The great writer, Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust, was born in Paris on 10 July 1871. His father was a doctor. His family was wealthy.
As a child, it became apparent that Marcel suffered from asthma. As he grew up, his family worried about his health and considered him to be weak.
He spent long summer holidays in the village of Illiers where his father's family lived. It was this place that became the inspiration for the fictitious village that he called Combray in his future literary works.
Marcel Proust is most famous for a very long piece of writing called À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time.) It is a collection of seven volumes, consisting of thousands of pages. The author began to write it in 1909.
The famous sponge cake! The first volume is called Du côté de chez Swann and it is here that a most famous incident takes place. It is the incident of a little sponge cake in the shape of a 'shell' known as la petite madeleine.
(Image of two petites madeleines. Photo by Bernard Leprêtre, Wikimedia Commons.)
So, why did Proust write about eating a little sponge cake? In the story, his mother prepares him a cup of tea and une petite madeleine. It is something that he has not eaten for many years.
He explains how, upon tasting the sponge cake with the tea, suddenly he remembers moments of his childhood when his aunt prepared the tea and sponge cake for him.
The author writes that, upon recognising the taste from all those years ago, his memories come flooding back and he is able to re-live moments as if he was a child in the company of his aunt again.
In other words, Marcel Proust examines how, upon tasting, smelling, hearing or seeing something, we can be taken back in time to a distant memory where the same taste, smell, sight or sound existed in our earlier lives, enabling us to re-live an old experience.
Marcel Proust never married and remained close to his parents all his life. He died in 1922, before the last three volumes of his work were complete. His brother, Robert, finished them and had them published.
Marcel Proust was laid to rest in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.