I didn’t eat a madeleine, but this is a throwback: finally the world is able to read Les Soixante-quinze Feuillets (The Seventy-Five Pages), seventy-five manuscript pages that make up the oldest draft of Marcel Proust’s masterpiece In Search of Lost Time. Written in 1908 when Proust was a thirty-six-year-old unknown, the pages comprise six major episodes that—in revised form—made their way into Swann’s Way, Within a Budding Grove, The Guermantes Way, and The Fugitive.
Until recently, the documents were in the possession of publisher Bernard de Fallois, who first mentioned the documents in the foreword for Against Sainte-Beuve, a 1954 collection of previously unpublished Proust essays. In the foreword, de Fallois framed Les Soixante-quinze Feuillets as a “precious guide” to understanding In Search of Lost Time.
When the soixante-quinze feuillets weren’t included in the collection acquired by the Bibliothèque Nationale from Proust’s niece Suzy Mante-Proust in 1962, they were considered lost. For decades, French academics looked for Les Soixante-quinze Feuillets, with no luck; some scholars even suspected de Fallois had made it up. But this year, publisher Gallimard released a statement revealing that the texts, “keys . . . to the primitive Proustian crypt” and “an essential piece of the puzzle,” had been found in de Fallois’s personal archives in 2018, upon de Fallois’s death. Said Gallimard, “[The texts’] reappearance . . . after more than a half a century of fruitless research, is a thunderclap.”
There is no current English translation of Les Soixante-quinze Feuillets, but an excerpt is available in English on The New Yorker’s website:
One day on the beach, I spotted, walking solemnly along the sand, like two seabirds ready to take flight, two young girls, two young women, really, whom, because of their unfamiliar appearance and style, their haughty and deliberate gait, I took for two foreigners I’d never see again; they weren’t looking at anyone and didn’t notice me. I didn’t see them again in the next few days, which confirmed my sense that they were only passing through our little seaside town, where everyone knew everyone else, where everyone led the same life and met up four times a day to play the same innocent beach games. But several days later I saw five or six girls of the same type gathered around a splendid carriage that had stopped beside the beach; the ones in the carriage were saying goodbye to the others, who hurried over to their horses, which were tied up alongside and on which they rode off. I believed that I recognized one of the two girls I’d seen walking on the sand, though I wasn’t sure, but the girl who really stood out for me this time had red hair, light-colored, superior eyes that rested on me, nostrils that quivered in the wind, and a hat that resembled the open wings of a seagull flying in the wind that was ruffling her red curls. They left . . .
Read the rest here.