To be published Thursday at Gallimard, Letters to Horace Finalyhis banker friend, retraces the writer’s daily life with a parasitic host which he has the greatest difficulty in getting rid of and which he harbored between 1918 and 1921.
It is an unknown anecdote from the life of Marcel Proust that resurfaces. In Letters to Horace Finaly, collection of twenty unpublished missives which appears Thursday at Gallimard editions, we learn that the author ofIn Search of Lost Time had the greatest difficulty in getting rid of a Swiss guest whom he lodged for three years. It was only with the help of the recipient of the letters that he managed to send it to Brazil in 1921.
This Finaly was one of the masters of French finance during the Belle Époque and the interwar period, directing the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas (today BNP Paribas). He had studied with Proust in one of the best high schools in Paris, Condorcet. Rochat, on the other hand, remained all his life in the shadows. His date of birth is not known. This immigrant in Paris, “waiter at the Ritz when Proust noticed him in 1917”is “probably a native of the Vallée de Joux, in the canton of Vaud” and the Jura massif, a few kilometers from the French border, described in the introduction by the writer Thierry Laget, a specialist in Proust.
The novelist had the idea of having him move into his home in 1918, “believing on the one hand that he would stay only a few weeks, on the other hand that he could serve as (him) secretary”he wrote to Horace Finaly.
He took it badly: Henri Rochat does not have the skill. And not content to cling to free housing for almost three years, he will spend his host’s money wrongly and through it. We would hardly know this psychodrama without the letters to Finaly. These resurface on the occasion of an auction in France in June 2021, at the Aguttes house. The Society of Literary Hotels then bought, for 78,000 euros, these letters in a volume which had been carefully bound by the family. “We didn’t expect it at all. When they showed them to me, I was amazed., says Thierry Laget to AFP. They contain another scoop: the two correspondents went together in their youth to Dover, the only known incursion into England for the writer.
Reading Proust, we understand how much Horace Finaly is of precious help in getting rid of a man who takes advantage of his largesse. “Being bored at my place, he has, on two or three occasions, made small “runaways” where he unfortunately lost not only the fatness he had gained at home, but also all the money I had given him, which today would make a small fortune (almost equivalent to mine), and that he generously distributed to “hens”,» laments the novelist, bewildered by his bills at the tailor.
“It brings him closer to Albertine, who is offered dresses and other luxury clothes”explains Thierry Laget, in reference to one of the central characters of the romantic suite of Proust. “He spends a lot more than Proust himself. He was a dandy, who brought him nothing but this inspiration, a few lady’s games and evenings at the piano..
A departure for Brazil
Finaly finds him a place within the French and Italian Bank of South America, in Recife (north-eastern Brazil). Proust is wary of a possible reversal of Rochat. He writes that he intends to give his final subsidies to the captain of the transatlantic, so that he can pass them on to the Swiss once he has cast off. Not before.
Swiss genealogists have embarked on the trail of this man who bears an extremely common name. “So far we have not identified him. We don’t have his portrait either. But as we know that in Brazil he showed photos of himself with Proust, they could come out one day.according to Thierry Laget.
While he was believed to be dead for a long time in Argentina, it was recently discovered that it was in the vicinity of Parnaiba (north-eastern Brazil), from where he disappeared in 1923. Rochat had taken him to this tropical region autographed copies of novels by Proust, who died in 1922.