Thu, Oct 26, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Archive of Marcel Proust letters to be posted online


A trove of Marcel Proust’s correspondence is to be digitized and put online for free, with the first batch of letters timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, organizers of the US-French initiative said.

The nearly 6,000 letters to and from the author of In Search of Lost Time, one of the great masterpieces of Western literature, are drawn mainly from the work of Philip Kolb, a University of Illinois professor.

Kolb, who died in 1992, assembled and published all of Proust’s surviving correspondence — about 5,300 letters — in 21 volumes between 1970 and 1993.

Several hundred more letters have since been identified.

Kolb estimated the size of Proust’s correspondence at about 20,000 documents, but most were lost or destroyed over the years.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is leading the project to digitize the collection, with collaboration from France’s Grenoble Alps University, the Institute of Texts and Modern Manuscripts and the National Library.

The project is first to focus on 200 letters that Proust wrote related to World War I, with the goal of having them online by Nov. 11 next year to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

“That will allow us to have a first display, with a coherent set,” University of Illinois literature professor Francois Proulx said.

“We were not convinced that the letters from his youth were especially the most interesting to start out with,” said Caroline Szylowicz, the librarian in charge of the University of Illinois’ Proust collection.

Proust, who was frail and of poor health, did not fight in the war. However, his younger brother Robert did, and the two exchanged letters during the conflict.

The handwritten letters are to include printed transcripts.

“It helps decipher Marcel Proust’s writing, which is not always easy to read,” Proulx said.

The Web site would also offer various links, including media articles of the time that Proust refers to in the letters.

The goal is to eventually post all of Proust’s correspondence online.

Under Kolb’s leadership, the University of Illinois has acquired about 1,200 letters.

Letters written by the French author are known to fetch tens of thousands of euros at auction.

The university would continue to buy Proust letters, budget permitting, Proulx said.

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