Florian Illies


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On 13 November, Swann’s Way, the first volume of Marcel Proust’s great novel In Search of Lost Time, is published. After the book was turned down not only by the Fasquelle and Oldenbourg publishing houses and the Nouvelle Revue Française but also by André Gide, the then editor at Gallimard, Proust had the book published by Grasset at his own expense. No sooner does he hold the first copy in his hands than his chauffeur and lover Alfred Agostinelli splits up with him.

Everyone else falls for the author. Rilke reads the book only a few days after its publication. It begins with the golden words ‘Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure’ – ‘For a long time I went to bed early’ – and in saying this, Proust touched the nerve of an exhausted avant-garde who, from Kafka to Joyce, from Musil to Thomas Mann, boasted in their diaries whenever they managed to go to bed before midnight. Going to bed early – to the ever weary pioneers of the modern age it seemed like the bravest struggle against depression, drinking, senseless distraction and the advance of time.

Taken from: Illies, Florian (2012): 1913 – The Year Before the Storm.
London: Profile Books Limited. 229

Florian Illies

1913 heralds a new age of unlimited possibility. Kafka falls in love; Louis Armstrong learns to play the trumpet; a young seamstress called Coco Chanel opens her first boutique; Charlie Chaplin signs his first movie contract; and new drugs like cocaine usher in an age of decadence.

Yet everywhere there is the premonition of ruin - the number 13 is omnipresent, and in London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Trieste, artists take the omen and act as if there were no tomorrow, their brief coincidences of existence telling of a darker future. In a Munich hotel lobby, Rilke and Freud discuss beauty and transience; Proust sets out in search of lost time; and while Stravinsky celebrates the Rite of Spring with industrial cacophony, in Munich an Austrian postcard painter by the name of Adolf Hitler sells his conventional cityscapes.

1913 - The Year before the Storm (Clerkenwell Press, 2013)