In the comedic film Little Miss Sunshine, a fictional scholar describes French author and philosopher Marcel Proust as both a “total loser” and “probably the greatest writer since Shakespeare”; judging by his biographical material, both assertions are exaggerations, but not unfounded ones. His magnum opus, À la recherche du temps perdu (translated as In search of lost time), totals thousands of pages across seven volumes and is widely considered to be a seminal work of 20th century literature. In addition to his massive novel, Proust was an enthusiast of the English polymath John Ruskin, and translated several of his books to great renown even though his grasp of the language was imperfect.
For all of Proust’s successes as a writer, a scan through his famous quotes suggests that the rest of his life was less fortunate. He suffered from lifelong ill health and died middle-aged; he was also a closeted homosexual (though Temps perdu does include frank discussions of homosexuality and gay characters, a rarity for the time and place).