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No time to lose: This unseen Proust manuscript is being painstakingly restored

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The original manuscript of Marcel Proust's 'In Search of Lost Time' is currently being restored after decades unseen
The original manuscript of Marcel Proust's 'In Search of Lost Time' is currently being restored after decades unseen   -   Copyright  AFP
By Theo Farrant  with AFP

The first known manuscript of ‘In Search of Lost Time’, the monumental 20th century novel written by Marcel Proust, is being restored by conservators at the National Library of France.

Proust, considered to be one of the most influential French authors ever, published the novel in 1913.

The hugely complex work written in seven parts, depicts the narrator’s journey of self-discovery, from childhood into adulthood, and offers a meditation on the nature of art, love, memory and time. 

In 2020, the National Library of France obtained the publicly never-before-seen manuscript, which had previously belonged to a publisher named Bernard de Fallois. 

"Bernard de Fallois was a publisher who had come into possession of this manuscript in the 1950s, at that time, and who had kept it to himself for all those decades, without publishing it," explains Guillaume Fau, Head of Contemporary Manuscripts at the National Library of France. 

The first edition copy was passed on to the publisher by Marcel Proust's niece, Suzy Mante-Proust, who had trusted the young Bernard to sort through the mountains of paper left by her uncle.

"He [Bernard de Fallois] had alluded to it in a few texts, a few lines, which made it possible to know the existence of this manuscript, but which had remained unknown and unpublished by all Proustians and all researchers," adds Fau. 

Restoring the manuscript

Stephane De Sakutin/AFP
A sheet of the original manuscript of Marcel Proust, with tools on a desk prior to its renovation at the French National LibraryStephane De Sakutin/AFP

The once hidden treasure is now entrusted to Frédérique Pelletier, a specialist conservator, who is working to restore the 75 pages in a workshop in the heart of Paris.

“We are going to carry out minimalist restorations, to block the problems of tears and gaps," she says. They plan to do this by gluing on pieces of ultra-light Japanese paper (2 g/m²).

The restoration process is painstaking. Pelletier explains that it can take up to seven hours to restore a badly damaged page. 

The National Library of France, also known as the François-Mitterrand Library, plans to exhibit the fully restored manuscript in the autumn.

The occasion will mark the 100th anniversary of Marcel Proust's death.

Video editor • Theo Farrant