The Method and the Manuscript. Proust on Display

Paris. On the hundredth anniversary of the death of Marcel Proust (1871-1922), one of the most famous writers of the 20th century, The Bibliothèque François Mittérand, dedicated an exhibition to one of the national treasures of French literature, the manuscript of A la recherche du temps perdu.

The exhibition Marcel Proust: La fabrique de l’oeuvre curated by Antoine Compagnon, Guillaume Fau and Nathalie Mauriac-Dyer, reveals how Proust created this groundbreaking modernist masterpiece in seven volumes which delves into memory, the search for beauty, personal identity, and the layering of time. All the experiences of the narrator interconnect in the pages of À La recherche du temps perdu and what we see here is his method. This exhibition which presents more than 370 documents is unprecedented and based on the writer’s system from 1906 to his death in 1922. Proust never stopped editing his text which was published from 1913 to 1927. He died prematurely at the age of 51.

© Vue de l’exposition Proust, La Fabrique d’un oeuvre,  ‘Les paperolles’ © BNF, 2022 © Photo Laura Marty

His brother Robert inherited the manuscripts and gave them to the Bibliothèque nationale de France in 1962. Preparatory notebooks and drafts of Du Côté de chez Swann (1906) and the oldest version of the novel (1908) have been digitized to learn more about the way Proust was writing.

The exhibition is open and accessible to all – experts, academics, translators, students, fans, bibliophiles, or curious visitors interested in Proust’s work. The scenography which follows a chronological order opens up onto a vast room divided in seven sections marked by a different color code. Each volume of À la recherche du temps perdu corresponds to a section. The manuscripts are arranged in glass cases (both horizontal and vertical) and on the walls. Paintings are also visible along with several costumes. The different sections show the stages of writing and of assembling the novel. The parcours begins with Du Côté de chez Swann and ends with Au Temps Retrouvé. In the last room, the viewers discover the last volumes of the masterpiece, published after Proust’s death.

© Vue de l’exposition Proust. La Fabrique de l’oeuvre © BNF, 2022 ©Photo Laura Marty

The exhibition shows the writer’s tortuous path towards fame and how he struggled to become famous during his lifetime. Thanks to his brother and the journal La Nouvelle Revue Française, the viewers learn that the first publisher of Proust, the NRF, refused to publish Du Côté de chez Swann until Gallimard published it and became Proust’s historical editor. Extracts from the La Nouvelle Revue Française are displayed in the exhibition. The public also gets an idea of the impact the Goncourt Prize – which he received in 1919 – might have had on his literary career.

The atmosphere in the exhibition room is peaceful, almost religious. The lights are dimmed, as if the words of Proust, written on these century-old manuscripts, should not be disturbed. Although there is a lot to read, descriptions and elements of context are useful to understand Proust’s writing process. The music in the background refers to the fictitious Sonate de Vinteuil and creates a sense of intimacy with the visitors, allowing them to fully immerse in the exhibition. There are also a few videos on the manuscripts but they failed to capture my attention as the display was too repetitive. The library offered several guided tours and events.

© Vue de l’exposition Marcel Proust. La Fabrique d’une oeuvre © BNF, 2022                                    © Photo Laura Marty

The exhibition and the scenography are both exceptional. The music particularly caught my attention. because it puts the visitors in a creative mood but also helps them focus on the works on display, which also require reading and analysis. The music also has a soothing effect. The manuscript itself has the rhythm of a musical score. And musical scores can indeed be compared to literature. For a book to be enjoyable, the words must have a melody; rhythm is essential. The exhibition would not have been as interesting without the music. Thanks to the music, I felt immersed in the world of Marcel Proust. I highly recommend this exhibition which really deserves to be seen. The catalogue and very useful documents are available online for those who would have missed the exhibition.

Laura Marty (étudiante en M2)
Cours Literature and the Media:
Master MC2L Medias, Culture, 2 langues
Université Paris 8


11 oct- 22 Jan 22, 2023, BNF, Paris.

OpenEdition vous propose de citer ce billet de la manière suivante :
achassagnol (28 février 2023). The Method and the Manuscript. Proust on Display. . Consulté le 22 juillet 2024 à l’adresse

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