'Maladie d'amour, maladie de la jeunesse', that lovely biguine from Martinique, became popular in Paris just a few years after Marcel Proust's death in 1922. Had he heard it, he would no doubt have appreciated the sad irony of the refrain. In this latest volume in the apparently unstoppable flow of studies of Proust and his world, William Carter – who has already written a full-length biography – returns to the subject to focus just on Proust's own love affairs, such as they were, or more exactly such as they might have been. In a footnote to his third chapter, Carter writes: 'We have no proof of any of Proust's sexual activities.’ Thus, along with all the other scores of Proust biographers and anecdote-collectors, Carter has to resort to speculation, heavily larded with incidents from Proust's novel, sometimes rather fancifully taken to be real events which he transferred into fiction.
In the last year of his life, Proust wrote to several friends, to defend himself, insisting that they were wrong to have 'recognised' themselves or others as characters in A la recherche du temps perdu. To a few others he had to offer reassurance: yes, they would find themselves in