Why are you nostalgic, Madeleine?

Madeleine is a feminine given name. It is a form of Magdalene, first used in the New Testament referring to Mary Magdalene, the female follower of Christ. Magdalene, is thought to have meant from Magdala, an unknown city in ancient Israel.

In France a madeleine is the name of a small, shell-shaped cake baked in a mould and said to be named after Madeleine Paulmier, a French pastry cook.

When the narrator of Marcel Proust’s novels has a madeleine with his tea it instigates the nostalgia that becomes the great narrative thread of À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past in the English translations). This series of novels stretches for 3200 pages and is perhaps the longest trip down memory lane ever created.

So madeleine, from this famous fictional incident, became the name of a small thing that triggers memories or nostalgia.

The word, nostalgia, in English is a hundred years older than Proust. It was originally coined by a Swiss physician to refer to severe homesickness and was equivalent to the German heimweh. Its first use in English was in 1770. Nostalgia is made up of Greek nostos for homecoming and algos for pain, grief, or distress. The modern sense of wistful yearning for the past is only from the early 20th century.

Why should we get nostalgic? Today is the anniversary of Marcel Proust’s death on 18 November 1922.