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A compendium of queer people in the 19th and 20th centuries // Drawn and researched by Michele Rosenthal

Marcel  Proust

Marcel Proust 1871to –1922

French novelist, considered one of the greatest modern writers, best known for his lengthy classic, In Search of Lost Time. He was born in Paris to an educated family, his father Catholic and his mother Jewish. He suffered chronic asthma as a child and throughout his life, and his poor health sometimes kept him out of school. Yet he still managed to excel at literature, and even briefly served in the army. A rich friend introduced him to Parisian aristocratic society, and for a time, Proust gained a reputation as a dilettante, a social climber, and a snob—a reputation that later made it difficult to get published. He wrote articles for various magazines, and for several years worked at translating his favorite writer, John Ruskin, with the help of his mother, with whom he was very close. It was a hard blow to him when she died in 1905. But by 1909, the events of his life and his previous writing coalesced, and he began creating his masterpiece. À la recherche du temps perdu, or In Search of Lost Time (previously translated as Remembrance of Things Past), is a semi-autobiographical novel in seven parts, with settings and characters taken from Proust’s own life. It’s known for its theme of subconscious memory, an idea that was being concurrently developed by Freud. It’s also known for its length, the length of its sentences, as well as its depictions of homosexuality. Although the narrator is presented as heterosexual, there are gay, lesbian, and bisexual characters with explicit encounters throughout. Proust himself never openly admitted to being gay, but his sexuality was known or suspected by almost all of his acquaintances, and later made explicit by his contemporary André Gide. In addition to a longstanding infatuation with his chauffeur, he also had relationships with the novelist Lucien Daudet and the composer Reynaldo Hahn. Toward the end of his life, Proust’s chronic poor health kept him confined to his bedroom, where he worked furiously to finish his work. The last three books of In Search of Lost Time were published after his death by his brother. Today, it is considered one of the greatest and most influential novels of the 20th century.

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