Proust's Overcoat: The True Story of One Man's Passion for All Things Proust

Overview

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 ...

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Proust's Overcoat: The True Story of One Man's Passion for All Things Proust

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Newsday
“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.”
Los Angeles Times
“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.”
Boston Globe
“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.”
Shelf Awareness
“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.”
Michael Ondaatje
“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.”
Andre Aciman
"I read it in two sittings and just loved it."
Patti Smith
“This book is just my style. In the spirit of La Bohème, a brilliant aria to the coat.”
Edmund White
“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.”
André Aciman
“I read it in two sittings and just loved it.”
Nylon Magazine
“A fascinating, quick read about Jacques Guérin, a guy whose obsession with Marcel Proust makes Justin Bieber fans look calm (slight exaggeration).”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Charmingly narrated.”
BookForum
“[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.”
Sacramento Book Review
“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.”
Library Journal
How fitting that Marcel Proust, perhaps the greatest writer on memory, spawned this book, and others, on memories of himself! Italian journalist Foschini (Radiotelevisione Italiana; Investigation at Millennium's End) here traces the obsession of French collector Jacques Guérin to hunt down anything left by Proust that was not claimed by heirs. Among his startling finds over the years was Proust's overcoat, the "ultimate relic." Though some might chide the collector, who died in 2000, for hoarding his many treasures (he donated Proust's furniture and personal effects, including the overcoat, to Paris's Musée Carnavalet), Foschini points out that Guérin rescued from oblivion or destruction many objects, including letters, notebooks, an early edition of A la recherché du temps perdu, and personal artifacts. She also provides a harrowing account of the efforts of Proust's sister-in-law, Marthe, to destroy any trace of the writer's life that might dishonor the family's name. The translation by Karpeles (Paintings in Proust) 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.—Edward Cone, New York
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061965678
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/3/2010
  • Pages: 128
  • Product dimensions: 7.62 (w) x 11.28 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Lorenza Foschini is an Italian journalist, writer, and television news anchorwoman on RAI, the state-owned Italian radio and television network. As a Vatican correspon-dent, she traveled around the world, covering the journeys of Pope John Paul II. She is the author of Investigation at Millennium's End, which won the Prix Scanno, and has translated Return to Guermantes, a collection of previously unpublished Proustian texts, from French into Italian. Born in Naples, she lives in Rome.

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