Sean Brenner | November 9, 2023
UCLA professor receives prestigious French literary award for ‘Proust and Me: A Family Romance’
Laure Murat, a UCLA distinguished professor of French and Francophone studies, has received the Medicis Prize in the “essay,” or nonfiction, category, one of France’s top literature awards.
Murat was honored for “Proust and Me: A Family Romance” (“Proust, roman familial”), a genre-busting book that examines the influence of Marcel Proust’s work on Murat’s own life.
The work blends nonfiction, autobiography, literary and sociological analysis in exploring the interrelationship between Proust’s seminal novel “In Search of Lost Time” (“À la recherche du temps perdu”), a seven-volume masterpiece published between 1913 and 1927, Murat’s family history and her own personal journey.
Both of Murat’s parents were descendants of French nobility, and her ancestor Joachim Murat was married to Caroline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister.
Proust, Murat said, “met many members of my family on both sides, corresponded with them, took notes in their salons, and got acquainted with some of them who later would appear as fictional characters in his book. He also mixes real and fictional names in a same genealogy.”
“The result,” she said, “is that I realized that I was a niece of the Duke and Duchess of Guermantes, the main characters. So in my book, I address questions like ‘How does it feel to be a fictional character’s descendant?’ and ‘How does it inform or destabilize your reading?’”
Murat said “Proust and Me” could easily have been titled “How a Book Can Save Your Life.”
“Proust showed me the reality and the emptiness of my social milieu, he warned me about the strategies of exclusion that condemn gay people — a very useful warning when I came out of the closet — and he taught me how to grasp reality,” she said. “I wouldn’t be the professor I am now without his masterpiece, which helped me at every shift of my life.”
She hopes the book inspires readers to think about which books or works of art have changed their lives. “A book is not only a story; it is a place to understand what the world is about,” she said.
Murat has been a member of the UCLA faculty since 2006; for two decades prior to joining UCLA, she was a cultural history researcher and a literary and art critic. Among her previous books is “The Man Who Thought He Was Napoleon.” Published in France in 2011, with an English translation published in 2014, the book received the Femina Prize for nonfiction.