Who is this French guy, anyway?

Marcel Proust is perhaps the most famous self-published author in history.

Unsurprisingly, the young French writer had a difficult time in finding a publisher for his monolithic literary work À la recherche du temps perdu which was published in seven parts between 1913 and 1927.

At 1.5 million words, it is the longest novel in world literature. Some authors have sought to parody it; others to emulate it.

His manuscript––written in longhand––was submitted and rejected by leading Parisian publishers.

Proust and his madeleine are now interchangeable with the idea of involuntary memory––when cues in everyday life evoke recollections of the past without conscious effort––and he associated this with what he termed the “essence of the past.”

“My dear fellow, I may be dead from the neck up, but rack my brains as I may I can’t see why a chap should need thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep.”

“I only troubled myself so far as to open one of the notebooks of your manuscripts; I opened it at random, and as ill luck would have it, my attention soon plunged into the cup of camomile tea on page 62 – then tripped, at page 64, on the phrase… where you speak of the ‘visible vertebra of a forehead.’”

 In André Bernard’s collection Rotten Rejections: The Letters That Publishers Wished They’d Never Sent, he includes a few of Proust’s editorial kiss-offs.

And yet, today it is impossible to avoid the intellectual shorthand of Proust’s madeleine to mean that which captures in a moment something that we thought was lost but remains at the back of our minds, ever present but still intangible. A forgotten memory that we nonetheless carry inside and informs the core of who we are.

The Madeleine Project, like Proust, seeks to unearth these memories that make us the writers and readers we are today.

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