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A Natural Curiosity :: Proust’s coffee maker
Sunday, July 26, 2015

Proust’s coffee maker

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Proust will forever be associated with the scent of lime blossom tea, but he appreciated coffee as well. In fact, according to his housekeeper, he survived on “two bowls of black coffee, hot milk and two croissants when he woke in the afternoon, and then little else.”

In Chapter 2, “Holidays,” of Part II of his unfinished posthumous novel Jean Santeuil, he presents a glimpse of the coffee-making ceremony as it was played out during Jean’s holiday visits to his uncle and cousins in Illiers.

The passage below is from a paragraph more than a page long, and even this excerpt seemed to call for a break to make it more readable.

One might include among the simple attributes of agricultural kingship the extremely complicated, because very primitive, piece of machinery which, at this point in the proceedings, the maid set before Monsieur Albert and in which he made the coffee by virtue of a prerogative which he would never have dreamed of sharing with anybody else. If, by chance, he happened to be away, visiting one of his farms, and did not get back for luncheon, “Who’ll make the coffee?” became a question of almost national importance. Unless someone of outstanding importance, Monsieur Santeuil, for instance, was on the spot, this task was usually entrusted to the maid, who was looked upon as a kind of Secretary of State, so that the arbitrary appointment of a substitute was avoided.

This machine was made of glass and so contrived that one could see the water coming to the boil, the steam permeating the coffee, and covering the sides of the container with blackish deposit, the water passing through a filter and falling back into a second cylinder from which it was then drawn off. Monsieur Albert listened to the water boiling and that music, though less sophisticated than the military tunes which served to stimulate more distinguished digestions, but perfectly expressing the sense of well-being of which he was conscious, heralded the coming moment when the bubblng coffee would add to it an exquisite sensation of warmth, sweetness, liveliness and delicate savour and so complete his satisfaction.

This machine sounds similar but not quite identical to the early French coffee makers by Durant and Gandais. If anyone can identify it more precisely, I’d appreciate it. 

Posted by geoff on 07/26 at 03:13 AM
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