Proust's father, Adrien Proust, was a prominent pathologist and epidemiologist, studying cholera in Europe and Asia. He was the author of numerous articles and books on medicine and hygiene. Proust's mother, Jeanne Clémence Weil, was the daughter of a wealthy Jewish family from Alsace. Literate and well-read, she demonstrates a well-developed sense of humour in her letters, and her command of English was sufficient to help with her son's translations of John Ruskin. ]Proust was raised in his father's Catholic faith
Beginning in 1895 Proust spent several years reading Carlyle, Emerson, and John Ruskin. Through this reading Proust began to refine his own theories of art and the role of the artist in society. Also, in Time Regained Proust's universal protagonist recalls having translated Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies. The artist's responsibility is to confront the appearance of nature, deduce its essence and retell or explain that essence in the work of art. Ruskin's view of artistic production was central to this conception, and Ruskin's work was so important to Proust that he claimed to know "by heart" several of Ruskin's books, including The Seven Lamps of Architecture, The Bible of Amiens, and Praeterita
Proust was homosexual, and his sexuality and relationships with men are often discussed by his biographers..] Although his housekeeper, Céleste Albaret, denies this aspect of Proust's sexuality in her memoirs, her denial runs contrary to the statements of many of Proust's friends and contemporaries, including his fellow writer André Gide as well as his valet Ernest A. Forssgren.