Marcel Proust (1871–1922) spent fourteen years creating In Search of Lost Time, his seven-volume magnum opus. He died when it was only half in print, unable to see it become one of the most important literary works of the twentieth century. Over eighty years later, the work still garners extraordinary levels of critical attention, and Proust’s habits, health, and sexual preferences still keep commentators and fans occupied. In this concise biography, Adam Watt explores the life of a writer whose every experience was stored, dissected, and redeployed within a vast fictional work.
After considering Proust’s earlier years of personal and aesthetic experiment, Watt provides an engaging account of two intertwined processes taking place against the vibrant backdrop of Belle Époque Paris and World War I: the progress of In Search of Lost Time and the simultaneous decline of its author. He demonstrates how Proust’s own periods of ill health and isolation reflected his narrator’s thoughts on desire, love, and loss, as well as his contemplation of beauty, memory, aging, and the possibility of happiness. Drawing on the author’s immense correspondence, the accounts of his contemporaries, and the insights of recent scholarship, Marcel Proust offers a rewarding new portrait of the novelist once described as “the most complicated man in Paris.”