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Proust's Latin Americans

Rubén Gallo

Publication Year: 2014

Part biography, part cultural history, part literary study, Rubén Gallo's book explores the presence of Latin America in Proust's life and work. The novelist lived in an era shaped by French colonial expansion into the Americas: just before his birth, Napoleon III installed Maximilian as emperor of Mexico, and during the 1890s France was shaken by the Panama affair, a financial scandal linked to the construction of the canal in which thousands of French citizens lost their life savings. It was in the context of these tense Franco–Latin American relations that the novelist met the circle of friends discussed in Proust's Latin Americans: the composer Reynaldo Hahn, Proust’s Venezuelan lover; Gabriel de Yturri, an Argentinean dandy; José-Maria de Heredia, a Cuban poet and early literary model; Antonio de La Gandara, a Mexican society painter; and Ramon Fernandez, a brilliant Mexican critic turned Nazi sympathizer. Gallo discusses the correspondence—some of it never before published—between the novelist and this heterogeneous group and also presents insightful readings of In Search of Lost Time that posit Latin America as the novel’s political unconscious. Proust’s speculation with Mexican stocks informed his various fictional passages devoted to financial transactions, and the Panama affair shaped his understanding of the conquest of America in a little-known early text. Proust's Latin Americans will be of interest to scholars of modernism, French literature, Proust studies, gender studies, and Latin American studies.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Hopkins Studies in Modernism


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Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

The publication of this book was made possible through a generous grant from Princeton University’s Committee for Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Additional funds for translation were provided by the Program in Latin American Studies.
I am deeply grateful to Leo Bersani, who read the manuscript and offered invaluable advice and suggestions, and to Doug Mao and Matthew R. McAdam, who accepted this book for the Hopkins Studies in Modernism...

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pp. 1-24

A few years ago I was reading a biography of Marcel Proust and came across a detail that caught my eye. When he was in his twenties, the novelist became the boyfriend of Reynaldo Hahn, a Venezuelan musician and composer who was three years his junior. The biographer mentioned Hahn’s nationality in passing, without giving much thought to its larger cultural meaning. I, however, was fascinated by the idea of Proust having had a...

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1 Reynaldo Hahn: Proust’s Latin Lover

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pp. 25-72

“Everything I have done in my life,” Proust confessed in 1904, “has been thanks to Reynaldo.”1 Of the Latin Americans studied in this book, Reynaldo Hahn (1874–1947) was the closest to Proust and the one who left the deepest mark in his life and work (fig. 1.1). Born in Venezuela to a South American mother and a German-Jewish father, he emigrated to Paris when he was three and quickly rose to fame as a singer and composer. By fifteen, he had...

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Paperolle No. 1 Proust’s Mexican Stocks

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pp. 73-89

Proust’s friendship with Reynaldo Hahn taught him much about the lives of Latin Americans in Paris and about the elusive experience of assimilating into French culture. While visiting Reynaldo, Marcel would have heard the family discuss the vicissitudes of Latin American politics and the many upheavals and revolutions that led the Hahns to emigrate. Later in life, the novelist would learn his most important lesson about Latin American history and politics from an unusual source: the stock market....

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2 Gabriel de Yturri: An Argentinian in Paris

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pp. 90-135

Not all of Proust’s Latin American friends were as rich, successful, and integrated into French culture as Reynaldo Hahn. Gabriel de Yturri (figs. 2.1 and 2.2) came from a modest family, spoke French with a thick accent, and stood out as a foreigner in the salons. He was born in 1860 in the village of Yerba Buena, near Tucumán, in northern Argentina, and he did not move to Europe until he was twenty, after a family friend—the British priest Kenelm...

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Paperolle No. 2 Proust’s Peruvians

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pp. 136-141

Among the hundreds of characters in À la recherche du temps perdu, the only bona fide Latin American is an anonymous Peruvian who attends Charlie Morel’s recital, organized by Charlus at Madame Verdurin’s home, and finds himself enmeshed in a socialite’s intrigues, as Madame de Mortemart, one Charlus’s cousins, schemes to organize a soirée to which only a select few will be invited. As she whispers her invitations, her cunning gaze falls on those around him, including the Peruvian....

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3 José-Maria de Heredia: A Cuban Conquistador

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pp. 142-183

As a young man seeking to enter the literary world, Proust looked up to two figures as models for the type of writer he hoped to become. The first was Robert de Montesquiou. The second was José-Maria de Heredia (1842– 1905), a Cuban-born poet who became the first Latin American to enter the Académie française (figs 3.1–3.3). If Montesquiou was the prototype of the literary dandy, Heredia was a more sober type: a wealthy, elegant poet...

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Paperolle No. 3 Proust’s Mexican Painter

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pp. 184-192

One of the least studied figures in Proust’s circle is the artist Antonio de La Gandara (1861–1917), born in Paris to a Mexican father and a Franco- English mother. La Gandara, who lived as a Mexican citizen in France until he naturalized at age thirty-four, studied at the École du Louvre, set up a studio in Montmartre (fig. P3.1), and gained success as a society painter. Like Jacques-Émile Blanche (1861–1942), he created portraits of some of the most...

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4 Ramon Fernandez: Proust’s Mexican Critic

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pp. 193-218

Proust met Ramon Fernandez (1894–1944) during World War I. He was only in his mid-forties, but he was already ill and bed-ridden; Fernandez, in contrast, was a twenty-year-old rising star in Parisian intellectual life (fig. 4.1). It was Proust who sought out the younger man; in 1914 he wrote Lucien Daudet, a mutual friend, to tell him he had “a great desire to meet Fernandez.” 1 It is not entirely clear why. Proust had no need to court the critics,...

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Paperolle No. 4 Proust’s Spanish

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pp. 219-223

Several characters in Proust’s novel speak, or rather pretend to speak, Spanish, though none of them come from Spanish-speaking countries. We never hear the Peruvian or the lascivious characters at Balbec speak their mother tongue, but we do hear others play with Spanish words. Doctor Cottard accompanies his prescriptions of an all-dairy regime with a pun. “Olé olé olé: Spain is in fashion,” he tells his students and patients, punning on the ...

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pp. 224-226

On Wednesday, May 30, 1894, Robert de Montesquiou hosted a lavish garden party at his house in Versailles that brought together an impressive group of aristocrats from the Faubourg Saint-Germain, members of the Académie française, respected artists and poets, young intellectuals, and crowds of socialites. A twenty-two-year-old Marcel Proust was there, taking everything in and making mental notes about the elegant countesses...


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pp. 227-260


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pp. 261-269

E-ISBN-13: 9781421413464
E-ISBN-10: 1421413469
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421413457
Print-ISBN-10: 1421413450

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 31 halftones, 15 line drawings, 8 color plates
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Hopkins Studies in Modernism
Series Editor Byline: Douglas Mao, Series Editor See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 883820202
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Proust's Latin Americans

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Subject Headings

  • Proust, Marcel, 1871-1922 -- Friends and associates.
  • Novelists, French -- 20th century -- Biography.
  • Latin Americans in literature.
  • Latin Americans -- France -- Paris -- History -- 20th century.
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