Letters to Prince Pierre de Monaco

[End of July 1920]

   Dear friend,

   while waiting for Braun to reprint the excellent photograph he did of this portrait, I am sending you this heliogravure1 that the N.R.F. needlessly and with so much trouble obtained from the "Son of Réjane". I can never forget that evening at rue Laurent P[ichat] where you were saying with a curious look as if you were gathering information "Ah! It's the Son of Réjane", as you might have said the Son of Arétin or the Son of Tabarin.2 And disarmed of my personality by these magical words, I felt myself destitute of my own identity, deprived by you of my existence. What reason to write "In Search of Lost Time". But what much more imperious reason for you after your marvellous letter of the other day, to write everything that it has already accomplished. Your decanted voice, which merely brings into view your precious lode, acts as the signal for long awaited and necessary pages, for the advent of which I will be, should you not feel sufficient courage and drive, an artificial and provisory incubator. But so many regrets that you finally reveal your indubitable vocation the very day before your departure for Dieppe, Marchais, Monte Carlo, when these conversations with each other (all great writers had need of this first movimentum) would have been indispensible and now find themselves put off for a year, if I'm not dead by then. Could you dine with me this evening (not at all from the point of view of work, simply for the pleasure of it). At the Ritz if you will.

   I've never had this black hairy nose that is an invention of the engraver.3

1. Letter is written around a heliogravure of the Blanche portrait.

2. L'Arétin (1492-1556), satirical writer, author of erotic texts. Tabarin (1584-1626) a jobbing actor who performed on the Pont Neuf. His name is famous and proverbial for denoting a theatrical tradition towards satire and farce. He was an inspiration to Molière.

3. With an arrow pointing to his nose on the picture.


[Shortly after Tue 27 July or 3 Aug 1920]

   Read up to the end please and especially from page 9 onwards. 

