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Proust at the Majestic

by Richard Davenport-Hines

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About the Book

A vivid portrait of the early impact of In Search of Lost Time—and of the last months of Proust in a city where he had become an unlikely star.

On a May evening in 1922, the English arts lovers Violet and Sydney Schiff convened a grand dinner at the Majestic Hotel in Paris, following the premiere of a Stravinsky ballet.

In addition to guests of honor Stravinsky and Diaghilev, the dinner was attended by Picasso, James Joyce, and finally, arriving around 2:30 in the morning, one more artist at the peak of his fame: Marcel Proust.

Sodom and Gomorrah, the fourth and most shocking volume of Proust's monumental work In Search of Lost Time, had just appeared. The book transfixes readers with its finely detailed observations on themes of Jewishness and anti-Semitism, the interplay across social classes, and all manner of sexual expression. The book's eccentric, ailing author had by 1922 become a celebrity to French and English-language readers alike, and his presence at the dinner was all the more unusual since Proust rarely went out. In fact, he would be dead only six months later.

Acclaimed historian and biographer Davenport-Hines takes the dinner at the Majestic as the leaping-off point for an examination of Proust's last days, and the enormous reaction his novel garnered from its first years of publication. Using accounts by Proust's contemporaries, including other modernist stars, Proust's dazzled readers, and wealthy patrons such as the Schiffs, Davenport-Hines illuminates the Paris of the author's last days.

A Night at the Majestic

Speaking of the Hotel Majestic: Richard Davenport-Hines has also written about a fateful night in 1922, a moment in time like no other, in which some of the most famous authors and artists of their age stayed at the famous Hotel Majestic in Paris, located on the Avenue Kléber near the Arc de Triomphe. See info about A Night at the Majestic on this website.

About the Author

Richard Davenport-Hines is an author and journalist who lives in London. His books include The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Global History of Narcotics, Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin, and a major biography of W. H. Auden. A recipient of the Wolfson Prize for History and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he writes for The New York Times, The Times Literary Supplement, The Sunday Times, and The Independent. Richard Davenport-Hines is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the Royal Historical Society. He is a past winner of the Wolfson Prize for History and Biography, and edited Hugh Trevor-Roper's Letters from Oxford.