The 14-Minute Marcel Proust

All about the English-language editions of Marcel Proust's great novel, À la recherche du temps perdu, once known as Remembrance of Things Past but now more accurately titled In Search of Lost Time


(In Search of Lost Time, with special attention to the translations from Penguin/Viking and the new editions from Yale University Press)

The Guermantes Way redux!

Yale University Press has now delivered Volume Three of its freshened-up edition of Scott Moncrieff's translation of Á la recherche du temps perdu, as edited and annotated by William Carter. I've read the first two volumes in this series, and they are wonderfully well done. (I'm still fond of the "Penguin Proust," seven fresh translations by seven different authors from three countries, though the last three are still blocked in the US because of our Mickey Mouse copyright law.) The Yale editions are large-format paperbacks, so Mr Carter's notes appear on the same page as the text and fairly close to it. Scott Moncrieff's post-Victorian diction has of course been updated, usually to our benefit. The volumes are appearing at two-year intervals, with this one available on in the US and of course on other Amazon stores. (Beware of the ebook, which tends to direct to an earlier and inferior version, and don't accept Amazon's offer to deliver the three volumes in a single package. Jeff Bezos may be the World's Richest Man, but he is unable to understand that there are four different translations of Proust's masterpiece.)

Searching for time in the Gulag

As one of several hundred Polish officers imprisoned at a tumble-down camp in the Soviet Union, Jozef Czapski reached back to his years in Paris as a young artist. From memory, without a single line of Proust to refer to, he crafted a lecture series attended by forty of his comrades after they had finished twelve hours of slave labor, on a near-starvation diet. And the lectures were in French! Two of the officers were so impressed that they asked him to repeat the course so they each could transcribe them, and in 1948 these were translated into Polish and published (only in France, I believe). Not until 1987 were they rendered again in French as Proust contre la déchéance. And this version has now been translated into English by the artist and Proust scholar Eric Karpeles under the appropriate title of Lost Time (for what time is more lost than months spent in prison?). I first regarded it as a tour de force, but it is more than that: a tribute to Proust that is also a replication of Proust's long journey à la recherche du temps perdu. With color plates showing Czapski's sketches and notations, which also miraculously survived the war.

In reviewing three books by and about Czapski, Cynthia Haven wrote in the Wall Street Journal: "Once, in his frail final years, a relative found him lying on the floor. He had been unable to get up for hours. She asked how he had occupied himself. Smiling, he hugged her and tried to calm her agitation. 'Oh, no need to worry about me,' he replied. 'I just lay there, perfectly happy, thinking about Proust.'"

The 6-volume Random House ebook

How my project began

Marcel Proust I ventured onto Swann's Way two or three 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 would stop by my rented room (it had a kitchen and bath but wasn't really an apartment). We would 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.

(And now of course it begins again, as Yale University Press issues the Scott Moncrieff translations as modernized and Americanized by William Carter, author of two fine studies of Proust. Swann's Way was published in 2013, its centenary year, followed two years later by In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, and The Guermantes Way scheduled for November 20.)

The novel according to Penguin

Swann's Way (In Britain: The Way by Swann's) (tr. Lydia Davis)
In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (tr. James Grieve)
The Guermantes Way (tr. Mark Treharne)
Sodom and Gomorrah (tr. John Sturrock)
The Prisoner (tr. Carol Clark)
The Fugitive (tr. Peter Collier)
Finding Time Again (tr. Ian Patterson)

And for extra credit :)

Mr. Joyce, may I introduce M. Proust?
On translating Proust (Lydia Davis)
A first cut at comparing the two "Lost Times"
Dueling madeleines (C.K. Scott Moncrieff vs. the others))
Why doesn't Viking publish the rest of them?
"A Short View of Proust" (Edmund Wilson, 1928)
Marcel goes to the movies
In search of Proust: biographies and commentary
In search of Proust: the comix!
In search of Proust: one man's collection
Private Proust at Coligny Caserne
The love of his life: all about Albertine
What would Marcel make of the Kindle? (digital editions)
A la recherche du temps perdu in French

But why bother?

The French sometimes boast that they have a Shakespeare for every generation, or at least for every century, while we Anglophones must stick with Will’s originals. Well, now we can say the same about Proust! (And indeed it may not long be true about the Bard, for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has commissioned the translation into of his thirty-nine plays into modern English.)

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.)

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1. Swann's Way | 2. In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower | 3. The Guermantes Way | 4. Sodom and Gomorrah | 5. The Prisoner | 6. The Fugitive | 7. Finding Time Again

Front page | Penguins v. Enright | translating Proust | Madeleines | growth of a novel | Proust & Joyce | Viking | Wilson | Movies | Biographies | Proustiana | Comix | Private Proust | Albertine | Digital editions | and in French

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Posted May 2019. © 2006-2019 Fallbook Press; all rights reserved.