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Marcel Proust was born in the Paris suburb of Auteuil. His parents were Adrien Proust, an eminent French Catholic physician, professor, and medical book writer, and his wife Jeanne Clémence Weil, herself the daughter of a wealthy, cultured Jewish family from Alsace. He suffered from chronic asthma from age nine. In 1882, he began attending the Lycée Condorcet, but his education was disrupted by his illness. He still managed to write for the school magazine and excel in literature, receiving an award in his final year. Through his friends and classmates, he began to visit some of the aristocratic drawing rooms and salons in Paris. He enjoyed his service in the French army at Orléans in 1889–1890. All these experiences later became material for his writing. He studied at the Ecole des Sciences Politiques, taking licences in law and in literature. Because Proust's father insisted that he pursue a career, he went to work as a volunteer at the Bibliothèque Mazarine in 1896. However, after a while, he obtained a sick leave that extended for several years, until he was considered to have resigned. He never again held a job, and never moved out of his parents' apartment until after they both died, writing all his works in his childhood bedroom. In 1896, he published his first book, Les Plaisirs et les jours (Pleasures and Days), a collection of short stories, essays and poems. In 1895, he began writing an autobiographical novel, Jean Santeuil, which he never finished (it was eventually published in 1952). He organized petitions on behalf of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, falsely accused of treason. Proust then devoted several years to translating and annotating the works of John Ruskin with his mother. He published a number of articles on Ruskin, as well as translations of two of his books, La Bible d'Amiens (1904) and Sésame et les Lys (1906). In doing his research, he visited Venice with his mother in May 1900 and churches in France. During this time he began his masterpiece novel, although he intended to continue to write literary and artistic criticism. Gradually, however, all of his other projects became part of the one larger work, which he continued to write for the rest of his life. In 1913, he gave it the title À la recherche du temps perdu, which has been translated into English several ways, including Remembrance of Things Past and In Search of Lost Time. Much of it concerns the vast changes that occurred in fin de siècle France. Du Côté de chez Swann (Swann's Way), the first volume, was published in 1913. The next volume, À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (Within a Budding Grove, or In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower) was delayed by World War I until 1919, but won the Prix Goncourt that year. In the last three years of his life, three more volumes were published. Proust died in 1922 at age 51 of pneumonia exacerbated by asthma, and the publication of the remaining two volumes of his novel, along with his selected letters, was overseen by his brother Robert. Although in Proust's lifetime the merits of his novel were debated, today it is recognized as one of the greatest works of French literature.
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