Marcel Proust (1871 - 1922)
Proust was born in Auteuil. His father was a famous doctor and epidemiologist and
his mother was the daughter of a rich and cultured Jewish family (her father was
a banker). She was highly literate and well-read.
By the age of nine Proust had had his first serious asthma attack, and
thereafter he was considered by himself, his family and his friends as a sickly
Despite his poor health, Proust served a year (1889–90) as an enlisted man in
the French army, stationed at Coligny Caserne in Orléans. As a young man Proust
was a dilettante and a successful social climber, whose aspirations as a writer
were hampered by his lack of application to work. His reputation from this
period, as a snob and an aesthete, contributed to his later troubles with
getting Swann's Way, the first volume of his huge novel, published in 1913.
Proust was quite close to his mother, despite her wishes that he apply himself
to some sort of useful work. In order to appease his father, who insisted that
he pursue a career, Proust obtained a volunteer position at the Bibliothèque
Mazarine in the summer of 1896. After exerting considerable effort, he obtained
a sick leave which was to extend for several years until he was considered to
have resigned. He never worked at his job, and he did not move from his parents'
apartment until after both were dead.
Proust was a homosexual and, though not completely open about his own sexuality,
he was one of the first European writers to treat homosexuality at length.
His life and family circle changed considerably between 1900 and 1905. In
February of 1903 Proust's brother Robert married and left the family apartment.
His father died in September of the same year. Finally, and most crushingly,
Proust's beloved mother died in September of 1905. In addition to the grief that
attended his mother's death, Proust's life changed due to a very large
inheritance he received. Despite this windfall, his health throughout this
period continued to deteriorate.
Proust spent the last three years of his life largely confined to his cork-lined
bedroom, sleeping during the day and working at night to complete his novel.
He died in 1922.