   Dear friend,

   I was very disappointed that you weren't free. I decided that nobody was worthy of taking your place and I dined alone in that room in the Ritz that Princesse Soutzo's principles of economy make her shocked to see me taking again. Fortunately she is no longer at the Ritz so I no longer have to fear for her comical and touching despair, nor above all to be obliged to hide myself away in the little dining-room at the side so as unknown to her to treble a madness of exaggeration. I know quite well that you are the first person I can tell these things, and perfectly naturally since your principles about the above are the same as mine. Dear friend, please don't imagine that I am contriving through clever evolutions to get to the very point (not the most essential though) of this letter. You would be doing me a great service by interesting one or two rich and extravagant people, if there are still two copies to subscribe to because fifty in total is so limited, (I am thinking off hand of Mme Kohn1 because I know you know her) of a de luxe edition that the Nouvelle Revue Française has put out, without informing me alas, of Jeunes filles en fleurs. But actually the book has been completely reset (which is a printers' term), there are fragments of my manuscripts bound into every copy (not in facsimile, the originals), so I don't think you would be asking for any great sacrifice but offering some advantage to all those who are snobbish about rare books and who will be able to buy a copy of this edition which is limited to fifty copies for 300 francs from the Nouvelle Revue Française. If the Nouvelle Revue Française had sold copies to booksellers like Floury2 for example, I would quite simply have bought up all fifty copies and given them away or kept them as I felt fit. Simply because of this ridiculously limited number of copies (they ought to have printed at least five hundred, and Gide thinks that they should have sold for a thousand francs a copy) they have excluded the booksellers and every person must put his name down for one. Also I can't face the ridicule of buying my own books, except perhaps one for Henri3 and one for myself. However there is one special case, and that is yours. I would be at the same time flattered if you had subscribed to a copy and utterly mortified if it cost you a centime. So if you don't see it as an inconvenience to subscribe to a copy, Nouvelle Revue Française 37 rue Madame, please do so, then let me know straight away and I will send you the 300 francs as reimbursement.
   I say "let me know" because the N.R.F. (Rivière being ill and far away from Paris) is not on the best of terms with me and perhaps wouldn't inform me if you had subscribed. On the other hand I ask for your complete silence about the reimbursement which I absolutely insist upon, but which could be a bit ridiculous. Dear friend, in spite of my fatigue at such a long letter solicitude about my own books must not make me lose my solicitude for yours; and as I will not be going either to Dieppe or to Monaco, I will have to explain to you very badly in a few words what I want to say.
   1. Nobody, dear friend, could write certain phrases in your last but one letter without being a remarkably gifted writer. So it would be criminal (dear God, will my utter exhaustion tonight permit me to get to the end of these essential pieces of advice!) if you did not cultivate your delightful gifts. Don't follow my example. When I was still at school I wrote a book that modesty prevents me from telling you what France and all the other great writers of the day thought about it. And instead of working (this book published by chance some years later) I wasted more than twenty five years in vain pleasures and avoidable illnesses (not venereal!). And it is only now on the threshold of the grave, incapable of a short note, with a broken pen, a rebellious brain, that I have taken on the task that is the duty of each of us to carry out to the end, which is to leave one's testament and one's thoughts, when I no longer have the strength to correct my proofs.4
   So the first piece of advice from the dining-room in the Ritz would be: "Work". Whether written in a letter or a book, a phrase has the same value, and certain phrases written by you leave me in no doubt as to your talent.
   The second would be this. Certain talented people don't know themselves how to place themselves in communication with the art that they ought to create. This is why you will have seen Maeterlinck5 among many others I could mention, initially being satisfied just to translate Novalis for example, to annotate him. Others (Fromentin6 for example) began with letters (those letters preserved and reunited make up Un Été au Sahel etc.). One or other of these means of fruitfulness would be applicable to you. I beg you, think deeply about the words I tell you and the examples I quote you. I assure you that if this didn't seem to me to be vital for you, I wouldn't be writing this letter that will be the death of me, in the state of suffering I find myself in this evening. But since I won't be able to see you for a year, or ever, I need to write it. - As an insignificant postscript to this very useful advice, in my opinion - I don't know if I explained to you what happened the other evening. Nobody comes into my room unless I ring, in order that I might sleep after one of my attacks, except when I give contrary orders. So you might well have said to me: "I will try to arrange something for Tuesday" and if I thought you would do so, I would have had myself woken up in time. But I waited in vain for your letter. On Tuesday I kept myself up all morning, in the hope that one would come. I rang again at midday but in the end, by two o'clock and as nothing had come, instead of getting up I took my fumigations. I fell asleep at the end of the day and when I rang in the evening at about nine o'clock (because I think I wrote you eight o'clock but it was nine o'clock) I received your several messages at the same time. From somebody more practical and precise than you, perhaps I would have waited until the evening for a word. But you say so carelessly: "you'll have a letter tomorrow" (a letter that never comes), you send out your invitations so carelessly the next day which forces one to go in search of Lost Time to accept them, so that not having received anything by Tuesday afternoon, I only imagined that I would be cursing myself for having stayed up waiting for something that you had not given a thought to. And (for once) you really should have thought about it! In the belief in all my affectionate regret over that evening, my Dear Friend, please place at the feet of her Serene Highness Madame la Duchesse Valentinois7 the respectful excuses of her servant

   Marcel Proust.

   Dear Friend, please don't show my literary "advice" to anybody and if I die before I see you again, don't publish it. The very idea is a little ridiculous but that would cause me so much consternation that I prefer to brave the ridicule by telling you at any event my last wishes.

   P.S. My fears that you might publish my advice is not actually so stupid because Ludovic Halévy8, having found an idiotic article of mine admirable, cut it out and had it bound which led to the catastrophe of its publication.

   2nd P.S. I think that avenue Président Wilson would be better named (on account of so many noble and wise acts by the modern Haroun al Raschid9) Avenue Prince de Monaco. If needs be one could give some place or other to President Wilson. But first of all "King, the only true king of this century, Hail Sire!"10

1. Madame Kohn, wife of the banker Georges Kohn, died in a concentration camp in 1944.

2. Parisian art publisher.

3. Henri Rochat, Proust's secretary. Proust also gave a copy to Suzy Proust, his brother Robert's daughter.

4. Proust was correcting the first proofs of Le Côté de Guermantes.

5.  Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949) Belgian poet and author, much admired by Proust who reconstructs very liberally here his debuts for the Nobel prize for literature in 1911.

6. Eugène Fromentin (1820-1876), painter and writer, noted for his travels in Algeria. Proust confuses two titles: Un Été dans le Sahara and Une Année dans le Sahel. The two books were published together in 1887 as Sahara et Sahel.

7. Princesse Charlotte whom Pierre de Polignac had just married.

8. Ludovic Halévy (1834-1908), librettist of Offenbach, playwright and novelist. Father of Daniel Halévy, school friend of Proust's at Condorcet. Ludovic does not appear to have ever brought about any "catastrophe of publication".

