Is this the great French novelist Marcel Proust, captured on film in 1904?

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 February, 2017, 2:21pm
UPDATED : Friday, 17 February, 2017, 9:35pm

A Canadian university professor claims to have found the only existing moving picture of French writer Marcel Proust.

The black-and-white footage of a wedding cortege filmed in 1904 shows a brief glimpse of a man in his 30s with a neat moustache, wearing a bowler hat and pearl-grey formal suit, hurriedly descending a flight of stairs on his own. Most of the other guests are in couples.

Jean-Pierre Sirois-Trahan, a professor at the Laval University in Quebec, believes the film, which he found in the Centre National du Cinéma in Paris, could contain the only known footage of the author.

Sirois-Trahan says the film is of the marriage of Élaine Greffulhe, daughter of the Countess of Greffulhe, who was one of Proust’s close friends and the principal inspiration for his character Oriane de Guermantes in À La Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time).

Luc Fraisse, director of the Review of Proustian Studies, has no doubt the film shows Proust.

“Because we know every detail of Proust’s life, we know from several sources that during those years he wore a bowler hat and pearl grey suit... It’s moving to say to ourselves that we are the first to see Proust since his contemporaries... even if it would be better if he was descending the steps a little less quickly! It’ll be fine when we have slowed the film down,” Fraisse told Le Point magazine.

Sorbonne professor Jean-Yves Tadié, another Proust specialist, said he was delighted. “I’ve always thought we’d end up seeing him in a news film. The shape of the face, the approximate way of dressing, all corresponds to him, and the identification seems quite convincing,” Tadié told Le Point.

He added: “I find this discovery very moving, and all the more so because Proust always had an ambiguous relationship with moving images.

“It’s astonishing that nobody has thought to look for Proust in the archives of films of the Greffulhes before... It shows that new discoveries are still possible, even about an author who, it would seem, has already been so minutely studied.”

Proust died in 1922 aged 51. His most famous work, the monumental 3,200-page In Search of Lost Time, was published in seven parts between 1913 and 1927.

Sirois-Trahan, however, remains cautious about his find. “Everything leads us to believe this could be Proust,” he said, but added: “There can be no absolute proof that it is indeed Proust. But in any case, it’s a valuable document about the world of In Search of Lost Time.”