Marcel Proust was undoubtedly a gifted author, known largely for his classic multi-volume novel, In Search of Lost Time, a mammoth piece of work believed by some to be one of the greatest books ever written. More importantly, he was also, it is said, obsessed with masturbation. As a teenager this caused problems for his family, not least his father, a professor of hygiene, who like many of the day believed that such a worrying habit could cause homosexuality if left unchecked. And so, in May of 1888, in an effort to cure him of this “problem” having recently walked in on him “on the job,” Dr. Proust gave his 16-year-old son 10 francs and sent him off to a local brothel. As evidenced by the following letter to his grandfather, and possibly due to the fact that Marcel was in fact homosexual, the visit didn’t go to plan.
18 May 1888
My dear little grandfather,
I appeal to your kindness for the sum of 13 francs that I wished to ask Mr. Nathan for, but which Mama prefers I request from you. Here is why. I so needed to see if a woman could stop my awful masturbation habit that Papa gave me 10 francs to go to a brothel. But first, in my agitation, I broke a chamber pot: 3 francs; then, still agitated, I was unable to screw. So here I am, back to square one, waiting more and more as hours pass for 10 francs to relieve myself, plus 3 francs for the pot. But I dare not ask Papa for more money so soon and so I hoped you could come to my aid in a circumstance which, as you know, is not merely exceptional but also unique. It cannot happen twice in one lifetime that a person is too flustered to screw.
I kiss you a thousand times and dare to thank you in advance.
I will be home tomorrow morning at 11am. If you are moved by my situation and can answer my prayers, I will hopefully find you with the amount. Regardless, thank you for your decision which I know will come from a place of friendship.