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Marcel Proust - Success and HappinessMarcel Proust - Success and Happiness


Marcel Proust (1871-1922)


French writer (pictured right), who introduced psychological analysis into fiction.


His most famous book is...

In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu)

 A novel in seven volumes published 1913-27,


His tips on success and happiness


Marcel Proust - Success and Happiness

1. Remember life is difficult

He had lots of problems to overcome:

  • asthma.
  • the death of his parents (he was extremely close to his mother, pictured right together).
  • social rejection because of his homosexuality and his Jewish mother.

Despite these difficulties, he found happiness in his writing, to which he became totally devoted, particularly after his mother’s death in 1905.


2. Do something worthwhile

Love the eternal principles of beauty and truth and be inspired by them.

So his favourite maxim was “work while you have light”.


3. Use your time well

Once it’s lost, time is gone forever (explaining the title, In Search of Lost Time).

So he wrote incredibly quickly.


4. Memories are vital

Don’t block memories out to avoid pain and unhappiness.

Instead face up to them to know yourself better (see point 5), because you are:

  • your memoriesMarcel Proust - Success and Happiness
  • what’s in your conscious and unconscious mind.

In 1909 drinking tea with a rusk biscuit made him remember his childhood.

This became the famous episode of eating madeleine cake (sponge cake, pictured right) in the first volume of In Search of Lost Time, Swann’s Way.


5. Know yourself

Accept your weaknesses and do something about them.

He wanted people to see their own weaknesses through the weaknesses of his characters.Marcel Proust - Success and Happiness

He believed that reading is a great way to know yourself better - for example, re-reading childhood books will tell adults how much they have changed.


6. Lifelong learning

He loved learning continuously from books and other people’s ideas, particularly his parents and three philosophers and writers:Marcel Proust - Success and Happiness

  • Thomas Carlyle (see point 7),

He was particularly influenced by Ruskin’s idea that an artist’s work should explain the world.


7. Be creative

He supported Thomas Carlyle’s (pictured right) “divine idea” that, to be creative, you must:Marcel Proust - Success and Happiness

  • totally devote yourself to your work.
  • live within it.

Proust wrote about all his experiences and used them in his writing.

So he always enriched his experience by doing new and exciting things.

 If you don’t, you will lead a boring life where “negligence dulls desire”, he said.

He quickly moved from one (often unrelated) idea to another, always driven by a fantastic imagination.


8. Be positive

He was an eternal optimist, bouncing back after failure and disappointment.

Swann’s Way, the first volume of In Search of Lost Time, was rejected several times by publishers, because of its length and psychological analysis.

He had to agree to publish it at his own expense to get it accepted.

It became a best-seller and publishers soon changed their minds about it!

 Marcel Proust - Success and Happiness

9. Stand up for your principles

He courageously supported the Jewish army officer, Alfred Dreyfus (pictured right), who was wrongly imprisoned as a spy on Devil’s Island (a horrible French prison off the African coast).

He organized petitions and helped Dreyfus’s lawyer.


10. Love and friendshipMarcel Proust - Success and Happiness

Despite the solitude of his writing, he still kept in touch with people.

He wrote thousands of letters and had a long affair with the pianist and composer, Reynaldo Hahn (pictured right).

Proust believed that you mustn’t let technology (like the telephone)

  • harm your relationships.
  • stop you knowing yourself (see point 5).


11. Luck

He was lucky to have rich parents, whose money, after they died, made him financially independent.

His father was an eminent doctor, and his mother came from a wealthy banking family.


12. Health is wealth

He continually struggled with ill health, particularly from asthma.

He died, aged only 51, from lung problems and was confined to his bedroom for the last three years of his life.


Key quote on creativity

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.


Key quote on change

We do not succeed in changing things according to our desire, but gradually our desire changes.


Key quote on happiness

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy.


Key quote on the past, present and future

The true paradises are the paradises we have lost.


Key quotes on stress and pain

We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full.

It is grief that develops the powers of the mind.


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