Madame Proust: A Biography by Evelyne Bloch-Dano (Translated by Alice Kaplan) - review by Allan Massie

Allan Massie

Mummy Dearest

Madame Proust: A Biography


University of Chicago Press 256pp £17.95

Not everyone can get through Proust. Some can’t see what all the fuss is about. Others simply get bogged down in the later volumes. There are certainly tedious passages for all but the most completely devoted in La Prisonnière and Albertine disparue. One may even believe that it would have been a yet greater novel, and certainly a more popular one, if the 1914–18 war hadn’t disrupted its publication, enabling Proust to add and elaborate, elaborate and analyse, and so on. That’s by the bye. There must, however, be many who, though unable to finish the novel, have found much to delight them in the early volumes, those which draw so heavily from the well of Proust’s childhood and adolescent memories. It is one of the many merits of this admirable biography of Proust’s mother that it invites one to return to the novel with perhaps a fuller understanding of Proust’s heredity, hinterland and upbringing.

It’s also a very interesting social history. Madame Proust was born Jeanne Weil, Jewish on both sides of her family. (One of the genealogical tables shows that Marcel Proust and Karl Marx were distant cousins, though their common ancestor was six or seven generations back.) Evelyne Bloch-Dano (who may, I

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