American ex-pat photographer Man Ray, 32, has been called here, along with two painters and a sculptor, to record the corpse of French writer Marcel Proust, 51, who died two days ago.
Ray has made a bit of a name for himself in Paris this past year, and this month’s Vanity Fair magazine has four of his “rayographs,” a new technique he has been working on.
Man Ray in Vanity Fair
Proust had been complaining to his friends that he was ill for months but didn’t feel as though they took him seriously. He told his loyal housekeeper Celeste Albaret, 31, that she must keep the doctors away from him in his last hours, to let the natural process unfold—or he will come back to haunt her.
Proust had been fighting the recommendations of his doctors, including his brother Robert, 49, for months while he experienced increasing fame and sales of his books, along with increasing health issues.
In the spring he took an accidental overdose of his adrenalin and was left screaming in pain. After that his chauffeur, Celeste’s husband, had to bring Proust daily chilled beer and ice cream from the Ritz Hotel.
In the summer, he had a big night out on the town with French writer Jean Cocteau, 33, at their favorite nightclub, Le Boeuf sur la toit, but that ended in a brawl and Proust challenging his young attacker to a duel the next morning. The kid apologized.
The bar at Le Boeuf sur la toit
This fall Proust had violent fits of asthma and vertigo which caused him to fall whenever he got out of bed. He blamed carbon monoxide from the fireplace, and commanded Celeste to stop lighting the fire. So he was surrounded by cold.
The doctors told Proust not to go out; Proust went for a walk, started sneezing and came home.
The doctors told him to eat a lot and rest; instead he followed his mother’s instructions to him as a child, eating nothing but milk and fruit and throwing himself into writing and rewriting.
At the bitter end Marcel submitted to injections from the doctors, but he grabbed Celeste’s wrist and pinched her as hard as he could, telling her she shouldn’t have let them come.
At 5:30 in the afternoon he was pronounced dead in this room.
Now, two days later, about a dozen family and friends have been invited to view the body, and Ray to photograph it.
Seeing his friend lying in state, surrounded by his manuscripts, Cocteau notes,
That pile of paper on his left was still alive, like watches ticking on the wrists of dead soldiers.”
Marcel Proust on his death bed by Man Ray
“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s. Volumes I through III, covering 1920 through 1922 are available as signed copies at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA, and on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in print and e-book formats. For more information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Early next year I will be talking about the centenary of the publication of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Pittsburgh, and about The Literary 1920s in Paris and New York City at the Osher program at Carnegie-Mellon University.
Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is also available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in both print and e-book versions.
If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.