A Masterclass in Dealing with Noisy Neighbours by Marcel Proust

I was given this slim volume of Marcel Proust’s Letters to the Lady Upstairs for Christmas, and have been keeping it for a rainy day. With the heatwave we’ve been experiencing I can hardly that I was prompted to read it by the weather. In truth, my choice was more to do with its size as I’ve fallen behind on my #20BooksofSummer reading challenge (hosted by Cathy at 746 Books ).

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The book contains correspondence from Proust to his upstairs neighbour, Mrs Marie Williams. Proust lived at 102 Boulevard Haussmann between 1907 and 1919, and it was during this period and in this location that he wrote most of In Search of Lost Time. 

The volume also contains an informative foreword by editor, Jean-Yves Tadié and afterword by translator Lydia Davis, and detailed background notes referencing people and incidents from the letters themselves. The collection of letters is slight but gives a real insight into Proust’s charm. His appeals for quiet due to his ill health and fragile disposition are delivered with such courtesy and artistic flourish that only the very stoniest of hearts could resist.

Madame,                                                                                                                                          I hope that you will not find me too indiscreet. I have had a great deal of noise these past few days and as I am not well, I am more sensitive to it. I have learned that the Doctor is leaving Paris the day after tomorrow and can imagine all that this implies for tomorrow concerning the ‘nailing’ of crates. Would it be possible either to nail the crates this evening, or else not to nail them tomorrow until starting at 4 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon (if my attack ends earlier I would hasten to let you know)… I confess that it bothers me very much to speak to you of such things and I am more embarrassed by it than I can say…. Please accept Madame my very respectful greetings.

MARCEL PROUST

Don’t tire yourself out answering me!

The appeal of the collection might appear to be a little narrow, but it does shine a light onto Proust’s personality, and I found it to be a thoroughly amusing and heart-warming read.

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