On one notebook page, Proust’s drawn a kind of surrealist collage of portraits that blend into one another, and which may offer clues to the way he conceived his novel: an amalgam of people he knew in life, dismantled and reassembled to form the characters of his fiction. The same notebook also contains the astonishing question that Proust posed to himself in 1908, the year he began work on “À la Recherche”: “Faut-il en faire un roman, une étude philosophique, suis-je romancier?” (“Should it be a novel, a philosophical study, am I a novelist?”). Proust famously preferred to write in bed, and, between chronic illness and predisposition, ended up spending much of his life there.
Cahier 12, by Marcel Proust. Courtesy The Morgan Library & Museum/Bibliothèque nationale de France/RMN-Grand Palais.