Proust, my family and Australia

When I was reading Proust, I noted with some amusement the character named simply “Ski” in the first volume of his appearance, a sculptor and amateur musician who is later revealed to be properly called “Viradobetski”, an actual name which was too complicated for the dear Madame Verdurin to try to remember. I just learnt from my better educated brother that

Proust s’est inspiré d’Henri Kowalski né en 1841, fils d’un officier polonais émigré en Bretagne. Il était à la fois compositeur de musique et concertiste.


Proust used as model Henri Kowalski, born in 1841, son of a Polish officer who emigrated to Brittany. He was a composer as well as a concert player.

to quote an authoritative list of Proust characters.

That Henri Kowalski is, it turns out, the son of Nepomus Adam Louis Kowalski, whose brother was Joachim Gabriel Kowalski, one of whose sons was Eugène Joseph Ange Kowalski, one of whose sons was Louis André Marie Joseph Kowalski, the fourth son of whom was my father. This puts me at genealogical distance (at most) six to a character from Proust. (Of course, rumors that Viradobetski was inspired by someone else can be safely discarded).

Wikipedia has a small page on Henri Kowalski, who was quite active and successful as a musician, and a rather impressive traveller. He spent thirteen years in Australia, leaving enough traces to be the subject of public lectures at the university of Melbourne. There are a few of his pieces on Youtube, for instance here. He also wrote a travel book which I now intend to read…

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I am a professor of mathematics at ETH Zürich since 2008.

7 thoughts on “Proust, my family and Australia”

  1. Dear Emmanuel,

    On a different topic you had told me that you were reviewing your book with Iwaniec. Are there any news about this?


  2. Dear Sir,

    I have published a book on Henri Kowalski (title : “Dans le sillage de Chopin : le pianiste Henri Kowaski”)in 2014, 200 pages and a lot of pictures, from their (Henri and Gabriel) arrival in Dinan and all Henri Kowalski’s career, even, of course in Australia. This book has been published by Le Pays de Dinan et la Bibliothèque de Dinan where you can find Kowalski’s archives, mail : You’ll find more informations if you type Henri Kowalski et Marie-Claire Mussat.Of course you can order it.
    We are preparing a CD with one of the greatest pianist of to-day : François Dumont who gave a recital(Kowalski, Tellefsen, Chopin) at the Paris Polish Library after my lecture in Frebruary and will play again in Dinan in June.
    Best regards,
    Prof. Marie-Claire Mussat
    Emeritus Professor at the Université of Rennes

      1. I have managed to get hold of secondhand copy of Marie Claire Mussat’s book about namesake Henri Kowalski but I cannot get the CD performed by Dumont and Kearns . Could you help me ?
        Even a scolarly rip would be of use.

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