The Cork-Lined Bedroom & Writing Room of Marcel Proust, the Original Master of Social Distancing

Many of us now find our­selves stuck at home, doing our part to put a stop to the glob­al coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic. Some of us are tak­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty to write the ambi­tious works of lit­er­a­ture we’ve long intend­ed to. Such an effort of cre­ativ­i­ty in con­fine­ment has no more suit­able prece­dent than the life of Mar­cel Proust, who wrote much of his sev­en-vol­ume mas­ter­piece In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps per­du) in bed. The Paris Review’s Sadie Stein quotes Proust’s biog­ra­ph­er Diana Fuss describ­ing him as hav­ing writ­ten “from a semi-recum­bent posi­tion, sus­pend­ed mid­way between the realms of sleep­ing and wak­ing using his knees as a desk.”

He did it in a bed­room lined with cork, an addi­tion meant, Stein writes, “not just to sound­proof but to pre­vent pollen and dust from aggra­vat­ing Proust’s aller­gies and asth­ma.” Though the Span­ish flu did make its way into France dur­ing Proust’s last years, the writer had been wor­ried about his own frail health since his first asth­ma attack at the age of nine.

He got the idea of lin­ing his bed­room with cork from his friend Anna de Noailles, “a princess and socialite, a patron of the arts and a nov­el­ist in her own right,” who also hap­pened to be “plagued with debil­i­tat­ing fears and neu­roses.” You can vis­it faith­ful recon­struc­tions of both of their bed­rooms at Paris Musée Car­navalet, an essen­tial stop on any Proust pil­grim­age. So is the Hôtel Ritz Paris, which main­tains a “Mar­cel Proust suite.”

William Fried­kin — yes, that William Fried­kin — stayed in the Mar­cel Proust suite, “for­mer­ly a pri­vate din­ing room on the hotel’s sec­ond floor, where Proust often host­ed small din­ner par­ties,” on the Proust pil­grim­age he recalls in The New York Times. “I was told by the hotel man­ag­er that the room was reserved for Proust to enter­tain when­ev­er he could ven­ture out from his cork-lined bed­room at 102 Boule­vard Hauss­mann.” No doubt Proust “absorbed inspi­ra­tion from con­ver­sa­tions here, ones that made their way into his writ­ing.” In the last three years of his life, the writ­ing almost entire­ly dis­placed the con­ver­sa­tion: Proust spent almost all his time in his cork-lined bed­room, sleep­ing by day and putting every­thing he had into his work at night. A con­tem­po­rary pho­to­graph of Proust’s cork-lined bed­room appears at the top of the post, as recent­ly includ­ed in a tweet by writer Ted Gioia call­ing Proust the “mas­ter of social dis­tanc­ing.”

Just above, you can watch a talk on the writer’s room and hyper­sen­si­tiv­i­ties (of both the aes­thet­ic and phys­i­cal vari­eties) that put him into it by Proust schol­ar William C. Carter, author of Mar­cel Proust: A Life and Proust in Love. What might Proust’s father, the epi­demi­ol­o­gist Adrien Proust, have thought about a new epi­dem­ic mak­ing the peo­ple of the 21st cen­tu­ry look to his son?  Even if we don’t take him as a mod­el for writ­ing life, this is nev­er­the­less an appro­pri­ate moment to read his work (now avail­able free online at the Inter­net Archive’s Nation­al Emer­gency Library). “What Proust inspires in us is to see and to appre­ci­ate every seem­ing­ly insignif­i­cant place or object or per­son in our lives,” writes Fried­kin, “to real­ize that life itself is a gift and all the peo­ple we’ve come to know have qual­i­ties worth con­sid­er­ing and cel­e­brat­ing — in time.”

via Ted Gioia

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free eBooks: Read All of Proust’s Remem­brance of Things Past on the Cen­ten­ni­al of Swann’s Way

An Intro­duc­tion to the Lit­er­ary Phi­los­o­phy of Mar­cel Proust, Pre­sent­ed in a Mon­ty Python-Style Ani­ma­tion

When James Joyce & Mar­cel Proust Met in 1922, and Total­ly Bored Each Oth­er

16-Year-Old Mar­cel Proust Tells His Grand­fa­ther About His Mis­guid­ed Adven­tures at the Local Broth­el

The First Known Footage of Mar­cel Proust Dis­cov­ered: Watch It Online

The Nation­al Emer­gency Library Makes 1.5 Mil­lion Books Free to Read Right Now

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.


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