Mina Curtiss, member of a prominent American family and sister of Lincoln Kirstein, the fabled ballet impresario, bravely left for post-war Europe in 1947 to assemble a volume of Marcel Proust’s letters, and wrote a detailed, straightforward memoir of her wry observations and humorous encounters. Incredibly, Mina Curtiss managed to track down and interview most of Proust’s intimate correspondents. A distinguished writer and Smith College professor, Curtiss crossed paths with notable characters including Celeste, Proust’s housekeeper and “guardian angel” from 1913 until his death, and the ambitious lothario Prince Bibesco, who uses his cache of coveted letters to seduce her. In 1951, while doing research on Georges Bizet, two years after the publication of her translation Letters of Marcel Proust, Curtiss was casually handed a group of letters—four written in Proust’s own persona, and four others in the self-assigned nom de plume of the heroine Pauline. An epistolary novel was begun in 1893 during a summer holiday by Proust and three of his classmates at the Lycée Condorcet. Although this text is absent from the bibliographies of Proust, including Phillip Kolb’s Correspondence, Curtiss generously includes this rare collection in the appendix of her Other People’s Letters, hoping other scholars would continue her research. In these youthful letters, one can find the earliest traces of what would become Proust’s most common and recurrent themes—found in Jean Santeuil and A la recherché du temps perdu.
(Also worth noting is The Proust Project (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) where 28 writers (including Shirley Hazzard, Lydia Davis, Richard Howard, Alain de Botton, Diane Johnson and Edmund White) were asked to choose and comment on their favorite passages from In Search of Lost Time.)