In common language, a "Madeleine de Proust" designates any phenomenon that triggers an impression of reminiscence, of nostalgia. A smell, a place or an object brings back a memory to our memory, as does his madeleine to Marcel Proust in his book In Search of Lost Time.
Indeed, we record without realizing it many memories in a passive way which reappear randomly. The triggers causing the resurrection of the forgotten world of childhood are due to the senses, such as olfactory or taste impressions, and not to the intellect.
Thus, if voluntary memory makes it possible to remember the past in a desired and controlled way. Involuntary memory, provoked by reminiscence, makes it possible to literally relive and reclaim past moments.
Excerpt on the madeleine "Swann's Way" - In Search of Lost Time - Novel by Marcel Proust : "There were already many years that, from Combray, everything that was not the theater and the drama of my bedtime no longer existed for me, when one winter day, as I was returning home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, suggested that I take a little tea, contrary to my habit. I refused at first and, I don't know why, changed my mind. She sent for one of those short, plump cakes called Petites Madeleines which look like they have been molded in the grooved valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, overwhelmed by the dismal day and the prospect of a sad tomorrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had left a piece of madeleine to soften. But at the very moment when the sip mixed with the crumbs of the cake touched my palate, I started, attentive to what was extraordinary happening in me. A delicious pleasure had invaded me, isolated, without the notion of its cause. He had immediately made the vicissitudes of life indifferent to me, its harmless disasters, its illusory brevity, in the same way that love operates, by filling me with a precious essence: or rather this essence was not in me, she was me. I had ceased to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Where could this powerful joy have come from? I felt that it was linked to the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely exceeded it should not be of the same nature. Where was she from? What did she mean? Where to apprehend it? (?) And all of a sudden the memory appeared to me. This taste was that of the little piece of madeleine that on Sunday mornings at Combray (because that day I didn't go out before mass time), when I went to say hello to her in her room, my aunt L‚onie offered it to me after dipping it in her infusion of tea or lime blossom. The sight of the little madeleine had reminded me of nothing before I had tasted it; perhaps because, having often seen them since, without eating them, on the shelves of pastry chefs, their image had left those days of Combray to be linked to other more recent ones; perhaps because of these memories abandoned for so long outside memory, nothing survived, everything had disintegrated; the forms - and also that of the little shell of pastry, so richly sensual, under its severe and devout pleating - had been abolished, or, drowsy, had lost the force of expansion which would have enabled them to rejoin consciousness. But, when from an ancient past nothing remains, after the death of beings, after the destruction of things, alone, more frail but more lively, more immaterial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and the flavor remain for a long time yet. , like souls, to remember, to wait, to hope, on the ruin of all the rest, to carry without flinching, on their almost impalpable droplet, the immense edifice of memory. And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in linden that my aunt gave me (although I did not yet know and had to put off until much later to discover why this memory made me so happy), immediately the old gray house on the street, where his bedroom was, came like a theatrical decor to attach itself to the little pavilion, overlooking the garden, which had been built for my parents behind it (this truncated side that only I had seen until there) ; and with the house, the city, from morning until night and in all weathers, the Square where I was sent before lunch, the streets where I went shopping, the paths we took if the weather was beautiful. And as in this game where the Japanese have fun dipping in a porcelain bowl filled with water, small pieces of paper hitherto indistinct which, as soon as they are immersed in it, stretch, twist, color , differentiate themselves, become flowers, houses, consistent and recognizable characters, likewise now all the flowers of our garden and those of Mr. Swann's park, and the water lilies of Vivonne, and the good people of the village and their small dwellings and the church and all of Combray and its surroundings, all that which is taking shape and solidity, has come out, city and gardens, from my cup of tea. ¯