A long-sought first draft of Marcel Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’ surfaced a few years ago. Its fascinating story and intriguing news are revealed in a Tablet article titled Proust’s Madeleine Was Originally a Slice Toast.
Being the Tablet “a daily online magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture”, it makes sense that a good part of the article focuses on Proust’s ambivalence about his Jewishness. Still, there are many other interesting tidbits to be learned. On the novel itself and its development, on some relevant characters and their real-world counterparts, and Proust himself.
Most of these matters, as is natural in early drafts, differ from the final versions: the iconic madeleine in these pages is the far more prosaic toast. Sound, not just taste or the narrator’s position standing on cobblestones, is added to the battery of things that can revive the past. Proust writes here, after trying in vain to resuscitate a lost day of his youth, that “I let my spoon fall onto my plate. There was then produced exactly the same sound as that of the hammer of the brakemen who that day struck the wheels of the train at its stop. At that same moment the burning and blinded hour when this noise rang out was revived for me …” Perhaps most surprisingly, the Narrator, here given his actual name, has a younger brother, an annoying one to boot, who “though only five-and-a-half years-old, was of a rather violent nature.”