It is always a remarkable event when the archives of the great writer appear on the market. On 24 May at Sotheby’s in Paris, there will be a sale of the collection of Marie-Claude Mante, Marcel Proust’s great-niece and daughter of the writer’s only niece, Suzy. After the library of Stéphane Mallarmé and the collection of Proust’s great-great niece, Patricia Mante-Proust*, this sale is a literary red-letter day, once again inviting literature lovers and bibliophiles to see Proust’s work in a new light through 70 lots of literary manuscripts, letters and books with envois.
The adored niece of her writer uncle, whom she saw as a “kind of magician”, Suzy Proust (1903-1986) fell heir to a huge literary heritage on her father’s death. A cultivated woman and music lover, and a keen reader of La Recherche, she worked throughout her life to perpetuate the memory of the man she affectionately called “Uncle Marcel”. She retained the main part of his manuscripts, and encouraged the publication of his work and correspondence, though sometimes hiding passages referring to his homosexuality.
Though the guardian of the temple, she willingly allowed publishers and researchers to study it, fostering the discovery and publication of whole sections of Proust’s early writings, like Jean Santeuil and Contre Sainte-Beuve.
She wanted her uncle’s work to be accessible to as many people as possible, and generously lent the family’s collections of books, manuscripts and photographs to numerous exhibitions throughout the world. In the early 1960s, she sold many exceptional manuscripts she inherited to the Bibliothèque nationale, and instructed Gallimard to publish À la recherche du temps perdu in paperback.
On her death in 1986, her three children shared the documents she had not sold to the Bibliothèque nationale and others, including her uncle’s letters and books, which then appeared on the market.