CP 02830/en

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This page is a translated version of the page CP 02830 and the translation is 100% complete.
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Marcel Proust to Reynaldo Hahn [shortly after 24 October 1914]

(Click on the link above to see this letter and its notes in the Corr-Proust digital edition, including all relevant hyperlinks.)


Dear Reynaldo

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your letter[2], an imperishable memorial to kindness and friendship. But Bize is completely mistaken if he thinks that a certificate[3] will exempt me from anything whatsoever. Perhaps a certificate from Pozzi, a lieutenant-colonel at Val-de-Grâce, might do it (but I don’t know). But with charming manners and perfect protocol he evaded the question and refused[4]. I shall bring you up to date with my military misadventures as they happen. My dear little one it is very sweet of you to think that Cabourg[5] must have been painful to me on account of Agostinelli. To my shame I must confess that it was not as painful as I had thought, and that this trip has rather marked a first stage of detachment from my grief, a stage after which, fortunately, I have gone back, once I had returned, to my initial suffering. But finally, in Cabourg, without being any the less heartbroken nor feeling any less regret about him, there were moments, hours even, when he had vanished from my thoughts. My dear little one, don’t judge me too harshly for that (as harshly as I judge myself!). And don’t take that to signify any lack of loyalty in my affections, just as I was wrong to assume that of you when I saw that you hardly missed society people who I thought you cared about a great deal. I assumed that you had less fondness than I had thought. And I understood afterwards that it was because these were people who you did not truly love. I truly loved Alfred. It’s not enough to say that I loved him, I adored him. And I don’t know why I write it in the past tense because I still love him. Because in spite of everything, in our regrets there is one part that is involuntary and one part duty that determines the involuntary and assures its duration. But this duty did not exist in relation to Alfred who behaved very badly towards me. I feel regrets towards him that I cannot do other than feel towards him, but I don’t feel that I am constrained by any sense of duty, such as the one that binds me to you, which will bind me to you even if I needed you a thousand times less, if I loved you a thousand times less. So if I have had a few weeks of relative inconstancy in Cabourg, don’t judge me as inconstant and blame the person who was incapable of deserving fidelity. In any case it was a joy to me to see that my sufferings had returned; but at times they are so strong that I miss a little their abatement of a month ago. But I also have the sadness of feeling that however strong they might be, they are still perhaps less tormenting than a month and a half or two months ago. It is not because others have died that the grief diminishes, but because one dies oneself. And it requires great vitality to maintain and keep alive and intact the “self” of a few weeks ago. His friend has not forgotten him, poor Alfred. But he has rejoined him in death and his successor, the “self” of today, loves Alfred but did not know him other than through the reports of the other. It is a secondhand tenderness[6]. (Don’t talk about this to anybody I beg you; if the general character of these truths tempts you to read out any extracts of this to Gregh or others, you would be causing me a great deal of pain. If I ever want to formulate such ideas as these it will be under the pseudonym of Swann. For a long time now life has no longer offered me anything but events that I have already described. When you read the third volume of my book[7] the one that in part will be called “A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs”, you will recognize the anticipation and the sure prophesy of what I have felt since.)

I hope that what I’ve written to you[8] has by now convinced you and that you will stay at Albi. Moreover I hope that if your absurd whims persist your dear Commandant will know how to “command” and you to “obey”. I don’t want to appear to be avoiding your questions about me. Because I know that you are not just asking them out of politeness; no I am not “eating well” at the moment. The frequency of my attacks prevents it. You know that as soon as they lessen, I am capable of climbing back up the slope, remember last year and my own victory of the Marne[9]. I rather regret what I wrote to you about Pozzi. I don’t think he gets on very well with Février, the director of the Service for Health and the Gallieni people. Besides, more than likely none of this will be of any importance because I probably won’t get called up. In any case I have been registered. What gets one out of it is a visible infirmity, like a missing thumb or something. Illnesses such as asthma can’t be discerned. It’s true that for my book I was interviewed in my bed[10]; but do you think that the Military Authorities in Paris know anything about that! Bize is mistaken if he thinks it is a legal exemption.

