OTHER PEOPLE'S LETTERS: A Memoir by Mina Curtiss
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OTHER PEOPLE'S LETTERS: A Memoir

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In 1947, Mrs. Curtiss was about to publish her translation of selected letters of Marcel Proust (Edmund Wilson's suggestion), and so she set off for postwar Paris--with a compact wardrobe by Mainbocher (""an ardent Proustian"")--to authenticate, gather footnotes, discover unpublished letters, and track down the faces behind the letters. This is her diary from that sleuthing trip (and two that shortly followed), laced with 1977 ""afterthoughts"" and filled with non-scholarly humor, character, romance, and suspense. Equipped with only a few letters of introduction from her Bloomsbury buddies, Curtiss ensconced herself at the humbled Ritz (waiter: ""Madame, there is nothing fit for you to eat on the menu"") and began the process of phoning, lunching, tea-ing, flattering, soothing, and cajoling that would send her round and round the jealous, tight circle of Proust's surviving relatives and friends. Rude eccentrics, penurious grande dames, minor poets, aged beauties, loyal retainers (above all, queenly housekeeper CÉleste Albaret)--with them, she bartered for letters with charm. Two in particular. Rumanian Prince Antoine Bibesco, a 69-year-old dashing but poor rouÉ; ""le plaisir first, then the letters,"" he cried, and Curtiss, falling a little in love, succumbed (""Eh fin to talk about Proust in a horizontal position was. . . relaxing""). And heart-rending Mme. Sibilat, ""a fifty-year-old, unconsciously sex-starved widowed virgin who had developed a kind of schoolgirl crush on me""--and whose incredible dust-laden library of manuscripts led Curtiss to her next project: the world of Georges Bizet. No Proustian preoccupation is needed to enjoy any of this; even those who've never walked Swann's Way will surely respond to Curtiss' sheer force of character (now in her eighties, she has lost no edge) and the bittersweet, Jamesian rustle of old letters and faded gowns.

Pub Date: March 23rd, 1978
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin