In 1919, during the brouhaha that accompanied his winning of the Prix Goncourt that year for A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, Marcel Proust, who could be precious about his looks, sent to Femina magazine some photographs of himself as a younger man. These were intended to supplant the image of him as a bedridden valetudinarian popularised by hostile reviewers. Mortifyingly, these arch, posed images of the young dandy in full fig, at some society gathering in the Faubourg Saint-Germain or the Bois de Boulogne, aged him even more. With his immaculate parting and artful kiss curl, he looked like a mannequin escaped from a different epoch. Fatally, also, they evoked the extinct prewar world – a world that now looked vain and leisured. Proust’s association with that world was one of the reasons why there was such opposition to the decision to award him the Prix Goncourt; his chief rival had been the much younger war hero Roland Dorgelès.
The images Proust sent to Femina date from the years 1891–6, when he was in his early twenties, a time of determined social climbing which involved participating in that exhausting round of forced leisure he would later anatomise. It was also the period when he was writing, sporadically, the pieces