|Walk on the Beach by artist Joaquin Sorolla, 1909 seems apropos of Proust’s paeon to Young Girls.
GUEST BLOG / By Marcel Proust. Translated, from the French, by Deborah Treisman. New Yorker July 19, 2021 edition: From the French publisher Éditions Gallimard released “Les Soixante-quinze Feuillets et Autres Manuscrits Inédits,” by Marcel Proust (public domain).
The volume contains a seventy-five-page manuscript from 1908, long rumored to exist but discovered only recently, in the private files of the publisher Bernard de Fallois.
In those pages—which include the following passage—Proust sketched out many of the themes and scenes he would eventually draw on for his masterpiece, “In Search of Lost Time.”
Marcel Proust (lower),
Lucien Daudet, (right)
with playwright Robert
(Top, left) 1894.
I didn’t see them again in the next few days, which confirmed my sense that they were only passing through our little seaside town, where everyone knew everyone else, where everyone led the same life and met up four times a day to play the same innocent beach games.
But several days later I saw five or six girls of the same type gathered around a splendid carriage that had stopped beside the beach; the ones in the carriage were saying goodbye to the others, who hurried over to their horses, which were tied up alongside and on which they rode off.
I believed that I recognized one of the two girls I’d seen walking on the sand, though I wasn’t sure, but the girl who really stood out for me this time had red hair, light-colored, superior eyes that rested on me, nostrils that quivered in the wind, and a hat that resembled the open wings of a seagull flying in the wind that was ruffling her red curls.
They left. I saw them again from time to time.
Two of them I recognized and wanted to keep seeing. Sometimes, when I came across the strange group, those two weren’t among them, and that made me sad. But, not knowing where they came from or at what time they would be there, I was never able to anticipate their appearances, and either I was longing to see them without being able to, or, when I did suddenly catch sight of them, I was too flustered to take any pleasure in it.
They were the daughters or the nieces of the local aristocracy, the noble families or the wealthy families who mixed with nobility and spent several weeks of the year in Cannes.
Some of those whose châteaux were very close by, just a few kilometres away, came to the beach often in this season, though they didn’t live in the town itself. Although not everyone in their milieu was so elegant, of course, the chance grouping of these girls conferred on all of them a certain grace, elegance, and agility, a disdainful pride that made them seem of a completely different species from the girls in my world. They seemed to me to dress in an extraordinary way that I wouldn’t have known how to define, and which was probably quite simply a result of the fact that they spent their time pursuing sports that my friends weren’t familiar with—riding, golf, tennis.
Usually, they wore riding skirts or golf outfits, tennis shirts. Probably they pursued these things far from the beach and came there only occasionally, on a schedule that I had no way of knowing—for example, perhaps after golf on the day when there was no dance at the Château de T., etc.—and they stayed for only a short time, as if visiting a conquered country, without deigning to give the natives who lived there more than a haughty and blatantly impolite glance that said “You don’t belong in my world,” and sometimes even exchanging among themselves, without trying to hide it, a smile that signified “Just look at them!”
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Note: Marcel Proust died in 1922. The seven volumes of his novel “In Search of Lost Time” were published, in French, between 1913 and 1927.