Balbec, the fictional seaside resort in Normandy, was inspired largely by Cabourg, which is a real city in northern France, and its waterfront Grand-Hôtel. This seaside resort on the Normandy coast is the model for the hotel in the novel that Proust locates in the fictional coastal town of Balbec. During his long vacations at the hotel, Proust wrote many of the passages for his book.
The building, its dining room, and the esplanade (now the Promenade Marcel Proust) that runs in front of the hotel along the beach are the models for the Grand-Hôtel at Balbec in the novel. Proust’s stays at the hotel ended due to the outbreak of World War I, during which time the hotel served as a hospital for wounded soldiers.
Photographing Literary Landscapes
In 1913, Marcel Proust published Swann’s Way, the first part of his monumental novel In Search of Lost Time. He worked on his book for over fourteen years, writing seven volumes and creating many unforgettable characters. His novel encompasses many themes, love and jealousy, the snobbery of high society, the dangers of mistaking Eros for art, the stirrings of memory and the unstoppable nature of time. Since its publication, this vast novel continues to delight and inspire readers throughout the world.
The scenes depicted by Proust in the novel captivate his readers so much that many travel to visit the places that inspired him. These literary landscapes are to be found in Paris, Illiers-Combray, and Cabourg. I admire a writer’s ability to see a real object or place and make it visible to others through words. By using photography, I can return to the location that inspired the writer and capture the same landscapes as they continue to exist in time. The resulting juxtaposition of reality and art is a phenomenon that I find endlessly fascinating.