CP 02950/en

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This page is a translated version of the page CP 02950 and the translation is 100% complete.


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Marcel Proust to Charles d’Alton [after 12 May 1915]

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

[1]

102 boulevard Haussmann

Dear Sir

I should very much like to hear the news from you. The last time I wrote to Madame Foucart she was unable to give me any. Madame d’Alton has not replied to me. And as I will almost certainly not be going to Cabourg this year (I shall probably be called up anyway[2]) I will be left, if you don’t write to me, having no news of you at all, you who I think about a little more every day. I know the fine resolution you have taken and how bravely you have borne it. How I would have liked, as Bertrand was able to do, to see you in your uniform in which you must look so charming and which must match so well with the colour of your eyes. The Breton ladies must murmur when they catch sight of you (if you are still in Brittany: “It is a blue to die for Because it is the blue of his eyes”[3]) Alas there is something else that is killing me, the war! Two dearly loved friends, the first of whom was like a brother to me, Bertrand de Fénelon and Robert d’Humières, have been killed in the most awful circumstances[4]. I name them only because they were particularly close, but how many loved ones, friends have I lost. And now we even love those we don’t know, we love all those who are fighting, we weep for those who fall! When I saw Madame d’Alton in Cabourg[5], I was complaining because I had just been ruined. How I wish I could stay like that if a creature like Bertrand de Fénelon could still be alive. And perhaps you know already, my poor Agostinelli who I loved so much and for whom I will forever remain inconsolable, was killed in an aeroplane, drowned in the Mediterranean[6]. My friend Reynaldo is in Argonne[7], my brother at Arras; my brother was mentioned in despatches and decorated[8] and indeed from the very first day he has never ceased to display great courage, but I am often very worried. I spent a month in Cabourg[9] and in the midst of the anguish of war some people managed, though without anybody being able to imagine where the information came from, to come up with the most improbable gossip. Which made a horror of this beach resort for me, even more so because it was largely propagated by people for whom I have nothing but respect and affection. (This is just between us of course, because if you aren’t careful you could risk committing a terrible blunder, whereas when we talk just between the two of us I could perhaps be very useful to you). It still galls me. But this unhappiness is a very small thing next to all the others. Night and day we think about the war, perhaps more grievously still when like me we play no part in it. But if we think about something else, even if we are sleeping, the suffering never stops, like those neuralgias that we experience in our sleep. I try to understand the military operations as best I can, which is hardly at all. I gorge myself every day on anything that the French or Genevan military critics think about the war. I have no need to tell you that it is never without addressing a thought filled with tender respect for the man with the large heart and charming wit who was happy to chat with me about the army and strategy in the casino at Cabourg. Since then that man has realized his dream by becoming an officer once more. I admire him, I envy him; but most of all I want to know how he is!

And I beg him to accept my most affectionate respects.

Marcel Proust

[10] [11]

Notes

  1. The mention of the death of Robert d'Humières at the front places this letter after 12 May 1915, the date after which this information was published in several newspapers. [PK, FL]
  2. Proust had received summons from the Review Board on 8 April 1915 (CP 02930, Kolb, XIV, no. 41) and 10 April 1915 (CP 05643). Having succeeded, by producing a medical certificate (CP 05640), in making himself exempt from attending the Discharge Board on 13 April 1915, he was still expecting to be called again or be visited at home by a military medical officer. [FP, FL]
  3. Slightly inexact quotation from Sully Prudhomme, "L'Âme", in Poésies. 1865-1866 : Stances & Poèmes, Paris, Lemerre, p. 51, 2nd stanza: "There is a blue I would die for / Because it is the blue of her eyes". [PK, FL]
  4. Bertrand de Salignac Fénelon, 2nd Lieutenant of the 236e régiment d'infanterie, reported "missing" on the Somme 17 December 1914, had been believed captured or seriously injured for several months (see letter to Louis de Robert, CP 02921; Kolb, XIV, no. 32) before the news of his death was confirmed in a list of the dead in Le Figaro 13 March 1915 (under "Le Monde et la Ville: Deuil", p. 3). These uncertainties were apparent on his official death certificate which stated "killed in action" 17 December 1914, then subsequently, in a different hand, had been added "missing". - As for Robert d'Humières, he was killed at the front 30 April 1915, but it had not been announced in the papers until 12 May 1915: Le Journal des Débats was the first to include his name on 13 May 1915, under the heading "Échos", p. 2 (evening newspaper which came out on the 12th); on 18 May the same paper published a very eulogistic obituary (p. 1). See also Le Figaro, 15 May 1915 (obituary article, p. 3) and 21 May 1915 (summary listing of those who had "Died for their country", p. 4), as well as the Écho de Paris 15 May 1915 ("Died for their country", p. 2). Proust appears to have seen the news of his death from the newspapers (see his letter of condolence to Vicomtesse d'Humières, CP 05347; Kolb, XXI, no. 495; Lettres, no. 406). [PK, FL, FP]
  5. In 1914 Proust stayed at Cabourg from 4 September to 13 or 14 October. [FL]
  6. Alfred Agostinelli, ex-secretary to Proust who then became a trainee pilot, had died 30 May 1914, in the sea off Antibes. (See CP 02777; Kolb, XIII, no. 126). [FL]
  7. See the letters from Reynaldo Hahn to Proust [shortly before 5 march 1915?] (CP 02913; Kolb, XIV, no. 24), and from Proust to Robert de Billy [between 8 and 11 April 1915] (CP 02915; Kolb, XIV, no. 26). [FL]
  8. Robert Proust had been mentioned in despatches on 30 September 1914 (see "Citations" section in his military record), and awarded the Légion d'Honneur on 15 April 1915. From 11 May 1915 he commanded Surgical Ambulance section 1, deployed in the Arras sector. See François Goursolas, "Chirurgie et chirurgiens d'une ambulance française en 1915", Histoire des Sciences médicales, tome XXIV, no. 3/4, 1990, in particular p. 243 and 246. [FL, PW]
  9. This was Proust's last stay in Cabourg, from 4 September to 13 or 14 October 1914. [FL]
  10. Translation notes:
  11. Contributors: Yorktaylors.