A collector’s guide to copies of Swann’s Way [Du côté de chez Swann] and In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower [A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs].
When Marcel Proust was looking for a publisher for the first part of his In Search of Lost Time in 1913, he quite understandably was thinking of Gallimard’s NRF, which – though established only in 1911, was already the most prestigious publisher in France.
André Gide, one of the founders of the NRF, was at the time in charge of the reading committee that chose which manuscripts to publish.
The legend has it that he was personally responsible for turning down Proust’s manuscript, saying that he had read a few off-putting pages in which the narrator eats, over the course of several pages, little cakes while drinking an infusion (which is actually the noted scene with the madeleine cakes).
Proust then turned to other publishers, like Fasquelle, with no better luck, and ended up with Bernard Grasset, publishing the book at his own expense, which is to say that the edition was paid for by Proust.
It was thus with an eye to economy that the first copies of Swann’s Way were printed, leaving Proust frustrated in the face of the many faults he found in the first copies. He therefore quickly interrupted the printing process to correct the typos in his work.
These are the faults that today allow us to distinguish the very first printing from the subsequent ones. Even the 17 copies on large paper (5 on Japan and 12 on Hollande) were printed later, after the correction of the faults.
The Grasset error : this is the most important fault, one of the three primary elements that define the first impression, namely the bar of type « | » slipped in between the ‘e’ and the ‘t’ of Grasset at the bottom of the title page.
The justification page on page 524, on the back of the final page of text: the justification page is always dated 8th November 1913, but after the first impression, Proust had a table of contents added. The final page of text was thus reprinted without the justification, which is then found on the verso of the table of contents on page 528.
Publisher’s adverts: this little catalogue of works in the press at Grasset on grey-green paper is present only in the first issues and was left out in later printings.
The cover dated 1913: though the intention was originally to have 1914 figure as the date on all the title pages (the idea having been to publish the work at the beginning of 1914), it seems that printing proceeded more quickly than foreseen and Proust hurried the work along – no doubt to try and be in time for one of the literary awards handed out at the end of the year. The covers having been printed after the body of the text, they bore – for a while – the date “1913”, and only a few impressions later had “1914”. This element is less important, because most copies have a cover dated 1913.
No edition statement on the cover: more frequent is a so-called “false” edition statement of the 2nd or 3rd edition, which was printed on some of the covers in order to sell those copies after the first impressions had run out. The publisher, by adding this statement, wanted to make people think that he had had to reprint the work, which had sold out thanks to its success, when in fact these were all copies of the first edition all along. Copies with this false edition statement are always much less desirable.
This publisher’s trick, known as a “false edition statement” or “made-up edition statement” was regularly used by a number of publishers at the time.
1918 : buying up of the unsold copies and their resale in Gallimard covers: since the appearance of Swann’s Way, André Gide had realized his error of judgement and had written Proust a long letter apologizing for having turned him down and attempting to get him to publish the other volumes of the work with Gallimard.
Gallimard then bought all the unsold copies of Swann’s Way from Grasset (220 copies in total), removed the Grasset covers and replaced them with an NRF cover, known as “remise de vente” covers. These also involved them sticking a label on the title page of Swann’s Way with the name of the Nouvelle Revue Française (NRF) and putting them on sale in 1917 with the new covers and the label on the title page.
In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower:
The second volume did not appear until 1918 due to the War. It then won the Goncourt Prize despite the excellent works circulating at the time dealing with the tragedy of 1914-1918.
Winning the Goncourt has the odd effect of always triggering a second edition, often in the same year as the first. The first thing to check on a copy is the justification (l’achevé d’imprimer): this should be the 30th November 1918.
There were 64 large paper copies (in a larger, so-called ‘reimposed’ format) of this edition, which is tiny given the importance that Proust’s work would go on to achieve. Besides these large paper copies, which are of an extreme rarity, collectors will distinguish between a first printing of covers with no edition statement and a second printing of covers with a false edition statement.
Just as rare as a first impression of Swann, In the Shadow of Young Girls with no edition statement must have been printed in around 500 copies (the 2,000 copies that followed had a fictitious edition statement on the cover). Many collectors therefore have to make do with one of the copies with a fictitious edition statement on the cover (under the title), which can range from the second to the fifth edition.
The rest of In Search of Lost Time:
The success of the later volumes being by then assured, Gallimard printed two large paper versions for the rest of the volumes: one reimposed (which is to say 4to format), printed on vergé paper in approximately 100 copies, and a second printed on vélin Pur Fil paper in about 1,000 copies. Collectors can thus finally get hold of Proust’s works on fine paper. The ordinary paper edition of these volumes are of no real interest to the collector.
To sum up, there are at least three kinds of fine collections of In Search of Lost Time:
One is building up a set of reimposed 4to copies.
In this sort of collection, the two main difficulties are:
- The difficulty of finding In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower in a reimposed format, since these copies are very expensive.
- And above all, the fact that there is no reimposed format version of the first edition of Swann’s Way. In order for this collection to maintain its aesthetically pleasing nature, the collector must sacrifice having a first edition copy of the first volume, replacing it instead with the reimposed Gallimard edition of Swann’s Way published in 1919.
The second sort of collection is a more strictly bibliophile collection. This consists of finding first issue copies of the first editions for the first volumes and vélin pur fil paper copies for the rest. The difficulty, apart from that of finding such copies of the first two volumes, lies in finding copies on vélin pur fil in good condition, which does not happen very often.
The third sort of collection is historical. This is a collection where one puts together the first editions, focusing especially on provenance, through autograph inscriptions by the author.
Always unique, inscribed copies carry within them the history of both the work and the author. The importance of the person to whom the book is inscribed and their relationship to the author or ties to the work itself, can make the inscribed work a witness to the creation of the book itself.
The greatest feat, therefore, is finding an inscribed copy of the first volumes (before Proust became famous) and, if possible, an “important” inscription, which is to say one to a recipient who had an important link to the author and his work.