We may well be the first people since Proust‘s death 95 years ago to be able to see the French writer. At least according to Jean-Pierre Sirois-Trahan, professor at Laval University in Quebec, who recently announced that he had identified the writer in archival footage dating from 1904.
According to the French magazine Le Point, the film has been preserved for the past 113 years in the archives of the Centre National du Cinéma. It was shot during the wedding of Elaine Greffulhe, daughter of the countess of the same name – the one thought to have inspired the character of Oriane de Guermantes in In Search of Lost Time (her husband inspired the character of the Duke of Guermantes) – and Proust’s friend Armand de Guiche.
The writer can be seen walking down the church steps around the 37th second, alone, wearing a bowler hat and a long grey coat.
Although the footage is brief and fairly blurred, several clues hint at Proust’s presence. Beyond the man’s general physical resemblance, it is known that Proust attended the wedding, and was most likely alone as the man in the footage is. Another pointer is found in the clothes he wears, or as Sirois-Trahan says: “elegant, but clashing with those of the other men at the ceremony, they correspond with what he wore at the time, when he was modelling himself as a dandy modelled on English trends.” The conclusion was made all the easier by the fact that we know the details of his life, thanks to extensive writing.
We see Proust as a young thirty-something, a social climber admitted to Paris’ aristocratic circles by virtue of his brilliant oratory. A far cry from the man who would later write In Search of Lost Time while living in near-complete isolation in his apartment!