Proust by the Sea

November 6, 2013 | By Jean Vallier

I read Swann’s Way for the first time in the mid-fifties, as a student in literature at the University of Aix-en-Provence. One year(it must have been around 1955), A la recherche du temps perduwas prescribed reading, along with Stendhal, Baudelaire and Charles Péguy. As it did for so many people discovering Proust for the first time, a new world opened for me.But weekdays and evenings were not enough to cram so much reading. As end-of-the-year exams were fast approaching, weekends had to be enrolled. Aix being not too far from the sea, I took Françoise, TanteLéonie, Swann, Odette, Madame Verdurin and the Duchess of Guermantes to Saint-Tropez. A poor substituteto Cabourg or Trouville, I admit, but stillgood enough to imagine Gilberte and her friends cavorting on the beach. I would install my camping gear under a pine grove by the side of the road leading to Saint Trop’sfamous harbor (try to do that today!) and spend blissful hours reading and taking notes. Senéquier’s terrace and some strong coffee to keep you awake were just around the corner.  The gigantic yachts obscuring the view had yet to arrive and Brigitte Bardot had just been created. During the balmy evenings, romance and even “cattleya” could be had behind the protective jetée, where Baron de Charlus and his friends would not have been out of place. Happy days indeed !And, yes, I did pass my exams, thanks to “Proust by the Sea”. Years later, I was able to afford the Pleïade edition of La Rechercheand make acquaintance again with its marvelous cast of characters. They have been with me ever since.


A graduate of the University of Grenoble and of the University of Aix-en-Provence, Jean Vallier came to the United States in 1962 as the director of the Alliance Francaise de New York.

He is the author of "C'etait Marguerite Duras", a biography in two volumes, published by Fayard in Paris in 2006 (Volume I) and 2010 (Volume II). "Marguerite Duras, La vie comme un roman", an illustrated album of the life and time of the author, was published under his name in Paris in 2006 by Editions Textuel. A pocket edition of the two volumes of "C'etait Marguerite Duras" will appear at the beginning of 2014 in the "Pochotheque" collection, as part of the celebration of Marguerite Duras Centennial.

Jean Vallier is currently working on a memoir about his New York experience, to be published by Fayard. 

 
 
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