Our family visited France this summer, and -- in an act of utter selflessness for the benefit of the Proust reading group, of course -- we made a pilgrimage to the town Proust called "Combray."
It was a gorgeous day, and I am happy to report that Combray (actually Illiers, now renamed Illiers-Combray) more than lived up to our expectations.
What follows are some photos of Aunt Léonie's house, the Méséglise way, the Guermantes way, the steeples of the church of St.-Hilaire. Even the Narrator's beloved hawthorns make an appearence!
So come along with us...
How nifty to have a real location from your childhood (the village of lliers, which Proust visited only occasionally between the ages of 9 and 15) go so far as to hypenate its name, on the centenary of your birth, to reflect your fictional recreation of it! This sign strikes me as a very specific example of Proust's theme of the enormous power of the imagination to transform the world around us.
Here is Aunt Léonie's house, seen from its enclosed garden.
This is the dining room (my thoughts went to those Saturday lunches the Narrator mentions, which, when changed to an earlier hour than usual, 11 rather than noon, made the whole day seem fresh and promising).
The living room. Note the security, wearing bright orange, keeping a sharp eye on the visitors (who, curiously, never stopped moving).
The kitchen, where Francoise would have worked on her creations (cold beef in aspic anyone?).
Aunt Léonie's bedroom.
Proust's bedroom, the scene of the goodnight kiss!
The view out Proust's bedroom window, looking down on the garden. We can imagine him gazing at the grown-ups having dinner below, while silently pleading for his mother to come upstairs.
The salon and writing room on the ground floor.
The colored-glass window (mentioned by the Narrator).
The gardens along the Méséglise (Swann's) way.
The Guermantes way?
The gardener's cottage (perhaps this is the cottage near to where the Narrator first encounters Gilberte?).
The children decided to crush hawthorn berries and spread them on their cheeks... to frighten Mom and Dad.
Adeline, beginning her novel.
Renée, finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. Above the garden lay a vista of wheat fields.
The steeples of the church of St.-Jacques in Illiers-Combray (St.-Hilaire in the novel). Notice the two steeples, which the Narrator describes as merging into one as they recede from view.
A helpful sign for parents of young children destined to write 4000-page novels based on the walks they took on this path. No doubt it dates back to the 1880s when Proust would have visited.