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Teenage Proust asks for money for brothel in this amusing letter to his grandfather

The writer-to-be had a perfectly logical explanation for his questionable request.

Apparently, the doubts of Marcel’s  father about his personal issues resulted in taking alternative measures.

He was obliged to go to a brothel in order to “cure” his indecent masturbation habit, according to his father.

Still, the entire awkward situation didn’t get into Proust’s way of having a healthy laugh, intentional or not.

Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust (10 July 1871 – 18 November 1922) is undoubtedly one of the greatest French authors.

Known for his gigantic novel “In Search of Lost Time”, which was published in seven volumes, he is considered as one of the most influential authors of the 20th century.

Marcel Proust in 1900
Marcel Proust in 1900

His mother was from a wealthy family and that made his education fruitful and commendable.

Although crippled by asthma attacks and various other health problems, the young man showed promising results during his upbringing.

Marcel inherited his mum’s sense of humor and charm, as she was well-read and literate, a noticeable fact in her witty letters and notes.

His father, Adrien Proust, was a prominent doctor who specialized in epidemiology and pathology and had several papers of various cholera studies.

As a writer of many books and notes about hygiene, Adrien’s main method of pedagogy was teaching his son the importance of healthy habits and well-being.

He genuinely feared that his son is suffering from uncontrollable masturbation habits, and thought that might result in homosexuality.

So, in order to “rid the disease”, he urged Marcel who was 16 at the time, to go to a brothel with 10 francs in his pocket.

A 15-year-old Marcel Proust. Photograph by Paul Nadar, 24th March, 1887.
A 15-year-old Marcel Proust. Photograph by Paul Nadar, 24th March, 1887.

According to the letter, he squandered the money from his father, so it was awkward for him to request the money again. Hence, he turned to his grandfather, by his mother’s suggestion. In a humorous fashion, the eccentric Marcel composed a rather amusing letter, seeking compensation for his adventurous urge.

The 16-year-old’s well-written letter delivers wit and honest humor that reflects the human flaws and needs, while still maintaining an earnest tonality of a formal demand:

“18 May 1888

Thursday evening.

My dear little grandfather,

I appeal to your kindness for the sum of 13 francs that I wished to ask Mr. Nathan for, but which Mama prefers I request from you. Here is why. I so need to see if a woman could stop my awful masturbation habit that Papa gave me 10 francs to go to a brothel. But first, in my agitation, I broke a chamber pot: 3 francs; then, still agitated, I was unable to screw.

So here I am, back to square one, waiting more and more as hours pass for 10 francs to relieve myself, plus 3 francs for the pot. But I dare not ask Papa for more money so soon and so I hoped you could come to my aid in a circumstance which, as you know, is not merely exceptional but also unique. It cannot happen twice in one lifetime that a person is too flustered to screw.

I kiss you thousand times and dare to thank you in advance.

I will be home tomorrow morning at 11 am. If you are moved by my situation and can answer my prayers, I hope I will see you with the money needed. Regardless, thank you for your decision which I know that derives from a warm, friendly place.”

Marcel Proust (seated), Robert de Flers (left) and Lucien Daudet (right), ca. 1894.
Marcel Proust (seated), Robert de Flers (left) and Lucien Daudet (right), circa 1894.

It is known that Marcel was a closeted homosexual, but he managed to keep it secret from the society, except from few family members and close friends.

Maybe he was trying to postpone the “therapy” or change the subject and hoped that his peers would turn a blind eye and forget the whole thing.

Either way, Proust’s combination of crude honesty and sheer courtesy towards his grandfather is flawlessly executed in the letter, with his mother’s literary approach constantly visible.

Here is another fun read from us:The mysterious Toynbee Tiles: Cryptic messages involving Sci-Fi, conspiracy & philosophy

His down-to-earth attitude was clearly visible from his teenage era, keeping cool with a sly demeanor without venting his frustration in a formal letter. Proust’s example shows that even wealthy writers are not safe from the pitfalls of teenage tantrums.

Brad Smithfield

Brad Smithfield is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News