9. This appears to refer to the Abbasid caliph Hâroun ar-Rachîd (763-809) and his fictional counterpart in The Thousand and One Nights.

10. Quotation from Verlaine's À Louis II de Bavière.


Telegram Paris 2727 5 61 20 10h30

[20 Aug 1920]

  Dear friend,

   Three weeks ago I wrote you an endlessly long and above all very important letter for your books and mine. I have not heard a word from you and I am troubled that you respond to so much friendship with so little.

   Marcel Proust.


[20 Oct 1920]

44 rue Hamelin

   Dear friend, 

   It is quite ridiculous, that when I am weighed down with so many urgent letters I am devoting all my energy to one letter "outside of time". But I was anxious to write to you so that you will not think it is out of ridiculous childishness that I have replied with silence to your silence of this summer. I would have replied to you the same day, but I had a forty degree fever, having for the first time in my life picked up a terrible cold (even though my doctor insists it is intoxication and that I don't have a cold. In all practicality it comes to the same thing, except that I can write you this letter without fear of infecting you, just as my visitors could sit on my bed without poisoning themselves). I am too exhausted to tell you what in any case is no longer of interest. A last letter has to be a complete letter. I am only too aware that if this one has the rights to the first epithet, it does not merit the second. But intoxication or not I am in no state to discuss with you the strange resolution you took this summer of not even accepting such essential literary advice, and additionally for me the practical service of subscribing to a book that was not the Time of great age but those young girls in bloom that you say you like. I was astonished by the month's silence that preceded the telegram, not by the one that followed it, because one usually sends telegrams with: "Letter to follow", to spare oneself from writing another letter. But it was your last letter where I have no doubt misread some of the words that seemed more obscure to me. There remains to me only the hope that you are not in poor physical health. It is often the case that these silences, reappearances etc. are due to fatigue. I sincerely hope that is not the case with you, because (even at the very moment I take my definitive leave of His Highness the Duc de Valentinois), I retain an affectionate memory, combined with gratitude and boundless intellectual esteem for Comte Pierre de Polignac.

   Marcel Proust.

   If you recall the letter in which bizarrely you said that you felt "intimidated", don't forget the advice in it. It is the privilege of Princes (and those from the House of France who I think are not worthy of you) to have great writers as their tutors. I make no claim to be that, and in any case I never could be. At least my eulogies ought to have been tonics, when so many others need only discouragement.

   P.S.  Please don't believe that I was lying about my forty degree fever just because you have been told that I had been spotted around that time dining at the Ritz and going out during the day after midday. The fact of the matter is that I have resolved to have the 12,000 francs from funds of the American Foundation awarded to Jacques Rivière. I am a member of the jury so I could easily do that. It's true that as I felt too ill I wrote to all the other members the day before to make them come to a decision and, even though more important and older men than me, all of them academicians, they were happy to grant me that. I have gone so far as to have Bergson woken up in the middle of the night, and just returned from Oxford, who wanted to write to tell me not to disturb myself and that he would vote for Rivière. In spite of that, fearing a last minute weakening of the will, I preferred to go there myself. And out of fear of falling asleep, I didn't go to bed. That's why I might have been seen at midday in the Ritz and in the afternoon dead on my feet just avoiding falling on top of Bergson, then Régnier1, which would have been quite comical. I had my compensation: it was unanimous for Rivière2! He has two small children, it was necessary, and more than deserved. In any case he refused me half an hour after writing ten lines about Lucien Daudet. All these details are to demonstrate to you that this unforeseen outing in no way nullifies the fact that I was in no state to reply to you. Since from this fact you might have been able to attribute as a cause an intention as unworthy of me as of you, retaliation, I have neglected all other correspondence to write to you these final words. I say final because you yourself say "interrupted relations", which is equivalent to saying "broken" because even if one had the desire to take them up again, there would be no reason for you not to break them anew, not having had any word this summer, not even one alleged by you.


1. Henri Bergson (1859-1941), philosopher and Henri de Régnier (1864-1936), author, were both members of the jury for the Prix Blumenthal.

2. The Prix Blumenthal was awarded to Jacques Rivière on 30 September 1920 thanks to Proust's insistent intervention.


[Shortly before 21 Oct 1920]

44 rue Hamelin

   Marcel Proust sent a long letter yesterday to His Highness the Duc de Valentinois, 40 avenue President Wilson instead of 10. On noticing this error he was concerned that the letter was not delivered. If that is the case he hopes that Sir might trouble himself to reclaim it from the post.


Return to Front Page

Created 10.04.16