Marcel Proust may be one of the most sublime authors that this world has ever seen, and now literature fans have the opportunity to own one of his most treasured and loved books when Swann’s Way goes up for auction at Sotheby’s Paris on October 30.
Proust’s Swann’s Way tells two distinct stories, with the first describing in intimate detail the narrator Marcel’s memories and experiences in the small French town of Combray. “Gusts of memory” sweep the narrator away as he daintily dumps a sweet Madeleine biscuit into his cup of hot tea and he is struck by a sudden fit of reverie in which he recalls the fear he felt in his youth of going to sleep at night. What follows is purely stream of consciousness in his writing.
“No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory–this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal.”
Albert Einstein once suggested that there are two very different ways that we can choose to live our lives. “One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” In Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way, it is clearly the latter that the narrator feels.
After Marcel’s childhood is described in intimate detail, the second half of this beloved Proust book deals with the title character of Swann and his deep and abiding love for Odette. When it came time for Marcel Proust to thrust Swann’s Way toward the public, the author had, in actuality, quite a difficult time in getting his book published.
Proust had more than a few rejections of his masterpiece until Bernard Grasset finally agreed to publish Swann’s Way and the book was released for sale on November 14, 1913. It was around this time that Marcel Proust had five very intricate first-edition copies made, according to Robb Report, and these were printed on delicate Japanese paper. It is one of these books that will be sold at Sotheby’s Paris at the end of October.
As book specialist Benoit Puttemans explained, these five books are more than just a little special for fans of Marcel Proust.
“These five copies are mythical for Proust lovers. They’re very famous.”
The last time one of these five copies of Swann’s Way went up for auction in 2013, it sold for $822,936. Now the fifth and final copy of this special and limited edition printing will be sold at auction at Sotheby’s Paris and it is expected to fetch at least $500,000. However, if the last sale is anything to go by, it will probably far exceed that.
The fifth copy of Swann’s Way has an inscription inside which reads, “To Mr. Louis Brun: this book, which is moving over to the Nouvelle Revue Francaise, has not forgotten its first friendship for Grasset. With affectionate memories, Marcel Proust.” Brun is noted to have been one of the assistants of the publisher Grasset.
Even though Marcel Proust is no longer with us today, the legacy of his life lives on in books like Swann’s Way, and one of these first-edition copies will very soon be warmly embraced by a new owner when it is sold at auction at Sotheby’s Paris.
[Featured Image by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]