May 19, 2005
Proust snobs continue to deny mounting evidence: "madeleine" was actually a mistranslation of "Malomar" . . .
by Dennis Johnson
It is “the cliché cookie-highbrow reference that’s penetrated pop culture”: Marcel Proust’s madeleine. As Edmund Levin observes in a Slate commentary, “We surely have him to thank for those little packages at every Starbucks checkout.” However, Levin points out, “Proust left out one important detail: the recipe. And no one ever asked him for it.” It has been, in fact, somewhat of a literary mystery over the years as to what kind of cookie Proust was referring to. And Levin doubts even Julia Childs‘s version was accurate. So, using Lydia Davis‘s recent translation of Remembrance of Things Past (“said to be the most accurate”), he set out to bake his own version of the cookie at home, “using hints the author gives” in the book. “For the attentive reader, the clues to The Recipe for The Madeleine are in the text,” he says. It would not prove an easy task. His wife was soon inspired to ask, “Does Proust explain who cleaned up?”
Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives