Letter to Jean Pierrefeu

44 rue Hamelin

   Dear Sir,

   I am very annoyed, I had written you an extremely nice letter, (and God knows what effort it takes me to write at the moment). The letter is still beside my bed because, thinking you would no longer be at Chantilly, my chauffeur couldn't remember the name of the street where he took you, in the rue Vaneau, but thinking he would be able to find the house again, after he had recovered from a slight indisposition, I was counting on him bringing you the letter yesterday. Except yesterday something very disagreeable happened to me and the nice letter found itself partially void. So I no longer knew what to do.  The best thing I think is that I tell you my two contradictory versions. In any case their explanation serves no practical purpose but it will excuse me in the future for not carrying out my first expressed intentions. I will start by telling you - and this holds good for all the imaginable versions of course - that I was distressed to learn from your charming letter that you caught cold that evening at the Ritz. I was trying in my letter to exonerate myself by explaining to you that these complaints are generally contracted a few days before the day they become manifest; but already upon your arrival at the Ritz you were talking about a discomfort, a tiredness that must have been the start of your feverish condition and so I don't think I could have aggravated it in any way. But if I am mistaken, if that evening party made you ill the regret I feel about it remains just as keen, I assure you, in the second version as in the first. - This is where they diverge: The letter that I had written you and which after the incident yesterday I felt some scruples about sending you, explained to you how, under the charm of all the pleasant words - and pretty words - of which your letter was full,  I felt the desire to see you again which rendered the state that it is my lot all the more painful, and which as you know kept me for weeks on end in bed, so much so that when a day comes where I am able to get up I can't manage to bring to up to date the hundreds of invitations that I unceasingly promise in good faith to accept, out of those - which are more agreeable to me - that I can no longer address to a few friends. But I had such a longing to see you, and on a regular basis, that I proposed certain procedures so that you would accept being my guest at the Ritz every day that I am able to get up, you indulging my company on certain evenings, allowing me to supply a little more attraction on certain others. I had almost, out of disgust with the only apartment I have been able to find in Paris, rue Hamelin, wanted to ask you if there weren't a house I could rent on this rue de Connétable from where your letter was addressed. (I might add that even in version number one I had already abandoned this idea, because I seem to remember that Chantilly is damp in the winter, leafy in the summer (on top of everything else I have hay fever) and which would make me even more ill. I am limiting my request then to spending an evening, that is to say to dine very late, with you, as often as my health permits.
   At which point an unpleasant incident took place which has ruined my beautiful plans. In asking to dine with you the other evening so soon after a not very kind article by you, I had done something unique in my life.  In days gone by in a similar situation, I was in the habit of challenging duels. The state of my health does not make them impossible for me, but for reasons that are too long to explain in a letter that is already so abundant when I overlook so much that is useful, I found it desirable not to provoke a single one when at the start of the Prix Goncourt I was assailed on a daily basis with a flood of insults (I hasten to add that I am not in any way alluding to your article which had nothing at all insulting in it and could permit of no disagreeable consequences). I allowed the papers to exaggerate my age, whiten my hair, darken my life, claim that I had given money to M. Elemir Bourges (who I have never met!) to get the prize etc. etc. without responding to anybody. Your article interested me even as it pained me, it did not seem by nature to deprive me of a pleasure that I had specifically promised myself and that it had deferred. You can have nothing more to say about me, I, having no grudge against Pierrefeu the journalist who in the end was mistaken in finding me "pre-war", cannot deprive myself of knowing Pierrefeu the man. Experience had taken quite a delightful turn for me, and your letter enchanted me so much, that I was already foolishly congratulating myself for not sticking to my principles for once in my life and I believed establishing friendly relations with you, to the extent that my terrible sufferings permit me to see my friends, when yesterday something occurred that has wrecked this beautiful dream for ever. I received a cutting out of Crapouillot bearing the exact same title as your article: "The Case of M. Marcel Proust" full of the same images as your article, "oceanic soundings" etc., and signed with a name that seems extremely Débats: Varagnac. Between that article and yours there were only two differences. The article itself was infinitely more amiable. The subtitle was on the contrary a thousand times worse: "An undesirable master" and a few lines about the "revolt" stirred up by the Goncourt verdict. Don't think, my dear sir, that I thought for a moment that Varagnac was you. I am certain after your letter of the other day that you would not have treated me to a capital letter as in Undesirable. I simply thought to myself: "M. Pierrefeu, by his article, by his conversations, has directly inspired M. Varagnac... Certain lines about my "snobbism" (!) even seem to prove that M. Pierrefeu is not content to tell M. de Varagnac that I was "pre-war", he has certainly told him that I had friends in "society"". These criticisms of a philosophical order combined with society gossip have lead M. Varagnac, after having naively declared that I was exceptionally fortunate