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!

I had a great time reading the Yale University Press update of Scott Moncrieff's translation of Le côté de Guermantes, as edited and annotated by William Carter. Like the earlier volumes, The Guermantes Way is a large-format paperback, so Mr Carter's notes appear on the same page as the text, in the outside margin. Scott Moncrieff's post-Victorian diction has of course been updated, usually to our benefit. The volumes are appearing at two- or three-year intervals, with this one available on in the US and of course on other Amazon stores as well. For more, see my page devoted to this, the longest volume of Proust's masterwork. (Beware of Amazon's links! There is indeed a Kindle ebook, but you can't get to it from the store page of the print edition, and Amazon's offer to deliver three paperbacks in a package mixes the Yale Guermantes with the Penguin translations of the earlier volumes. Jeff Bezos may be the World's Richest Man, but Proust is above his pay scale.)

As with the earlier books, I read this volume while watching Mr Carter's lectures at Proust Ink. There are four Guermantes lectures, each about an hour long, and they were a wonderful aid. I heartily recommend them to anyone who isn't already a Proust scholar, regardless of the translation you choose. The course of 30 lectures and supplementary material costs $200 for a lifetime subscription, $150 for one year, $20 for a month.

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.

The 6-volume Modern Library ebook

How my project began

Marcel Proust I peeked into Swann's Way two or three times before a pal challenged me to read the entire novel with him. Every Wednesday on his way to the law office where he was a low-level attorney, he stopped by my rented room (it had a kitchen and bath but wasn't really an apartment). We drank coffee, smoked(!), and talked about the week's reading. Egging each other on in this fashion, we both finished Remembrance of Things Past before the year was out.

Ten years later, I read it 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 author and reader, cinched his case by saying: "After all, who has read every word of À la recherche du temps perdu?" It pleased me hugely to be able to think, "I did!")

That was the handsome, two-volume Random House edition of the novel, the first six books rendered into English by C K Scott Moncrieff and the seventh by Frederick Blossom. (Scott Moncrieff died before finishing his task, which is probably why Penguin decided to employ seven different translators for its 21st century Proust.) When Terence Kilmartin's reworking came out in the 1990s, I bought that three-volume edition, but read only pieces of it — notably Andrea Mayor's translation of The Past Recaptured, greatly improved over the rather lame Blossom version. Otherwise, Remembrance of Things Past seemed mostly unchanged from Scott Moncrieff's translation.

Then came the Penguin editions, the first four volumes of which were published in the US by Viking. After reading a rave review of vol. 2 — In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower — I decided 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 the Viking edition), I knew that I was once again in for the long haul. 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 reported on them in what was a sort of blog. And now I'm adding the elegant Yale University Press editions as they are published.

The novel in translation

Swann's Way (also translated as The Way by Swann's)
In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (Within a Budding Grove)
The Guermantes Way
Sodom and Gomorrah (The Cities of the Plain)
The Prisoner (The Captive)
The Fugitive (The Sweet Cheat Gone)
Finding Time Again (The Past Recaptured)

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's no longer true for the Bard. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has commissioned the translation of his 39 plays into modern English, with -- of course! -- more than half the translators being female, and more than half "of color.")

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 C K 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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Flying Tigers

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

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