(In Search of Lost Time, with special attention to the translations from Penguin/Viking)
Proust Among the StarsThe Times Literary Supplement calls this "The best general study of Proust's 3,000-page work." I'm not so sure of that, but it does make for interesting though laborious reading. ("In so far as Proust reconstructs the temporality of everyday living, then," Malcolm Bowie assures us at one point, "we may already safely say that syntax has a main role in providing his account with a sense of phenomenological fulness." Indeed!) There are seven major essays, organized around the themes of Self, Time, Art, Politics, Morality, Sex, and Death (come to think] of it, we might say the same about our own lives!). Perhaps surprising, Time at 38 pages is one of the shorter essay. Available from Amazon.com in paperback and used hardcover editions.
Presque magique!As a monoglot American, I'm naturally more interested in the quality of the dueling translations of A la recherche du temps perdu, but this particular book caught my eye. For anyone with a Kindle reader (or willing to download one of the free Kindle apps), it's a reasonably priced, French-language, digital edition that wasn't simply ripped from the Gutenberg Project. The work was done by Luc Deborde, who operates a very fine digital publishing enterprise on the South Pacific island of New Caledonia. On the Kindle reader, it works seamlessly with the Larouse digital dictionary. "Presque magique!" as one reviewer said. Ain't it a wonderful world we live in? Go here for more information.
How this project began
I started reading Swann's Way a couple times before a pal challenged me to read the whole of the novel with him. Every Wednesday on his way to the law office where he was a low-level attorney, he'd stop by my room (it had a kitchen but wasn't really an apartment). We'd drink coffee, smoke(!), and talk about Proust. Egging each other on in this fashion, we both finished the novel before the year was out.
Ten years later, I read the novel again—and aloud—to my wife over the course of two winters. (One of the French deconstructionists, arguing that one can't just study a novel by itself, because it's a collaborative venture between the author and the reader, cinched his case by pointing out: "After all, who has read every word of À la recherche du temps perdu?" It pleased me hugely to be able to say, if only silently, "I did!")
That was the handsome, two-volume Random House edition of the novel, entitled Remembrance of Things Past, the first six books rendered into English by Charles Scott Moncrieff and the seventh by Frederick Blossom. (Scott Moncrieff died before finishing his task, which is probably the reason Penguin decided to employ seven different translators for its 21st century Proust.) When Kilmartin's reworking came out in the 1990s, I acquired that, too, but only read pieces of it—notably book seven, The Past Recaptured, greatly improved over the rather lame Blossom translation. Otherwise, however, Remembrance of Things Past was still hobbled by the post-Victorian prose of Scott Moncrieff.
Then came the new Penguin editions, the first four volumes of which have now been published in the U.S. by Viking. After reading a rave review of vol. 2—In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower—I realized that I would have to read it. On second thought, I decided to start from the beginning with the new Swann's Way. It was a good decision. Lydia Davis did a wonderful job with the first volume, and by the time I'd lulled Little Marcel to sleep (on page 43 in this edition), I knew that I was once again in for the long haul. So I set out to acquire a complete set of hardcover books—not so easy, as matters turned out! I read them in sequence, and I have reported on them here.
The novel according to Penguin
And for extra credit :)
But why bother?The French sometimes boast that they have a Shakespeare for every generation, or at least for every century, while we Anglophones are stuck with Will's originals. Well, now we can say the same about Proust!
Beyond that, I've seen it argued that literary French has changed little over the past hundred years, while English most certainly has, under the battering of such writers as James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway. (Whatever you say about Charles Scott Moncrieff, he probably never read Ulysses and he certainly was unfamiliar with the noisy young journalist who stormed into Paris in 1921.) However that may be, it's nice to have a freshened version of Proust's prose, and one that arguably is closer to the original than the one rendered by Scott Moncrieff in the 1920s.
(Proust, Joyce, and Hemingway! It's pleasant to think that my three favorite writers once breathed the same air in Paris. Indeed, Joyce and Proust once met at a party ... and had little or nothing to say to one another.)
Sorry to say, hardcover copies of the "Penguin Proust"
are just about gone. Paperback is the way to go.
Click here to buy them from Amazon.com:
See the individual listings for the UK links or to search for hardcover editions
Personally, I think the Penguin Proust is worth the extra cost, but if you are a traditionalist or want to save money, you can get the Enright - Kilmartin - Scott Moncrieff translation for about sixty bucks from Amazon.com. Click here to order.
Question? Comment? Newsletter? Send me an email. -- Stephen Fall