If you can’t share a photograph of Marcel Proust playing air-guitar with a tennis racket when it’s the opening day of Wimbledon, when can you?
In France, as in England, tennis provoked displays of social and intellectual snobbery. The mindless physical exertion of newly imported British sports clearly separated brain from body, and their rituals were just part of a pernicious anglomania that was sweeping the upper classes of French society in the late nineteenth century.
English expressions peppered the language and its social conventions such as afternoon tea, were regarded as stylish. New tennis clubs, like the one on the boulevard Bineau at Neuilly, were springing up and for a brief period in the early nineties it was the ‘love court’ for Jeanne Pouquet and Marcel Proust (pictured above in 1891, at the boulevard Bineau tennis court in Neuilly-sur-Seine). The young writer, too sickly to play, attended principally to entertain the circle of young girls and provide them with delicacies. As André Maurois noted, ‘Sometimes the ball would alight in the middle of the petits fours, scattering glasses and young women. Marcel would always accuse the players of aiming “with malice and without cause”’. Instead, Proust had to content himself with photographs of the group.
In later years, Proust, describing his grand projet, wrote to Jeanne Pouquet, then Mme Gaston de Caillavet, ‘you will find woven into it some of that emotion I used to feel when I asked myself if you were going to be at the tennis party? But what is the good of remembering things which you took such an absurd and malicious delight in pretending not to notice.’ ■
The above photograph – as well as a host of other tennis-themed paintings, drawings and photographs – can be found in our book Court on Canvas: Tennis in Art.