Scholars think they’ve spotted Marcel Proust in film for the first time, in 110-year-old wedding footage

The Guermantes Walk.
The Guermantes Walk.
Image: Public Domain Review
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Marcel Proust is remembered for his lengthy, circuitous sentences—and certainly not for the rapid clip of his stride. But 95 years after his death, the French writer is creating excitement for a seconds-long scurry.

Proust scholars think they’ve found the first known appearance of the literary legend on film, reported French weekly Le Point on Feb. 15 (link in French). Jean-Pierre Sirois-Trahan, a literature and cinema professor from Université Laval in Quebec, wrote of the discovery in a review of scholarly Proustian work published Feb. 1.

In a 1904 clip of the wedding of Armand de Guiche and Elaine Greffulhe, members of the French nobility, a man in a bowler hat and light jacket rushes by the procession at second 36. According to experts, he is dressed just as the author of In Search of Lost Time was known to dress. He also appears to be in something of a hurry.

The man, remarkable for being one of few guests to appear alone, is gone two seconds later. Perhaps he is dashing toward a tea-soaked reverie; perhaps he is late to smell some jasmine, gossip about high society, or read Stendhal.

“Everything tends to say it’s about Proust,” Sirois-Trahan tells Le Point of the clip. “The silhouette and the profile correspond to his, though,” he adds, “It’s always difficult to identify with certainty with a film of this kind.”

Proust indeed knew the couple getting married. The mother of the bride, Élisabeth de Caraman-Chimay, was Proust’s muse, and the main inspiration for the dazzling, fashionable Duchesse de Guermantes featured in his masterwork.