With much fondness from your


I have just now received the certificate[11] from Bize. I’m going to write to him and ask him to do it differently[12], on 0.60 paper, because even though it is of no use for my exemption, this certificate might come in useful at some point. But there is no urgency, I won’t be called any sooner than in a month or two at least. Be that as it may, I shall still write to him.

P.S. I hope my letter doesn’t give you the idea that I have forgotten Alfred. Despite the distance in time that, alas, I feel at times, I wouldn’t hesitate, even at those moments, to rush off and have an arm or a leg cut off if that could bring him back.

3rd P.S. Above all, dear little one, don’t do anything about my counter discharge question. What you have done already was exquisitely kind and was perfect. But to do any more would only cause me trouble. I think that it will all go quite well. And anyway it won’t be for some time. What does Commandant C. think about the war? how long will it last? what will be the outcome? present, past and future?

[13] [14]


  1. In a telegram of 24 October 1914 (CP 02829; Kolb, XIII, no. 178), Proust thanked Hahn for having requested and obtained for him a medical certificate from Doctor Bize (CP 05638), and asked him to reply by letter. This letter is in response to Hahn's letter. [PK, FP]
  2. This letter has not been found. [PK, FP]
  3. At the moment he began writing this letter Proust had not yet received the first certificate from Doctor Bize, but Hahn had told him that he had obtained one, first of all by telegram (the evening of the 23rd? or the morning of the 24th?), then by letter; he added his postscript afterwards. [FL, FP]
  4. See Proust's letter to Doctor Pozzi [between 6 and 12 November 1914] (CP 05412): "Since you have preferred not to give me a certificate...". In the end Pozzi wrote out a certificate (not found); Proust thanks him for it in his letter of Thursday [12? November 1914] (CP 05413). [FP, FL]
  5. Proust returned to Cabourg on the 13th or 14th October 1914; he describes his gruelling journey in a letter to Madame Catusse [17 October 1914] (CP 02827; Kolb, XIII, no. 176). [FP]
  6. This passage is one of those that attest to the transposition of Alfred Agostinelli into Albertine in the novel (see Albertine disparue, IV, p. 175; La Fugitive, Cahiers d’Albertine disparue, ed. N. Mauriac Dyer, Le Livre de poche "classique", 1993, p. 189 et note 1). The present letter may have served as an initial draft of a verso page in the "Venuste" Cahier, essentially written after the accidental disappearance of Agostinelli in spring 1914. This particular passage is highlighted in blue pencil, demonstrating the importance that Proust attached to it: "Capital (perhaps for the very end of the book, possibly on the death of Albertine when I begin to forget) / It is not because other people die that one's grief diminishes, but because one dies oneself. Albertine had nothing to reproach her lover for. Her lover had not forgotten her but had rejoined her in death, leaving behind as heir the man who I am today who most certainly loves Albertine but did not know her. Indeed on many occasions he had heard her spoken of in the accounts of that other self while he continued to live on under the shadow of the one that had died, the one that he had to outlive, he had often heard her spoken of; he thought he knew her, he loved her through the accounts he heard about her: but it was nothing more than a secondhand affection." (Cahier 54, f. 13v, simplified transcription). See Cahier 54, ed. F. Goujon, N. Mauriac Dyer and Ch. Nakano, Brepols, 2008, vol. II, f. 13v and note 1. Proust would take up the passage again from the (final) version in Cahier 56 in his letter-dedication to Mme Scheikévitch (CP 03024; Kolb, XIV, no. 136). [NM]
  7. In October 1914, "my third volume" denoted Le Temps retrouvé, the last of the three volumes anticipated since the summer of 1913. "À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs" was at that time the title of the first of the nine parts which composed the last volume. See the announcement published in 1913 at the front of Du côté de chez Swann. [FL, FP, NM]
  8. The letter in which Proust attempts to convince Hahn to stay in Albi has not been found. [FL]
  9. Probable allusion to the improvements in Proust's health around the final months of 1913. [PK, FP]
  10. Allusion to the two interviews given by Proust at the time of the publication of Du côté de chez Swann in 1913. [PK, FP]
  11. The first certificate signed by Doctor Bize, 23 October 1914: see CP 05638. [FP]
  12. This letter has not been found. Doctor Bize was to sign a second certificate on 4 November 1914: see CP 05639. [FP]
  13. Translation notes:
  14. Contributors: Yorktaylors