Posts Tagged ‘In Search of Lost Time’

‘Proust’s Duchess’ by Caroline Weber

April 27th, 2018

WHO: Caroline Weber

How Three Celebrated Women Captured
the Imagination of Fin de Siecle Paris

WHEN: Published by Knopf May 22, 2018

WHERE: Paris

WHY: “An engrossing portrait of three extraordinary women and their tempestuous, fragile world.
“A captivating triple biography reveals the women who inspired Marcel Proust’s Duchesse de Guermantes. In his seven-volume In Search of Lost Time, Proust drew on his astute observations of Parisian high society: the dazzling glamour, effete customs, and, as he increasingly noted, superficiality and banality. Focusing on three alluring women who were objects of Proust’s fascination, Weber portrays in rich detail a French aristocracy threatened by profound social and political change.
“Geneviève Halévy Bizet Straus (widow of the composer Georges Bizet); Laure de Sade, Comtesse Adhéaume de Chevigné (a descendent of the Marquis de Sade); and Élisabeth de Riquet de Caraman-Chimay, Vicomtesse Greffulhe were the grandes dames who fueled Proust’s ‘dream of patrician elegance and grace.’
“Each assiduously developed ‘a conscious strategy of self-promotion,’ honing a distinctive image to achieve recognition and admiration. Élisabeth traded on her beauty, wearing only clothing ‘designed by her and for her.’ Laure, with a particular talent for self-aggrandizement and tireless indulgence for ‘wild nights’ at the notorious Chat-Noir, made sure to publicize her Sadean lineage. Geneviève, who entertained wearing ‘silky, mauve peignoirs,’ had a reputation as “the neurasthenic queen of Montmartre.’ Each was married, unhappily, and strived for some measure of independence at a time when women ‘had the legal status of minors.’ As Élisabeth wrote, ‘women are meant to be trophies, pretty possessions….Smiling, placid, charming. Not leaving the nest, staying in the aviary.’
“Weber offers intimate details of their love affairs, betrayals, friendships, and rivalries; their worries over money and status; and their ‘grappling with mental illness and drug addiction.’ She recounts vividly the plush ambience, dress, and décor of their châteaux and palaces as well as the parties and salons peopled by royalty, artists, and writers who mesmerized the young, aspiring, impressionable Proust.”
–KIRKUS, a starred review

“Nearly every page offers factual riches,
served up with precise and witty prose.”

. . . . .


Marcel Proust was never a morning person. But for a short while in the spring of 1892, he got out of bed early. The routine was always the same. After quickly dressing he set out from his family’s apartment near the place de la Madeleine—in one of the luxury residential buildings that had sprouted up along the Parisian boulevards a few decades prior—and headed west into the Faubourg Saint-Honoré, the most prestigious neighborhood on the Right Bank.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, this was the province of the flâneur, but Proust, then a twenty-year-old law student, was no dandy out for an idle stroll around town. He strode with purpose, in search of elegance, and while he didn’t know her yet (for elegance was a woman), he did know where she lived. It was there that he hurried each morning, at some risk to his delicate health. As he would confess to her a quarter of a century later, “I used to have a heart attack every time I saw you.”

Photo montage

Media Resources:
About the book and author | Author tour | Download the jacket | Download photo of Geneviève | Download photo of Laure | Download photo of Élisabeth | Download the author photo

Knopf. With 180 illustrations and 16 pages of color. 736 pages. $35
ISBN 978-0-307-96178-5

To interview the author, contact:
Kathy Zuckerman | 212-572-2105 |