The True Story of One Man's Passion for All Things Proust
Ecco Press, Hardcover, 9780061965678, 128pp.
Publication Date: August 2010
Jacques GuÉrin was a prominent businessman at the head of his family's successful perfume company, but his real passion was for rare books and literary manuscripts. From the time he was a young man, he frequented the antiquarian bookshops of Paris in search of lost, forgotten treasures. The ultimate prize? Anything from the hands of Marcel Proust.
GuÉrin identified with Proust more deeply than with any other writer, and when illness brought him by chance under the care of Marcel's brother, Dr. Robert Proust, he saw it as a remarkable opportunity. Shamed by Marcel's extravagant writings, embarrassed by his homosexuality, and offended by his disregard for bourgeois respectability, his family had begun to deliberately destroy and sell their inheritance of his notebooks, letters, manuscripts, furni-ture, and personal effects. Horrified by the destruction, and consumed with desire, GuÉrin ingratiated himself with Marcel's heirs, placating them with cash and kindness in exchange for the writer's priceless, rare material remains. After years of relentless persuasion, GuÉrin was at last rewarded with a highly personal prize, one he had never dreamed of possessing, a relic he treasured to the end of his long life: Proust's overcoat.
Proust's Overcoat introduces a cast of intriguing and unforgettable characters, each inspired and tormented by Marcel, his writing, and his orphaned objects. Together they reveal a curious and compelling tale of lost and found, of common things and uncommon desires.
Eric Karpeles is a painter who was educated at Haverford College, Oxford University, and The New School. He lives in California.
“Lorenza Foschini’s delightful portrait of Guerin and his Proust obsession (translated from the Italian by Eric Karpeles). The objects themselves take on a life of their own and do a jig in this little volume.”
“A fascinating, quick read about Jacques Guérin, a guy whose obsession with Marcel Proust makes Justin Bieber fans look calm (slight exaggeration).”
“Lorenza Foschini’s portrait of Guérin and his Proust obsession is delightful, and the objects themselves take on a life of their own and do a jig in this little volume.”
-Los Angeles Times
“This sparkling, elegant piece of reportage addresses not only these particular facts and their historical ambience but also, more indirectly, larger questions of our fascination with celebrity and our passion for relics, however humble, gilded by the charisma of fame.”
-San Francisco Chronicle
“[Foschini], elegantly teasing out the relationship between family dynamics and property... highlights the role of objects and spaces in Proust’s work, allowing us to see In Search of Lost Time through a different lens.”
“Foschini does a superb job of driving the intrigue and depicting how and why Guérin fell into such an infatuation. The Prousts and Guérin are characters not soon forgotten.”
-Sacramento Book Review
“The translation by Karpeles... is seamless. VERDICT: This reviewer belonged to a group that read only Proust; we called ourselves the Proustitutes. Proust’s Overcoat is urgently recommended to Proustitutes wherever you are.”
“Readers pondering what manner of person created the masterpiece In Search of Lost Time will gobble up this tale of family tensions, revenge and collecting as they reflect on a literary legacy that was almost lost.”
“A rare and wonderfully written book of literary detection, that is heartbreaking as well as thrilling, about the ‘afterlife’ of a writer’s manuscripts and the things he carried.”
“I read it in two sittings and just loved it.”
-André Aciman, author of EIGHT WHITE NIGHTS
“This book is just my style. In the spirit of La Bohème, a brilliant aria to the coat.”
“It’s exquisite, delicate, fascinating. I put PROUST’S OVERCOAT on the same shelf as Serena Vitale’s PUSHKIN’S BUTTON and Umberto Eco’s FOUCAULT’S PENDULUM.”
-Edmund White, author of HOTEL DE DREAM and MY LIVES