Odd encounters: From Marcel Proust’s Sodome et Gomorrhe to Albert Cohen’s “projections ou Après-Minuit à Genève

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The anecdote has been told so many times that it has become a myth of sorts. On May 18, 1922, the British art patron and novelist Sydney Schiff and his wife, Violet, hosted one of the most infamous dinner parties in the history of modernism, gathering at the Hôtel Majestic in Paris many influential and innovative artists of the time, such as Sergei Diaghilev, Erik Satie, and Pablo Picasso. The occasion was the world premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s Renard, performed that evening at the Opéra by the Ballets Russes. Another less obvious motive of Schiff, but arguably more important to him, can be deciphered in the names of two other guests, the two writers he most cherished: Marcel Proust and James Joyce. Schiff, the recipient of one of the very first copies of Ulysses, was also an admirer of Proust, with whom he had developed a close relationship. The miraculous friendship between the two writers Schiff had hoped for did not happen, however. As the story goes, the encounter was unsympathetic, the conversation laconic, almost inimical. Both authors had next to nothing to say to each other. Worse, perhaps, neither seemed to have read anything written by the other. One might call this an acte manqué; I will see it as an odd encounter. For, even more ironic than this failure of the two tenors of the modernist novel to enter in a meaningful exchange of some sort is the fact that they both were about to meet in a different way. The year 1922 was when Joyce was published in France, and Proust in Great Britain. It was also the year in which both writers reached their apex. In Paris, Joyce published Ulysses, and Proust, a few weeks later, what is widely seen as the most crafted volume of A la recherche du temps perdu: Sodome et Gomorrhe. In an uncanny coincidence, the two greatest writers of the twentieth century crossed paths at the most crucial time of their artistic lives. Joyce had just finished his masterpiece (published on his very birthday). As for Proust, Sodome et Gomorrhe would be the last installment of La Recherche published before his death on November 18, 1922. Though, more importantly perhaps, 1922 was the year Proust had finally reached “the end” of his momentous novel, adding the word “Fin” after the last line of Le Temps retrouvé.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication1922
Subtitle of host publicationLiterature, Culture, Politics
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781139629102
ISBN (Print)9781107040540
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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