29 October 08 | Chad W. Post

Not the most common of connections, but that’s the angle that Bloomberg‘s Robert Hilferty takes in his review of Proust’s The Lemoine Affair:

A hundred years ago French novelist Marcel Proust (1871-1922) lost money in the stock market, too. And as he would in the epic In Search of Lost Time, he converted the stuff of life into art. [. . .]

Translated by the super-talented Charlotte Mandell, this is the first time The Lemoine Affair is available in English, and it’s part of Melville House’s Art of the Novella series. (Which has been getting a lot of play here the past few days.)

As described on the Melville House site, this novella is a series of pastiches in which Proust imitates the writing styles of other famous French authors, such as Flaubert and Balzac. Based on this alone, I still can’t believe this never came out in English before. And the story behind the novel just adds to my disbelief:

A Parisian engineer named Henri Lemoine claimed to have invented a method of manufacturing diamonds from coal. He convinced the London-based president of the De Beers diamond empire, Sir Julius Wernher, to underwrite the process. The executive invested about a million francs before the fraud emerged.

After De Beers stock plummeted because of the scandal, Lemoine bought shares expecting to profit when the stock recovered. The ruse was discovered and Wernher sued Lemoine, who was tried and imprisoned in 1908.

Proust had inherited De Beers stock from his parents and fretted that the scandal would erode his portfolio. At the same time, he was inspired by the literary potential of Lemoine’s intrigue and hit upon an ingenious way to retell it — that’s the true alchemy here.

Add this to the growing list of Melville House novellas we’ll be reviewing over the next few weeks . . .


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