precision. His brass bed in the corner of the bedroom was surrounded by little tables upon which his writing instruments and implements were kept.

Photo by LWY

Proust's Notebooks and Paperoles

As Marcel Proust's writing instruments were humble, so were his notebooks and papers where he scribbled down In Search of Lost Time, arguably the most significant novel of the 20th century. His Sergent-Major nibs were of the cheapest kind as were his pen holders. For paper, Proust used the common French school children exercise notebooks which he purchased in bulk.

Marcel Proust's paperoles
in Belles Lettres, Manuscripts by the Masters of French Literature, Harry Abrams: NY 2001

But any other paper lying about would do. Envelopes, magazine covers, scarps of paper of different length and format were used: Proust called these "paperoles". Pages were torn out of notebooks and pasted elsewhere, and paperoles were often stuck together sometimes forming two-metre long scrolls. The creative process for Proust involved "writing fragments, putting them together and then separating them in order to re-assemble them in another way", writes Jean-Yves Tadie.

Marcel Proust manuscript from
Belles Lettres, Manuscripts by the Masters of French Literature, Harry Abrams: NY 2001

Near his bed, three bedside tables held books, handkerchiefs, lamps and hot water bottles, a water jug and the indispensable coffee on which he survived the later years of his life. They also held his writing equipment: inkwell, nibs, penholders, notebooks, paperoles and spectacles. "The three tables are in fact highly organized; together they neatly circumscribe thought with sensation in an apparent demonstration of Proust's theory of writing from the senses".

Marcel Proust

On Proust's room, see the wonderfully-written, Diana Fuss, The Sense of an Interior, Routledge: NY & London 2004. Also Proust in his Bedroom in Suite101. On Proust's writing process, see Jean-Yves TadiMarcel Proust. A Life.trans. Euan Cameron, Penguin Books, 2001.

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