Now You, Too, Can Own Proust's Secret Love Letters

In Depth

Several never-before-seen love letters between Marcel Proust and the Venezuelan-French composer Reynaldo Hahn will be up for auction in Paris this week.

The two first met in 1894 at the salons of Madeleine Lemaire, a painter who illustrated Proust’s work. They bonded over their shared love of painting, literature and music, forging between them a connection which ultimately led to a romantic relationship. Ooh la la!

Though it was never publicly acknowledged that Proust was gay, the relationship was known to those in the mens’ immediate social circle. In one letter, a 24-year-old Proust wrote: “I want you to be here all the time but as a god in disguise, whom no mortal would recognize.” Among other artifacts from the author, the auction includes a pen drawing of Hahn by Proust, in addition to nine letters. From The Guardian:

In one of the handwritten letters between the two men, some of them originating from Hahn’s family, Proust advises his friend, sometimes referred to as “mon petit Reynaldo”, to be discreet. “Burn letter … at once,” he concludes, signing off with a simple “Marcel”.
In a long letter to Proust, Hahn details how the writer should spend his day, in a particular language that clearly amused them both, but is impossible to translate. He calls Proust “Marcelch”. It is signed “Sending tender and good things to my good Marcelch”.

Despite their obvious affection for one another, Proust turned out to be something of a garbage pen pal. In 1898, after the relationship ended, Hahn expressed his sadness at his former love not writing more often:

“Everything in life is a question of misunderstanding; perhaps you think I can do without your news, it’s a sign that you can easily do without mine.
“But I will never give up as long as I have this great affection for you … please note, above all that there is no shadow of reproach in all this, loving you as tenderly as I do, you are the only being to whom I cannot blame for writing to me so little because I know all the reasons that stop you from writing to me more often.”

The letters, as well as the other books and manuscripts on offer, are currently on display at Sotheby’s in Paris ahead of the auction on Thursday, should you find yourself in the neighborhood.

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