Lorenza Foschini •
Proust’s Overcoat •
This tiny book held me spellbound. I hadn’t expected that when I casually picked it up at a secondhand sale: The title seemed to suggest something whimsical and lighthearted. But the story is both serious and heartbreaking.
When Marcel Proust died, the final three volumes of his masterwork, Remembrance of Things Past, remained to be published. Because of the iron and irrational control exercised by his brother, Robert, the process of bringing them to print was a lengthy and agonizing one. And when Robert too died a dozen years later, his wife set fire to the mountain of notebooks, manuscripts, and letters her detested brother-in-law had left behind—destroying a literary treasure of unimaginable proportions.
That’s what wrung my heart: knowing that the lifework of a genius could be reduced to ashes by one spiteful relative. Those of us who love Proust’s writing hold him in special reverence, and Jacques Guérin, heir to the Guérin perfume fortune, was one such bibliophile. He considered it a kind of sacred duty to track down and salvage whatever remained of Proust’s personal effects—culminating in the dark wool overcoat Marcel would drape around himself while sitting in bed to write. What makes this quest especially poignant is Proust’s belief that inanimate objects possess souls and often try to communicate with the living. If that overcoat could talk!
This book belongs next to your beloved copy of The Past Recaptured as a fitting reminder of memory, time, loss, and mortality—the very themes Proust addressed more eloquently than anyone had before or has since.