Proust's Madeleine Might Have Originally Been Toast

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In Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, the novel’s most pivotal scene lies in a seemingly tiny moment. The narrator—a fictionalized version of Proust himself—soaks a madeleine cake in his cup of tea. He bites into the soaked morsel, and is instantly overcome with nostalgia for his childhood.

Over time, the little cake became one of English literature’s most evocative foods. However, The Guardian now reports that in early versions of Proust’s seminal work, sometimes also translated as Remembrance of Things Past, the tiny treat began as much less poetic fare—toasted bread.

Last week, Paris publishing house Saint-Peres published a set of three handwritten manuscripts by Proust. One rough copy from 1907 shows Proust's narrator eating toast with honey. In a subsequent version, the bread was changed to a biscotto, or a hard biscuit. Only in the third and final rough draft does the madeleine appear.

Just think, if Proust hadn’t swapped snacks, readers never would have gotten to savor the now-famous description of the “little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds.” Also, to be honest, the phrase “Proust’s toast” or Proust’s biscotto” just doesn’t have the same ring as, well, “Proust’s madeleine.”

[h/t The Guardian]