6 August 2019

Marcel Proust in Illiers-Combray, Eure-et-Loir (28)

Illiers-Combray – originally just Illiers but the name was extended in 1971 as a homage to Marcel Proust (1871-1922) – is understandably a small town (pop. 3325 in 2016) with a deep interest in the great writer. After all, Proust spent his holidays here between the ages of six to nine at the home of his paternal aunt, Elizabeth Proust, who is called 'Tante Léonie' in his work À la recherche du temps perdu, notably in the first volume Du côté de chez Swann. Germaine Amiot, the grand-daughter of Tante Léonie, gave the house to La Société des amis de Marcel Proust and Les Amis de Combray in 1976.

Here I show a number of photos in and around his house in Illiers, a town which in Du côté de chez Swann is very thinly disguised as 'Combray'. I begin with a shot of the garden and the orangerie, then the kitchen (including the back pantry and a replica of the coffee pot used then), before moving to the drawing room with its 19th century woodwork.

The staircase leads to a bedroom that fascinated the narrator of the novel, with its magic lantern, its dried flowers, the clock under its glass dome and the book François le Champi.

But obviously it's the room opposite that is crucial: where 'Tante Léonie' gave Proust the petite madeleine with its scallop (coquille Saint Jacques) shape that she dunked in tea. Many years later of course, that memory would come surging back, perhaps without which Proust would not be known.

The salon rouge on the ground floor shows a painting of Proust's father Dr Adrien Proust by Jules Lecomte du Noüy, with a writing desk of his mother Jeanne before her marriage (when she was Weil).

The salon oriental looks onto the garden, and in it is a copy of  the painting Femme à la fenêtre by Lazerques. Here, the family would play cards.

My photos conclude with a shot of the house where Proust's father Dr Adrien Proust was born, plus the plaque on it, which includes a sculpted likeness of the man.

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