to be ill (when for three years this illness that your friend thinks is so propitious has deprived me the strength to correct a single one of the proofs of the four volumes due to appear and which, had it not been for that, would have already proved to you that I was quite the contrary to "pre-war"), to put the young people on guard against my books in which they will find examples caricaturing their friends from "bridge" or "dancing". (Bridge and dancing, I might say, are equally unknown to me and I have never - which I rather regret because it has always tempted me very much - so much as entered a cinema. I have never seen one. And as for portraits there is not a single one in my novels. A character I invent might have such a way of shrugging the shoulders as my memory furnishes me, just as an artist consults a sketch-book, but in that case a character is twenty characters). Fatigue prevents me from carrying on, Monsieur, I have lost the habit of writing. Above all I implore you not to see in this enormous letter anything approaching the faintest desire for you to ask Crapouillot for a rectification: you would mortify me. If I wanted to have something inserted in Crapouillot I have all the means at hand. But I would be ashamed if anyone asked a writer to modify on my behalf the expression of his thoughts just to give me pleasure. With M. Varagnac these thoughts are not empty, quite the contrary, they are merely insufficient. Pascal said that if a little science takes something away from religion (I no longer remember the exact words) a lot of science restores it; I do not have the pretention to demand that one reads my books religiously. But by reading them without bias, without Pierrefueism, one will see that the psychological analysis in them always tends towards the objective truth, that truth without which no action is possible, and which will be more necessary in the future than ever. It is genuinely strange that we have accused the Germans of lacking in "psychology" only to exhort that we now lack it ourselves. The penetration of the understanding of a character, of a situation, of a place, that is something that I am sure our Field Marshalls could only approve of the young people of tomorrow seeking to attain. I shall send you as a literary farewell, at the same time as a study by me that the Feuillets d'Art is going to publish in its next issue, an article about me, Marcel Proust and the Classical Tradition, by Jacques Rivière, that the Nouvelle Revue Française is going to publish on the 1st of February and which follows on from his article from the 1st of January about the Prix Goncourt, in which he says that the youngest writer is not necessarily the most rejuvenating, the one who bestows most to the future. The article of the 1st of February is a thousand times too eulogistic because he makes no distinction between Racine and me, and because Barrès is entirely and unjustly sacrificed to me. In spite of so many eulogies I don't find Jacques Rivière's article entirely true since it gives rather too much  the impression that my psychology (since whatever psychology there is was not my goal but my life) has some immobility about it (even though he does not say so, and does not find it so). But I do not see in these magnificent pages the movement of life that allows us to get to know the characters in my books in the same way as we do in real life, that is to say we are initially mistaken about them, movement through the course of which another revolution takes place, that of the character around himself. The character who says "I" (and who is not always me) is mistaken about everything concerning M. de Charlus throughout two volumes, about Albertine, about Mme de Villeparisis (in the section about Venice that show where Mme de Villeparisis's virtues lay and that if she was so well informed about my father's trip to Spain in A L'Ombre des Jeunes filles en fleurs, it is because she was the ancient mistress of M. de Norpois. But the characters themselves whilst making themselves appear worse, by sometimes completely deviating [sentence left incomplete]. But then again the illness that M. Varagnac believes to be such a blessing for me has prevented me from publishing any more than two volumes of a work that the last words have already been written, and thus the clues of differentiation are less visible, yet already from Swann to L'Ombre des Jeunes filles you will have been able to see Swann's character undergo a first modification. But I really must stop what is the longest letter I have ever written in my life. As a farewell gesture I will send you the article by Jacques Rivière and the piece about Venice. As for personal relationships that I take so much pleasure from, since my "pre-warism" is a hydra that when she has finished darkening my name to the Débats, shows another head, just as the Débats, in the Crapouillot I prefer by denying myself a great pleasure, to tell myself that if I must be forcibly forbidden to the coming generation, without anyone coming to my defence, at least I will not be doing so for nothing and I will not humiliate my work by compromising for reasons of friendship, a friendship that is completely new yet very sure, with the detractors of the moral compass of that work. That work to which I have made a sacrifice of my pleasures, my health, my life. I can't refuse it, cruel as it seems to me, that sympathy. It will remain at least, that sympathy, in my heart and I beg you to accept of it my sincere assurance.

   Marcel Proust.

   I don't need to tell you of course that this is personal and must not be published. 

This letter dates from the second half of January 1920, the day after Proust received a cutting from the Argus de La Presse, of André Varagnac's article entitled "Le cas de Marcel Proust: un maître indésirable"  which appeared in the Crapouillot, 15 January 1920. This article appears to have been inspired by a review of A L'Ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs that Jean de Pierrefeu had written in the Journal des Débats.


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