Proust published his first book, Les Plaisirs et les Jours (Pleasures and Days) in 1896 when he was 25, but he had written many of its short stories when he was younger and some of them had already appeared in various literary journals. In an apparently audacious move, Proust abandoned the short story form in which he had shown promise to begin a highly autobiographical, ambitious novel known as Jean Santeuil, on which he labored until 1899.
While working on Jean Santeuil, in late December 1898, Proust wrote to Marie Nordlinger to thank her for the Christmas card she had sent him. In his meditative letter to Marie, Proust touched on topics that preoccupied him and were to form the major philosophical underpinnings of In Search of Lost Time: the soul and its material encasement in the body, the passage of time and through time, the slow, unconscious accumulation of memories, largely ignored by the superficial, egotistical, social self. As Proust sounds the depths of his being, he perceives only a faint echo indicating the unknown treasures that might lie buried beneath the sands of time. The scent of tea and mimosa furnishes the sesame that opens, at least briefly, the door to the treasure trove. He speaks first about Christmas cards and other symbols and why we need them