Literature experts Thierry Laget and Pyra Wise recently discovered the inspiration for Charles Swann, a primary character in the Marcel Proust novel In Search of Lost Time. In the book, Swann is a socialite who lives in Paris. He is the central figure of the novel’s first volume which is aptly titled Swann’s Way.
According to Laget and Wise, they made the discovery after analyzing the birth certificate of Willie Heath. Heath was a close friend of Proust’s. After Heath died in 1893, Proust dedicated the memory of his novel Pleasures and Days to Heath. The dedication reads: “To my friend Willie Heath / Died in Paris on 3 October 1893”.
Heath as the Inspiration Behind Charles Swann
Heath’s birth certificate revealed that his mother’s full name was Elisabeth Bond Swan. It did not take long for both Laget and Wise to realize that this name served as the inspiration for the character Charles Swann’s name. “Swan, as in Swann… Pyra and I both hit the ceiling when we saw that,” Laget said.
Laget and Wise arrived at this same conclusion independently. Laget revealed his findings first. Earlier this month, he made his claim in online magazine Proustonomics. When Wise read Laget’s article, it occurred to her that another person had come up with the same theory that she had. Thus, the article on Proustonomics has since been updated to include Wise’s name.
Remarking on the relative dearth of knowledge about Heath in comparison to Proust’s other friends and acquaintances, Wise said, “I was astonished that we knew so little about Willie Heath compared with other friends of Proust since he struck me as such an important figure.”
Wise also noted the fact that a real person was tied to such an important character of In Search of Lost Time. She added, “This biographical element doesn’t revolutionize our understanding of the work; it adds some knowledge, some ambience.”
Information About Heath
Further research revealed that Heath was born in Queens, New York, in 1869. He lived most of his life in France after his tycoon father fled the United States. Heath’s father left the US because of a link to a financial fraud scandal.
Heath died of enteritis at the age of 24. He was buried in Brooklyn, New York. The information unearthed about Heath stands in contrast to the now-debunked theory which claimed that Heath was British.
There were even some who promoted the idea that Heath was not even a real person. They believed that Proust invented the name “Willie Heath” and that he did so to have a name to place within the dedication. In their opinion, Proust created the name and dedication to add gravitas to his book.
29th March 2021 14:52
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