Author of the monumental multivolume novel In Search of Lost Time. High modernist of the first order and reclusive titan of French letters. And, if one Canadian scholar is correct, quite the dapper attendee of a wedding in 1904.
In the more than a century since Marcel Proust was first published, the name of the great French novelist has come to be associated with many things, but film footage is not one of them. Despite a handful of photographs depicting Proust, no one living claimed to have seen the man actually move — until earlier this month.
Jean-Pierre Sirois-Trahan, professor at Laval University in Quebec City, Canada, says he has found the notoriously solitary writer in footage of the 1904 wedding of Élaine Greffulhe.
In the footage, which can be viewed in the video above, Sirois-Trahan points out Proust as the man who enters the frame about 35 seconds in, descending the stairs outside a church wearing a pearl-gray suit, black vest and bowler hat. As he passes, one can even make out just the wisp of the iconic mustache characteristic of later depictions of the writer.
Then, in the span of just two or three seconds, the man who would be Proust disappears from the frame.
Sirois-Trahan published his findings in the Revue d’études proustiennes, a scholarly journal focused on Proust’s work. He told the French publication Le Point that he made his determination from a range of clues.
“Everything leads us to believe this could be Proust,” he said, though he is careful to note that “there can be no absolute proof that it is indeed Proust.”
As the Guardian notes, the director of the scholarly journal, Luc Fraisse, harbors fewer reservations.
“Because we know every detail of Proust’s life, we know from several sources that during those years he wore a bowler hat and pearl grey suit,” Fraisse told Le Point, according to the British paper. “It’s moving to say to ourselves that we are the first to see Proust since his contemporaries … even if it would be better if he was descending the steps a little less quickly! It’ll be fine when we have slowed the film down.”
Scholars also know that Proust did indeed attend the wedding in question, Le Point reports. And Élaine Greffulhe, the bride who is being feted in the film’s procession, was the daughter of Armand de Guiche and Countess Greffulhe, who is thought to be the model for one of the characters Proust crafted for In Search of Lost time.
Though there may never be ironclad certainty the specter who flits through the film is Proust, at least one thing may be comfortably assumed: He probably never imagined he — or his doppelganger — would be tweeted as a GIF, locked in a loop forever descending a set of stairs alone.